Getting the Band Back Together

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. 

Losing Normal

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…. 

Watkins and the Rapiers performed “Sturgis,” a “Woodstock” parody, on Oct. 17, 2020 in the socially distanced parking lot of the Little Theatre Café, Rochester, N.Y. 

Pandemic Reunions

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. 

Watkins and the Rapiers rehearse on April 20, 2021, lower left to right: Scott Regan, Steve Piper, Marty York, Rick McRae, Kerry Regan (in foreground) and Tom Whitmore.

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,

Did Someone Say: Rewrite the Lyrics to ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’?

Singing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” in an Aug. 4 live-streamed tribute to The Band’s “The Last Waltz” made Alabama-based singer-songwriter Early James a little uneasy. In this national moment when statues of Confederate war heroes are being removed amidst Black Lives Matter protests, he wanted to be clear he had no sympathy to the causes of the Old South. So he reworked some of the song’s lyrics. The title line, for example, became “Tonight, we drive old Dixie down.” 

You can read more about his rewrite here. He certainly did a credible job, but did he still come up a little short of capturing the current sensibility? Early, what would you think about something more like this:

Photo at the top of the page by Infrogmation (talk), CC BY-SA 2.5,

When Even Fantasy Shuts Down

You’d think during a time of social distancing that one’s imagination would blossom and fill some of the daily routine’s newly empty space with unsuppressed wonder and delight. So imagine my disappointment last week when my one ongoing fantasy was utterly dashed. 

It was announced in an email from the University of Snipe’s Dean Dangle. He’s also commissioner of the Gump Worsley Invitational Fantasy Hockey League in which his school and my team, the Ellwanger Maple Leaves, compete. The unfinished coronavirus-plagued season is over. It won’t be salvaged. No make-up games. No playoffs. No cash awards to top finishers. 

W-w-wait. No cash awards? So what happened to the money I paid in, to fund the awards? 

No worries. According to Dangle, that money will transfer to next year “so no League fees will be required for the 2020/2021 season.”

Fantasy draft night is a national holiday if you call in sick that day. 

OK, if there’s nothing shady going on, then I guess it’s okay to reminisce about the season. It began with great promise, with the draft party at the commissioner’s office. Bold signage let everyone on the block know if was draft night. Dean Dangle’s squad showed off new University of Snipe wearables and shared such locker room staples as pizza, wings, pucks and water bottles, as well as complimentary mints. My fantasy was festive!

Food spread at the draft party anticipated the fast food fare champions could expect should they accept an invitation to the White House. 

My team, the Ellwanger Maple Leaves, got off to a rough start, but by March we had clawed our way back to fourth place in the 10-team league, getting hot just in time for the playoffs. My fantasy had fire!

Then on March 12, the NHL suspended play. Anyone who knows anything about fantasy sports knows our league needs the pros in action so their stats can fill our score sheets. In other words, my fantasy was f***ed!

If white males focused as much attention on the election as they do on their fantasy hockey drafts, Wayne Gretzky would be president.

But not so fast. Our league play was officially on hold while the NHL worked out details of if and how it would complete the season, and last week the NHL returned to action. Well apparently Dean Dangle got deked during negotiations, because the NHL chose to close out the year with a format that was incompatible with the Gump Worsley Invitational bylaws. The NHL’s 24-team playoff means that fantasy squads with players on the NHL teams that advance would have an insurmountable advantage.

So Dean Dangle was forced to forfeit our fantasy. It’s hard for me to say those words. (F’s have always given me trouble and with that much alliteration…I don’t even want to go there.)

These University of Snipe water bottles can contain any legal beverage.

For what it’s worth, the unprecedented action came “after much deliberation and due an abundance of caution,” Dangle claimed. “The League spent a great deal of time consulting officials and reaching out to how other fantasy hockey leagues across the sphere were handling the end of the season. There was no consensus – but we felt this one was the fairest across the board.”

These University of Snipe logoed hockey pucks have no actual role in fantasy hockey. 

Whatever. As another Gump once said, fantasy is as fantasy does. And in my fantasy, my Maple Leaves are just starting what I believe will be an epic run that will eventually find me hoisting high the Gump Worsley Cup (not the athletic supporter he wore when playing goalie, but something more like the Stanley Cup) while dancing around in my living room, occasionally blocking my wife’s view of the TV.

I’d invite you to join the celebration, but I’m not yet ready to fantasize that the coronavirus pandemic’s social distancing will be over any time soon. All the same, please go ahead and enjoy a mint, compliments of the University of Snipe.

Mints provided on draft night were custom made in the University of Snipe’s team colors, red and white. 

Note: Photo of Gump Worsley at top of page is a trading card photo of the Montreal Canadiens goalie that was printed on the backs of Chex cereal boxes in the United States and Canada from 1963 to 1965. 

Where is All This Going?

This is a scary time in the United States as the population struggles with a global pandemic and the resulting economic crisis while the president exacerbates both by promoting policies for an alternate reality. 

Some suggest we are “sleepwalking toward economic catastrophe” (Vox, July 20), approaching a fiscal cliff of serious devastation as pandemic unemployment insurance payments and rent and mortgage forgiveness are ending. 

I’m going to say we can still make a few maneuvers to avoid that cliff. Here are some predictions on how these and other crises will play out over the next year. 

Sept. 29, 2020—Joe Biden emerges from his basement for the first presidential debate at the University of Notre Dame sans sports jacket and reveals that he’s been pumping iron all summer. “What are we doin’ here?” he asks in his opening remarks. “Nobody wants to hear us yakking about policy. Let’s settle this mano a mano. Donald J. Trump, I challenge you to an arm wrestling contest.” Trump accepts. After a TV commercial the match takes place, but the man Biden arm wrestles appears to be Congressional Representative and former college wrestling champion Jim Jordan in orange facial makeup and a clown wig. After deadlocking for 30 seconds, Biden slams Trump/Jordan’s arm to the desk and celebrates his win by shredding a “Make America Great Again” hat with his teeth.

Nov. 5, 2020—Following his overwhelming electoral win, president-elect Joe Biden admits that the coronavirus pandemic was a hoax, concocted by Democrats to defeat Donald Trump. Thousands of the coronavirus “dead” come out of isolation to rejoin their families. The formerly late John Prine charts his first No. 1 single, written during his isolation, offering his humorous yet melancholy social commentary on his near-death experience.

Dec. 25, 2020—Google releases a new app that enables people to change their skin color and accompanying physical characteristics at will to optimize performance in job interviews, dance contests, college admission tests and other endeavors. The Black Lives Matter movement puts all actions on hold while it assesses the app.

Dec. 29, 2020—In Week 16 of the NFL season, the Buffalo Bills defeat the New England Patriots for the second time this fall, 35-14, to retain their perfect 15-0 record. The team’s bid to become only the third undefeated team in NFL history ends that same day, as Covid roster decimation peaks. All remaining games—including Super Bowl LV—are cancelled. 

Jan. 19, 2021—Donald Trump and his family are escorted from the White House by armed members of the U.S. Military after concluding his exit negotiations granting him immunity from prosecution for all crimes he has committed. Iconic video shows Trump riding up the escalator at Trump Tower, perfectly bookending oft-shown video of him riding down the escalator to announce his run for the presidency. 

Jan. 20, 2021—Immediately following Joe Biden’s inauguration, Ruth Bader Ginsburg announces that she died Dec. 21, 2019. Following her announcement, she high fives Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, proclaiming, “Dude! We out-McConnelled McConnell!” 

May 6, 2021—Troubling news from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Jared Kushner and wife Ivanka moved after months of being refused admission to every club, party and restaurant in the New York Metropolitan area. Kushner is fired from his job as manger of the Subway Restaurant on East 15th Street over accusations of engaging in child pornography. Kushner’s defense: “That was the other Jared.” 

July 4, 2021—Donald J. Trump shoots someone on Fifth Avenue. His lawyers claim immunity from prosecution, but a trial ensues and the former president is sentenced to life in prison. His sentence includes an unusual stipulation that a 24X7 webcam is required to be operational at all times in Trump’s cell. Without makeup and tailored clothing, the camera reveals that Trump’s skin is an ashen grayish-pink, his scalp balding with patchy clumps of thinning white hair and his belly voluminous. He looks old and defeated. 24X7.

Photos at the top of the page, left to right:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, public domain

John Prine, public domain

Joe Biden, public domain

Donald Trump, public domain

Duke_Williams photo by Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Jared Fogle photo by IlliniGradResearch – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Baby Steps Toward the New Normal

One lingering sign of my suspect masculinity is my relative indifference to hardware stores. I have nothing against them, and they sometimes give me mild pleasure. But I’m a stranger there. I feel no intimacy walking aisles full of incomprehensibly shaped metal objects. (OK, I know what some of them are, but still….)

This came to mind the other day when I caught a good vibe while shopping in an office supply store, open now that we are in Phase 3 of New York State’s business reopening. These aisles were filled with the tools of my trade. Here I know—and have opinions about—everything on the shelves. I even know the print shop. I’ve written case histories about their business plans and press releases about a manufacturer winning the contract to supply their printing devices. Not much gets by me here. 

Probably my mild ecstasy came about in part because my long stretch in pandemic isolation rendered my office supply experience into something bordering on sensory overload. An early warning came when rolling out of the driveway felt like a Springsteen song: “The night’s busting open, these two lanes can take us anywhere.” 

Staples or OfficeMax! 

But I confess to also having an affinity for office supply stores. When I went out on my own two dozen years ago as a freelance writer / public relations practitioner / communications consultant / fill in the blank for whatever title my paying clients preferred, this was where I bought all the little and some of the big things I needed to become a real business. It felt good at the time, exercising my self-reliance and simultaneously getting a little payback. The agency I’d left wouldn’t give me a laptop computer, so while I could type my notes to phone meetings on my company-supplied desktop computer, I reverted to handwriting at in-person meetings—while others typed on laptops. No more! And the new laptop I bought, wasn’t the Windows machine the agency mandated, but the Macintosh I preferred. 

Truth be told I bought the laptop from a mail order company. But the office supply store acquisitions—a headset telephone, a small collection of pens, a well-upholstered office chair and so on—were nearly as exhilarating, fueled by a similar “It’s my time now” esprit.

And what was I doing at the store on this day? I had a two-item list, both throwbacks. A phone splitter would help me rejuvenate the long idle fax capability in my multifunctional printer enabling me to respond to a financial institution’s limited and oddly antiquated information delivery options. (That’s another topic.) And I replenished our paper supply with a new 10-ream (5,000-sheet) box. Didn’t they cost $20 or $30 the last time I came here, I thought as I perused the multi-level shelves of copy paper? I’d heard that paper prices were rising, but double what I paid two years ago?

Hold on, I was in luck. The Hammermill box was on sale just over $30, roughly the amount I expected. It felt like a reprieve, like for once, an institution was watching out for me. (Well, twice if you count the $1,200 pandemic payment from the federal government.) 

The warning registered though. Next time out I should expect to pay more for paper. Amid the Black Lives Matters protests, the healthcare failures and the stalled culture and economy, the changes forthcoming in our new normal are starting to pile up. 

Photo at the top of the page by Santeri Viinamäki, CC BY-SA 4.0,

What I Did On My Coronavirus Vacation

Today’s word from Kerry is an apology for being so late in posting my song about the coronavirus, “The Quarantine Scene.” I’m sorry. Self-isolation was a novel thing when I wrote it on March 19 and imagined it rocketing around the world as the viral hit of the pandemic. Now that the first wave of business reopenings have started, it’s a bit long in the tooth. My cultural antennae tell me no one is craving a nostalgic look back at the self-quarantine of March and April. 

One qualification for my apology: I did manage a timely performance of the song when my band did three live streams in April. Our six band members each performed solo from our homes, including our drummer, Marty York, who played a memorable drum solo on his washing machine on that first night, April 13, when I debuted “The Quarantine Scene.”

But I knew I needed a more fully arranged version for this thing to go viral. And I wanted to produce it in true quarantine style, from the home studios of people who never played the song together in person, so it would not only be about the quarantine, but of the quarantine. And it felt right to restrict performers to family members, because you quarantine with your family. It didn’t hurt that several of my brothers and nephews could fill out the arrangement nicely. 

We had challenges. Our best bass player (Forrest) wasn’t available because his brother (Kieran) had bailed out of Brooklyn to stay with him in his suddenly cramped Tipperary Hill (Syracuse) apartment. An even bigger issue: none of the three who signed on had experience running a home digital recording studio. But this would be a chance to learn! Wasn’t that what the quarantine was all about, learning Zoom and other digital technologies that provide virtual socialization? Besides, my brother Phil (drums) and I were already dabblers, and we had talked about trying remote recording projects before the pandemic. My nephew Zac (violin) hadn’t recorded digitally in years, but he enthusiastically bought the equipment he needed. And we were off.

Some things came easily. Others took time and patience—a lot of YouTube tutorials, a few redos and a consultation or two with outside experts—until we eventually had something we all felt good about. 

Now as the self-quarantine is slowly lifting, I realize that this was my one project that ran through the entirety of our “pure” self-isolation period from mid-March to mid-May. It led me to learn at least some of the intricacies of Garageband software and how to turn a Zoom meeting into a YouTube live stream to broadcast our band’s performances and the song’s debut. It rallied me to open a SoundCloud account, where this recording is my first post. And it led me to engage with family members in other cities, and imagine a slew of projects we can do together during—and after—the pandemic.

Don’t get me wrong. I also took it easy during self-isolation. I had few deadlines. I went on long dog walks. I re-initiated long-ignored projects around the house. I phoned some people I hadn’t connected with in a while, with many more I should call. I watched movies with my wife almost every night. And Tiger King. 

Those are some of the reasons it took me longer than I thought it would to get this song out. But no worries. Not being too hard on yourself is part of what the quarantine scene was all about. 

The NFL Will Be Back This Fall

The National Football League will play its schedule this fall. Even it baseball never throws its first pitch. Even if a second wave of COVID-19 kicks in. Even if some states ban gatherings of 1,000-plus. And while post-coronavirus football will make adjustments, none will change the essentials of the game. 

This week’s NFL draft will not be in vain. 

Yes, training camps will start later than usual. But come on. The starters hardly play in the pre-season games anyway. They’ll be ready on opening day. 

Coaches, who tend to be older and therefore at greater risk of COVID complications, will now wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) on the sidelines. No big deal though—most of them already look pretty nerdy. 

More devastating: fans may not be allowed in the stadiums, protecting the larger population but making the NFL a TV-only league. But here’s a news flash: people like watching football on TV! We’ll miss the tailgating and the 12thman heroics, but we’ll adjust.

Then there’s the players. They’ll have to contend with a new threat: COVID-19. But let’s be real. NFL locker rooms aren’t exactly nursing homes (though Tampa Bay’s room may get reclassified as an assisted living facility since Tom Brady’s signing). 

Still, the risk of hospital stays or even death for COVID-19-inflicted NFL players isn’t zero. A handful of players have diabetes, some have asthma, and as many as 14 percent have high blood pressure(and 90 percent of linemen), according to American Medical Association-published studies—factors that increase the risk for COVID-19 complications. 

So let’s cut to the chase: how many COVID deaths can we expect in the 2020 season? One? Two? Three or four at the most? Well guess what? Four active players have diedin three different seasons: 2007, 1964 and 1963, and three have died in six campaigns, most recently in 2012. Yes, those are high numbers. Yes, each death is tragic. Yes, it’s sad. But experiencing three or four deaths of active NFL players in a season is not unheard of. 

And let’s face it. Health implications are far worse for retired players than for active ones. More than half of NFL playershave body mass indexes that put them at risk of diabetes. The high blood pressure increases the likelihood of future heart disease. Then there’s chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the neurodegenerative brain disease caused by repeated brain trauma, resulting in symptoms like memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, anxiety, impulse control issues and suicidal behavior.  A studypublished in the Journal of the American Medical Associationin 2017 found CTE in 110 of the 111 brains of former NFL players they studied. To sum up: nearly every NFL player gets it. 

Indeed CTE has introduced a new brand of danger to the NFL—and the coronavirus can slot right into that same lane. If players inhale each other’s potentially coronavirus-laden droplets in the trenches or when they’re putting a big hit on that running back or when they’re doing those homo-erotic end-zone celebrations, well, it’s all part of the game. It’s their destiny. It’s American’s destiny. Let’s embrace it!

Let’s savor Tom Brady’s new quest to lead a non-Bill Belichick team to the Super Bowl, which is scheduled to take place in Brady’s new home stadium in Tampa Bay this year, by the way. Let’s rejoice when the nation’s betting capital finally gets its own team as the erstwhile Oakland Raiders open their first season in Las Vegas. And most importantly, let’s take note that the Buffalo Bills are No. 11 in the pre-season power rankings of both ESPN and Sports Illustrated. After more than two decades of frustration and entering the fourth season of a Brandon Beane / Sean McDermott-led rebuild, the Bills are ready to return to form. 

We can’t let that just slip away.

The photo at the top of the page by is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license: cc-by-sa-2.0.