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Rochester music runs up-'stream' during pandemic


For this moment, a dramatic response was called for. It was time to come up big. Matt Ramerman had what he calls a local “power roster” of musicians lined up and ready to go this weekend. He had sponsors. He had a venue, the biggest club in town, Anthology. The technology needed to stream the show live on the internet was ready. The message: We’re down, but not out…

But now, for the moment, the more-immediate moment, the coronavirus pandemic is winning. This past weekend, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called for the state to shut down, banning people from congregating in groups. And with that, the organizers of this weekend’s event temporarily scrapped their plans. Musicians, even ones playing to an empty room, are still a congregation.

Nevertheless, they persist. The muse can be a real pest. There are new shows to stream on the internet every day: musicians performing live, in their living rooms. Watch parties, in which viewers can tip the performers.

Other musicians are going the online route as well. We’ve gotta keep these folks fed.

Murphy. John Dady. Jed Curran. Rob Smith and Gladstone of JunkYardFieldTrip. They’ve all gone internet. In fact, there’s Gladstone and his old Uncle Plum bandmate, Elvio Fernandes, dueting on a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” Fernandes is playing keyboards, and over his shoulder is a video screen with Gladstone on guitar and vocals. Fernandes, who tours as Daughtry’s keyboardist and guitarist, calls it “Uninvited Duets.” This was immediately followed by his songwriting challenge, “QuaranTUNE,” urging kids 18 and younger to write a song with the word “quarantine” in it, and post it on Instagram. The Golden Link Folk Singing Society has moved its sing-arounds on Tuesday nights to the internet platform Zoom.

See? This is what happens when musicians get stuck at home. They start creating stuff.

It’s not just music. Natalie Rogers-Cropper, principal dancer with Garth Fagan Dance, has just started free, live dance lessons online every day. Beginning technique at 4:30 p.m., intermediate technique at 6 p.m. You’ll find her on Facebook Live and Instagram Live.

Two years ago, Ramerman bought the former ACME Recording Co., on Humboldt Street. He gutted the place, and began rebuilding it slowly — piece by piece — until last week, as the coronavirus developments became more urgent. “This is just accelerating my plans,” he said with a laugh.

The new plan was to invite local musicians to perform at Ramerman’s studio, called The Green Room, in a series called Greenstream. Keep it to solo or duo performances, he said, “to kind of mitigate the contact.” And stream the shows on multiple internet platforms. Facebook Live, YouTube, Vimeo and Instagram. High-end videos, with multiple camera angles.

“It’s been a challenge, too, as stores close, to get ahold of gear,” Ramerman said. “Shipping is taking longer and longer, I’ve had a lot of stuff that I’ve paid for overnight shipping last week that — some boxes have just disappeared completely. UPS doesn’t even know where they are.”

Yet even that cautious effort had fallen apart by Monday. “Typical logistical challenges, and new logistical challenges,” Ramerman said. And the musicians, he added, are worried about the public perception of going out to a studio, in a state where only workers providing essential services are allowed to do so out of their homes.

Music. Not an essential service.

Rochester musician Teagan Ward. - PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON
  • Rochester musician Teagan Ward.
That was Monday. By Tuesday — and this stuff seems to change every hour — Ramerman had begun to rally local musicians to play a real-time festival the weekend of April 3, 4, and 5. Thirty-minute sets for everyone, on Facebook Live, playing from the safety of their own homes. Alan Murphy and Teagan Ward were among the first to confirm. “Oh,” a multi-tasking Ramerman said as he was talking by phone about it Tuesday afternoon, while watching his texts. “Mike Gladstone just got on.”

And once the all-clear klaxon blows, and musicians emerge from their quarantines and gather in relative safety, it seems that the coronavirus pandemic has created a new concert trend.

“I don’t think this streaming thing is going away,” Ramerman was saying earlier this week. And this probably hasn’t changed. “I don’t think it’s something that’s just a quick fad while it's happening,” he said. “Even after this crisis, we’re going to have that really be a factor in entertainment.”

Jeff Spevak is WXXI's arts and life editor and reporter. He can be reached at