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In Rubble Of Canceled Gigs, Local Musicians Creating Virtual Opportunities

courtesy of the artist

Blake Ellege is a musician and vocalist in Brevard who counts nine bands he performs in. He remembers getting a call last Thursday warning the Coronavirus could threaten some upcoming shows.

“I kid you not, literally, five minutes later, the same colleague notified me that two of my gigs that week had been canceled,” Ellege said.

Five hours later, another call—more canceled shows. An hour after that, one of Ellege’s side hustles—spending two months every spring as an Easter Bunny mascot at the Asheville Mall—was also gone.

“It was a matter of four days that I lost all of my income for March and April,” he said. “It’s amazing just to see so many musicians that I look up to who are losing work just like me, and I thought something needs to be done, something has to be done.”

Ellege dreamed up what he’s calling the Quarantine Concert Series. He has partnered with the video outlet I Am AVL and the Orange Peel to produce nightly concerts from local artists. These performances, hosted in the Orange Peel’s Pulp Lounge, are livestreamed through I AM AVL’s website and Facebook page, where audiences are encouraged to tip artists.

“I thought ‘Well, if people are going to be stuck at home because of this, there has to be a way for them to still enjoy music,’” Ellege said. “If someone tuning into these broadcasts were to donate that amount of money they would spend at a venue—money that they would normally pay for a ticket or door charge or couple drinks at the bar—just think of how many musicians will benefit from it and how it will improve their quality of life and finances.”

Streamside Music is an Asheville concert series beginning to livestream local artists such as Al Petteway and Shane Parish. A number of individual local musicians have launched their own livestreamed performances from home over the past five days, asking for donations online. 

Hannah Kaminer is an Asheville singer-songwriter doing something a little more ambitious and benevolent. She’s put together something akin to a dating service. People can purchase Music For Quarantine—these are livestreamed video concerts—for friends or family members or themselves. Buyers send a note about the kind of music they’re looking for and Kaminer will match them up with an artist. 

“I’m really concerned about two groups of people right now, which are people who are isolated and then so many musicians who depend on the gig economy and they’ve come to a screeching halt,” Kaminer said. “It feels like people who are isolated and musicians who don’t have any work can offer each other something.”

Kaminer considers herself a parttime musician, at least in terms of her income—a job in public relations and digital marketing is her financial foundation—but she said she’s already lost more than $500 of gigs from the Coronavirus fallout.

“I mean, the income is one thing, but the soul thing of just being worried and facing uncertainty, I think it’s really cool how people are stepping up to still connect with each other,” she said.

“There’s always a bright side and a great outcome to every horrible situation,” Ellege said. “So I’m going off that and trusting in that and putting out as much good energy into the world as I can.”

Matt Peiken, BPR’s first full-time arts journalist, has spent his entire career covering arts and culture.
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