Despite shuttered theaters, empty streets, and stages gone silent, Boston’s Will Dailey has been strapping on a guitar and playing to fans almost every night the past couple of weeks.
“If one thing from this moment is being proven: We need love, shelter, food, and art. Everything else is make-believe,” said Dailey, who’s been conducting a digital ”Isolation Tour,” a series of nine livestreamed shows, to raise money for fellow musicians and for non-salaried staff at a host of area venues.
From Willie Nelson’s “Until Further Notice” online concert to nugs.net streaming free, full past Dead & Company shows in a series they’re calling “One More Saturday Night” to Steve Martin’s poignant “banjo balm” that trended on Twitter, musicians everywhere have taken to digital concerts in this quarantined world. Boston artists are right on pace.
“When the curtain finally dropped on our act as a society, I had already lost a tour I had in China. I went from having a great year lined up to nothing,” said Dailey. He’s used that downtime well.
Dailey raised $2,200 for Cambridge’s Toad in one concert; in another, he pulled in $1,600 for The Burren. He’s also done shows for Great Scott, the Paradise, the Sinclair, and the Plough and Stars, among others.
At the same time, to benefit his fellow musicians, he’ll be posting his unreleased songs for a $5 download. Once he hits 1,000 downloads, he’ll split that $5,000 among 13 area musicians — the equivalent of two days’ pay.
“I think streaming concerts is one of the best things artists can do right now,” said Ward Hayden, frontman of Ward Hayden and the Outliers.
“It’s allowing artists to bring their music to fans, to share in this experience we’re all going through and provide some relief from the stress of all that’s going on," he said. "I just watched a livestreamed show this morning, and it legitimately brightened my day.” Hayden, of Scituate, recently streamed his own show, which raised $1,500 for the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
“It was a nice distraction from everything, setting it up and then getting to play for an hour,” he said. “Being at home for days on end — with our tour schedule being canceled for the next three months — I’ve had some time on my hands."
Martin Earley of Boston-formed folk-rock trio the Ballroom Thieves believes music “always thrives in difficult times.”
“I think we’re going to hear a lot of new, creative ideas come out of this trying time,” he said.
The Ballroom Thieves did their first livestream recently, with more to come via Facebook and Instagram Live. “People seem to really be yearning for connection and entertainment right now," Earley said, "so it’s nice to see so many artists using technology to connect with their audiences.”
Folk star Chris Smither, who typically maintains a busy schedule on the road, agrees.
Smither is one of many artists taking part in Signature Sounds’ Parlor Room Home Sessions, an ongoing series of livestreamed concerts hosted by the Northampton-based record company. Fans can donate to the artists via PayPal or Venmo.
“People need to feel connected. I’ve learned over the years that they feel incredibly strong connections to their favorite artists — especially the artists that they’ve seen live,” said Smither, 75, who performed his March 22 concert from the music room of his Amherst home. “Anything that the artist can do to restore and feed that sense of connection can only help people feel better. I can say from personal experience it makes me feel better.”
Upcoming “Home Sessions” include performances by Mark Erelli and Kris Delmhorst, among others.
Cambridge’s Club Passim is hosting a “Keep Your Distance Fest,” via contributed YouTube videos of musicians playing songs from their homes, with a link for fans to donate to the Passim Emergency Artist Relief Fund. The fund will provide grants of up to $500 to artists who have had shows canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Singer-songwriter Erin McKeown contributed her song “Aspera" to the Passim fund-raiser from her Western Massachusetts cabin. McKeown has run an occasional livestreaming concert series from her home since 2009. Her next episode, “Let’s Co-video Together,” is free, but she’ll be passing around the digital tip jar. (The show will stream live at cabinfever.erinmckeown.com/cabinfever/ and on her Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.)
“I hope the new episode will bring some connection and levity,” McKeown said.
Somerville’s Danielle Miraglia held her first online show March 26 via Facebook Live to kick off a series called “24 Hour in Home Concerts.” The series is run out of Somerville venues The Burren and Sally O’Brien’s by her husband, Tom Bianchi.
“We’re lucky to live in a time when even during a quarantine, we have the option to connect with an audience,” Miraglia said.
Celia Woodsmith, who performs with Della Mae and Say Darling, has enjoyed the chance to stay connected to fans through her own virtual concerts, but she worries livestreams will eventually become "something you scroll past” as the COVID-19 crisis lingers on.
“It’s felt like there’s been an explosion of online concerts. I’m wondering what the longevity of that is,” said Woodsmith, who lives in Kittery, Maine. “I hope people don’t think, ‘Oh, musicians are going to be fine.’ I don’t want people to think musicians are going to pay their bills” this way.
Earley of the Ballroom Thieves adds, "I’m largely worried about weeks and months from now. Audiences might lose interest in continuing to purchase merchandise and donate their cash.”
Whenever venues do reopen, live shows may feel more necessary than ever, the artists say.
“I hope people won’t take live music quite as much for granted anymore,” Woodsmith said. “What would some of these people give now to be around one other, listening to music as a community?”
Miraglia said self-isolation is “giving us a new appreciation. . . . I believe that when things get back to functional, we’ll all be so grateful to connect in person again.”