The timing was particularly bad for Guy Keltner. The Acid Tongue frontman and Freakout Records co-founder was on the verge of releasing his band’s sophomore album when the cancellations started. That’s typically the leanest financial period for a young indie band, having invested time and money into an album and hoping to make it up on the road and selling records.
Boom, the outbreak struck. Suddenly, the Seattle/Los Angeles duo’s European tour was off, a festival-slot paycheck was gone and the physical release of their “Bullies” LP was delayed in Europe over distribution issues.
“Now that we’re here, we’re broke,” Keltner said. “We had everything banked on the next two months to recoup things and … we’re kinda screwed. Just this month, I’m probably out $10,000 I needed.”
The icing on the cake: The garage rockers’ hometown release show at the Tractor Tavern, scheduled for March 13, was nixed at the last minute due to King County’s restrictions on gatherings to try to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. By chance, the band wound up filling in for a cancellation at the much smaller Belltown Yacht Club, playing to a reduced-capacity crowd and livestreaming the minishow online.
“No one has really set a precedent for how to handle the situation,” Keltner said of the livestreaming move, which cost him $75 in gear rental and a few favors from friends. “We know Seattle’s ground zero for the whole crisis, in the States at least. So I think we can set the tone for other bands and make the best of an awful situation.”
While Keltner’s band was one of the first, he’s hardly alone in his thinking. In the face of ever-tightening restrictions on gatherings, the past week has seen a wave of Seattle musicians and artists take their shows online. Everyone from Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard — who on Tuesday launched an acoustic series that airs daily at 4 p.m. — to progressive jazz saxophonist Skerik is getting in on the livestreaming surge, with artists broadcasting from their homes or intimate locations, directly to your living room.
“I think it’s worth mentioning that I’m technically in my pajamas,” said a sockless Gibbard, hoisting a leg to flash his sweats during his first broadcast. The thousands of fans who tuned in (and one trolling Death Cab member) flooded a live chat and comment section with requests and questions for the local indie rock star.
The content deluge is good news for bored quarantiners who already binged their favorite Netflix series (though we have some fresh recs for you). But for some local artists, the leap to livestreaming is a life preserver.
The Quarantine Sessions
Since the global health crisis erupted — with Greater Seattle becoming the virus’ American epicenter — Marina Albero has lost $5,500 (and counting) in gigs. Like many working artists, the jazz pianist doesn’t have a financial cushion to fall back on. In the age of diminished album sales, musicians are especially dependent on those live shows to cover the grocery bill. (Those fractional pennies from Spotify streams? Good for the occasional cup of coffee.) With the shutdown of local bars and music venues and heightened travel concerns, there are few places left for artists to punch the proverbial clock.
“It’s real that we need to start remotely working from home like the Microsoft people and other people who can do that,” Albero said.
That’s why Albero launched the aptly named The Quarantine Sessions. As more of an initiative than an entity, she started a Facebook page and group as central places for artists to congregate their various livestreams and swap ideas while navigating the gigless economy. Albero committed to curating the first three Quarantine Sessions, which kicked off last Sunday in front of a small ticketed crowd at Shoreline’s House of Breaking Glass studio and streamed through Facebook Live. Donations from Earshot Jazz and Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard helped cover production costs and online viewers were encouraged to tip the artists via PayPal or Venmo.
While Sunday’s live feed was hampered by technical issues, Albero expects to have the Week 1 kinks ironed out for this Sunday’s performances from Shaina Shepherd, powerhouse frontwoman for soulful hard-rockers Bearaxe, and Albero’s daughter Serena Dominguez. For the studio audience, Albero intends to comply with Washington state regulations for gatherings of less than 50 people.
“We need to share information, especially solutions, and stick together, support each other,” Albero said.
A digital tip jar
When Skerik Band suddenly lost a Nectar Lounge show last week, Gordon Brown fell back on his experience from a past career. The ex-programmer turned full-time sax man scrambled to launch the website LiveConcerts.stream where the band could host a show using Twitch, a video-streaming service popular among online gamers. Fearing that simply streaming a live performance on social media alone wouldn’t yield donations from online viewers, Brown built a digital tip jar on the side of the screen that updates in real time. It worked.
Last Sunday’s performance, broadcast live from a West Seattle studio, pulled in around 10,000 cumulative views, netting roughly $4,000 in donations. In keeping with Skerik’s creative eccentricities, the bandleader wanted to get a little theatrical. “There was fog machines, we had guys in costumes invade the set,” said Brown, who also plays in instrumental-soul brigade the True Loves. “It was like this total underground pirate public access type of production.”
Still, the strangest part was performing without an in-person crowd.
“You’re so used to hearing applause after a song, right? And you don’t really miss it until it’s gone,” Brown said. “After the first song, that first awkward silence, I felt compelled to just yell as loud as I could from the back of the room. It’s just the sound of one guy yelling, so it didn’t make a lot of sense,” he added with a laugh.
LiveConcerts.stream hosts its next digital event 5 p.m. Thursday, with a performance from retro jazz-pop duo Sundae & Mr. Goessl, which recently lost a Triple Door gig due to the club’s temporary closure.
Online performances, talks
Other organizations like the Seattle Symphony, which is presenting performances on its YouTube and Facebook pages every Thursday and Saturday evening through March, and Artist Home, the company behind the Timber! Outdoor Music Festival, have begun hosting online concerts with a mix of livestreaming and broadcasting previously taped performances.
After South By Southwest was canceled, Dick’s Drive-In planned to move the unofficial digitally focused showcase it sponsors, NXNW, to an empty London Bridge Studio in Shoreline. Panels and performances from the Black Tones, Parisalexa and other local artists will be taped this week and air on the burger slingers’ Facebook and YouTube pages March 20-25, starting at 6 p.m. nightly.
And it’s not just musicians taking their acts online.
Ticket holders to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “One Thousand Pieces” repertory (which had been scheduled to run March 13-22) couldn’t see the program live because of restrictions on large gatherings, but are able to watch it digitally, through a private link to a video of the dress rehearsal. This required a special arrangement with the unions, artists and music-rights holders. And it will only be available to those who purchased tickets through March 22.
Town Hall Seattle had already begun to explore making its events available online; the pandemic has brought those plans to the forefront. “The entire point for us in making our events available online is to allow people who weren’t able to be physically with us in the building for a variety of reasons — sometimes they don’t live in Seattle, sometimes they’re not very mobile, sometimes just scheduling problems,” said executive director Wier Harman. “We always look to our online programming as a way of maximizing access to our content.” Though gathering people in real time remains Town Hall’s primary work, “the next best thing is to bring people together online to provide a way for people to engage with the speakers and performance,” he added.
This month, Town Hall will livestream several events, including Sophie Egan discussing her book “How to Be a Conscious Eater: Making Food Choices That Are Good for You, Others, and the Planet” (March 19) and David Daley discussing his new book “Unrigged: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy” with Krist Novoselić (March 30). Each will happen at their originally scheduled times, with a live chat available for those looking to socialize with fellow digital attendees.
For Brown, who’s exploring making LiveConcerts.stream a nonprofit organization, watching his fellow musician friends fear for their livelihoods (not to mention their physical health) has been tough. But seeing a network of innovative artists coming together to support each other has been inspiring.
“This is what happens when you take a creative group of people and you throw a problem at them,” Brown said. “You start to see creative solutions.”
Ben Gibbard Live from Home: 4 p.m. daily, streaming through Death Cab for Cutie’s YouTube and Facebook pages.
Artist Home virtual concert calendar: Updating list of online concerts.
LiveConcerts.stream: Next livestream is 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sundae & Mr. Goessl.
The Quarantine Sessions: 7 p.m. Sunday nights (recurring), streaming from The Quarantine Sessions Facebook page.
Dick’s Drive-In NXNW: 6 p.m. March 20-25, streaming on Dick’s Facebook page. Playbacks available on Amazon Prime the following morning.
Town Hall Seattle: Sophie Egan, author of “How to Be a Conscious Eater: Making Food Choices That Are Good for You, Others and the Planet” (7:30 p.m. March 19). David Daley discussing his new book, “Unrigged: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy,” with Krist Novoselić (7:30 p.m. March 30).
Also, NPR has put together an updating list of virtual concerts from a number of different places.
Seattle Times arts critic Moira Macdonald contributed to this report.