I’ve done as I was told during the pandemic, staying home, wearing a mask, socially distancing and washing my hands. For the most part it was no big deal—I was already working from home before the pandemic anyway. The only routine I had to change was in my musical life.
As COVID cases were growing exponentially in New York State in March 2020, my band Watkins and the Rapiers was beginning a residency at Rochester’s Little Theatre Café, scheduled to perform every Monday in March and April.
We kicked things off March 2 accompanying our music with a silent auction of recently banned and “soon-to-be-vintage” plastic shopping bags (five) that just two days earlier were free at area retail stores. I wasn’t sure what was more curious, that people enthusiastically bid on the bags contributing a total of $22 (which we put in the Little Café server’s tip jar) or that the run-of-the-mill Walgreens bag shared the highest bid with the classic smiley face emoji bag.
At any rate, it was a normal Monday of music and distraction.
At the time, our area had no known COVID cases, though the virus was wreaking havoc eight or 10 counties away. That soon changed, as our first case was reported March 4. Our next gig on Monday, March 9, turned out to be our last.
Yes, things moved pretty quickly. We practiced March 11, learning some Irish songs for what would have been our day-before-St. Patrick’s Day performance. The next day the NHL and NBA shut down, a seemingly unthinkable turn. Soon after the Little Theatre canceled all café performances.
And the band went on hiatus.
Truth be told there was something liberating about abandoning the cat-herding required to schedule practices for a six-member band, and the set-in-stone gig dates that always thwarted some social or vacation option or other. Of course, the social and vacation options were also dwindling, so….
Yes, we’ve had a few performances and get-togethers since then.
- In April 2020 we did three live streams, but because we were socially isolating, we didn’t perform them as a band. Rather we treated them as song circles, performing solo tunes one after another from our homes, taking advantage of the format to include former band member Rob Goodwin, who joined us for the first time in 20 years from his home in Montana, and to reach out-of-town folks who rarely had a chance to see us. These sessions were gratifying, but they lacked the musical interactions that make us a band, and really, the sound and visuals aren’t great on live streams. Three dates seemed like enough.
- The band also played two socially distanced gigs on outdoor stages last fall, one in a backyard, the other in a parking lot, for which we had one outdoor practice in a driveway. Those were like reunions—momentary glimpses into what life sort of used to be like.
- Attempts to initiate recording projects whereby each of us would contribute parts from our home studios failed to take hold, but we did manage to keep alive our tradition of presenting new Christmas music each year by posting YouTube videos of five original songs by four of our members recorded individually in home studios.
And just as we’d waited out the summer, we settled in for the long pandemic winter.
Ready for Another Bite
Not long ago, we began hearing from some of our FWGs (friends with gigs) about booking some outdoor performances this summer. This was more or less how I imagined the return to musical normal: a few outdoor summer gigs, then by fall, maybe enough people would be vaccinated to make indoor performances safe again.
And sure enough our band members have been getting vaccinated, and by last week, we had all gotten our second shots. It was safe to practice again. So we got together indoors for the first time since March 2020.
After a year of solitary woodshedding, resuming our former routines around playing in the band was both familiar and exotic, peppered with occasional rushes of euphoria that were probably more than the music warranted. It was like normal with a footnote saying that normal’s not normal and could be a mirage. We brushed up on some older songs, introduced a few new ones written during the pandemic, and ate some of Tom’s homemade cookies.
How strange, how fortunate to just pick up where we left off, to be moving forward again, as if we hadn’t missed any beats at all.
Photo at the top of the page: Then-freshly reunited Finnish death metal band Abhorrence live at Tuska Open Air2013 pretty much looks the way my band does in my dreams about returning to the music scene. Photo By Cecil – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27029831