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Buffalo Bob Sez: Talkin’ Pandemic Blues - Sportsmen's Americana Music Foundation

As we’re now into the ninth month of the virus, it’s long past time to check in with some of the great musicians and performers who have made it all happen in WNY.

For all of us who love music, there have been many moments where we thought it would be very cool to do what they do; it looks fantastic, to get up there and present music to an enthusiastic crowd of like-minded people hanging on your every word or move when the magic is happening. But it doesn’t just easily fall into place.

By Bob McLennan

First, they need the talent to be able to develop the skills to be a professional musician. Throughout their lives, they’ve worked their asses off learn to read music, master their instruments, write songs, and painstakingly learn, through trial and error, how to be a better performer. They’ve spent endless hours working on their music, collaborating with others, learning all about the equipment, planning all the logistics involved with live shows, and then hoping enough people come out to support them.

But then last March everything came to a screeching halt; shows canceled with no idea of when things would go back to normal, and now at Thanksgiving it has gone downhill again. So, I’ve gotten in touch with six of the incredible performers who’ve graced our stages in Buffalo and Western New York and presented us with many exciting and joyful times. I think it’s a mixed bag of performers who are all in slightly different situations. Let’s see what David Miller, Eric Crittenden, Jerry Hall, Grace Lougen, Dan Delano and Doug Yeomans have to say.

JAM: Thanks to all of you for participating. It’s an opportunity to convey your thoughts to your fans and supporters who love your music, and I’m sure many of them are concerned with how you are doing.

When is the last live show you played? How often did you perform live prior to COVID? Have you played live at all over the past several months?

David: I’m answering these questions the morning after our monthly residency show at the Sportsmen’s Tavern, which will likely be our last show for a month or two as everything shuts down due to the COVID numbers in our area. Over the last several years I have averaged 3.5-4 shows per week. Over the last several months, I have averaged the same per month and looks like it’s about to be even less. Quite a different pace.

Critt: Oct. 30th, Sportsmen’s: Herbie Hancock Tribute. I played live on average twice a week at least. I’ve perhaps played four times in the last two months – tops. Since April until today, I think I’ve played eight times.

Jerry: The last show Ten Cent Howl played was the Legal Defense Fund benefit show at Sportsmen’s on Sunday, Oct. 25th. We actually had a double-header that day, blasting over to Sports after we played at the Great Pumpkin Farm out in Clarence. The Howl would average two or three gigs a month before COVID – sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the season and opportunities.

Since COVID hit, we’ve played very rarely. We had a couple opportunities to get together for some live-streams and recorded shows, one for Band Together Buffalo, and another for Taste of Buffalo. We actually recorded both of those on the same day in July in Bill’s backyard with Band Together Buffalo’s Marc Odien. That was the first time we had gotten together live-and-in-person since the initial shutdown. We played for the Music is Art festival’s massive live-streamed event down in Silo City. It was a really cool and impressively creative way to keep MiA happening under such crazy and difficult circumstances. I was really blown away by the amount of work and effort put into that event. Unfortunately, there were some massive audio glitches in the live-stream from our stage, but we had an awesome time and the natural reverberations from the silos sounded amazing.

We also played twice out at the fantastic Lucy Goose Grill at Grandview Bay Golf Course in Angola. Rick (Manguso) and his wife Lucy have really made a name for themselves among some of WNY’s best musicians with their great outdoor performance area. That place is always an awesome time, and people there really love them some live music!

Grace: I have been fortunate to play some small outdoor gigs over the summer. The last one I played was Nov. 7, when we had some random warm weather. I did a duo gig at Balloons in Ellicottville with Megan Brown. We stayed 12+ feet back outside and played to people sitting at tables spread way out.

Prior to COVID I played just about every night of the week. Sometimes more than once a day; I usually had two or three on a Friday or Saturday. Summer was always the craziest. These past many months I feel very fortunate to have still played about one show per week. These were mostly at Sportsmen’s Tavern, West Falls Center For the Arts, and any venue or restaurant with a big space outside that could tuck a band in the corner safely. The gigs started to die out as the cold weather set in, and now of course they won’t happen for a while again because of the shutdown.

Dan: The last live show I played was The Tom Petty Dreamville 3 show on Oct. 17 at a very well guidelined venue.

I used to play roughly four to six times a month. With being in public office, it was hard for me to do any more than that. Coming out of that job, I had quite the 2020 calendar booked with multiple acts. Goes without saying, it all washed away.

In the past several months, four times. Four different acts. Two were at the aforementioned venue, which was comfortable for me, and many know that I was very trepidant about doing anything gig-wise. It needed to be the right situation for me, with enough room to keep my distance in general. The other two gigs at private outdoor events were not so impressive. When the band has the highest percentage of mask wearers, something’s amiss.

Doug: My last live gig was on Tuesday, Nov. 17, with The Twang Gang at the Sportsmen’s Tavern. We’ve been able to continue to do The Twang Gang every week since June. And I’ve been doing two Bluegrass shows per month at The Sportsmen’s. I also did a couple of shows outside in West Falls. Before COVID, I played live or in the studio anywhere from two to six times a week. From March ‘til November, I and my musical cohorts have experienced the closure of many of the venues that we as live (and even studio) musicians in the WNY region and beyond have made all of, or at least part of, our income from.

JAM: What do you miss most about performing live music?

David: Some of the greatest experiences of my life were brought to me mostly through performing live via the traveling to the gigs. I love touring mostly because I love the road and discovering new places, meeting new people, seeing views I’ve never seen and stepping into venues I have never played. Driving is my zen place and where I get a lot of song ideas, music and lyrics, and inspiration for performing.

Critt: Synergy from the stage to the crowd to stage … it’s a give and take shared experience when it all comes together. It’s magic. And it feeds my soul.

Jerry: Live music is therapy I think for both the audience and the performers. Therapy is most beneficial in times of stress and uncertainty, and as we all know COVID has got us chock full of both! So, yeah, I miss the therapeutic value of getting together with like-minded people and transporting ourselves and hopefully our audience to a place far away from the land of uncertainty and confusion. “Gimme the beat, boys, and free my soul.”

Grace: Performing live is my favorite. I especially love the energy of playing with a band. The connection between musicians and a listening audience is incredibly special. I consider it a kind of spiritual thing in a way, because live music is healing to people that listen and to the people that play. The musicians feed off the energy of a crowd, and together, as a unified being almost, they can be taken to another place entirely. That might sound a little strange to some people, I guess, but it’s the best way I can describe what I consider to be the power of live music.

Dan: I miss the people. I love hanging and talking music and that is one of the best places to do so. I miss the adrenaline rush of the whole thing. It’s why I do it. I also REALLY missed playing The Last Waltz show and hanging with my castmates/friends … but 2021 it is.

Doug: I miss the energy of the audience and the give and take of the musicians on stage if it’s a band gig.

JAM: What are you doing musically to replace performing live music? Are you collaborating with others on new projects?

David: I made a decision back in March to start to build a project studio in my house where I could record and produce songs that I’ve written over the years and create new ideas. It’s taken me a few months but I finally have a pretty good flow and have over 20 songs in various stages of completion from simple acoustic songs to full Miller and The Other Sinner-type production with rhythm section, horns, keys and more. I have started several collaborations on singles. I have a tune I’m co-writing with Alligator Records blues talent Selwyn Birchwood that I am really excited about. Several weeks ago, I tracked a song with my keyboardist Steve Davis, Grace Lougen, Danusia Nowak-Riffel and her husband which we should be getting mixes from soon. I’ve brought Hayden Fogle in playing guitar on a song that I will be sending out to over 20 area vocalists to sing on as well as working on a song I wrote for him. I have a few others in the planning stages as well as a cool collaboration on a video project for a song I’m releasing called “Ghosts Are Alive and Well” telling the true story of a young girl growing up in the south as the Klan would march down her streets. Sometimes history repeats itself, huh? Lots of good stuff going on creatively.

Critt: Not much really. I’m doing some lessons and helping others do lessons and writing here and there. But by and large I haven’t been real motivated. Music is foreign. Other things I’ve been doing to help keep music alive is producing HQ live streams with Jeff Garbacz exclusively at Babeville. Anna Kapechuk and the Babeville family have been amazing collaborators in the plight to keep music alive. I’m also a cofounder of a business called Buffalo Music Club: a marketplace curated by Buffalo musicians for Buffalo musicians. Together we aim to keep the music alive by offering the community lessons, workshops and masterclasses and eventually ProMusic services like production, mixing, mastering and session work.

Jerry: The Howl has actually been reasonably productive over COVID really since the beginning. When the lockdown first began, Bill started writing tunes like crazy. I looked for a way to jam online but there’s no way to overcome the inevitable lag with the streaming services. What we ended up doing was having Bill video himself playing a song on his phone, send it to me where I’d add video of me playing bass, mix those together, send it to Sasha and Peter to video themselves, share all those back with me and I’d mix them together. It was quite an involved and difficult process but I think, after time, we got a decent knack at it. We called them “Quarantine Collaborations” and posted the creations on Facebook and YouTube in the hopes that we could add a little musical light and joy to a dark time.

As the weather started to improve with the coming of spring and summer, we were able to get together and jam live outside. That was such a welcomed relief and really helped us work on the new tunes we had started in the online collaborations. All-in-all, Bill wrote seven songs over the course of this COVID situation and we just got into BlackRock Studio to turn them into a new EP!

Grace: My band Grosh has been working hard in the studio on another album, so that has been a great creative outlet. I have been doing a lot of writing and practicing things that I don’t usually get to, which is nice. I also have been collaborating on some studio and video projects with many other musicians that we are planning to start releasing in December. I have been learning a LOT about recording and video editing software, which can only help me with future projects. In my opinion, nothing can replace performing live. But I have always loved writing music and working in the studio very much also, so I am grateful to still be able to do that.

Dan: I’ve re-tooled the music room for a large, ventilated and socially-distanced rehearsal space / recording studio / equipment workshop. I was crawling around like a madman down there until mid-May, then it was outside of the house fixing time. Since the colder weather change, I’m back to the basement. I’ve unearthed a lot of unfinished recordings that I shelved throughout the last two decades while raising kids. I’ve rebuilt some vintage gear. I’ve written more than I have in a long time. CODA broke in the mighty Jeff Schaller on drums and the Steam Donkeys have now started to prepare for what I think will be another album quite soon. Bruce Wojick and The Struggle is also chipping away at another album. It’s all good.

Doug: Live streams and working at home on writing and recording. Like many musicians I turned to live streaming as a way to stay close to the music loving community. In March I started doing Facebook live streams a couple times a week. It’s not something one can depend on as a source of income to replace the live performances but it keeps the community connected on some level until we ride out the pandemic. I’ve been working on a couple of recording projects, one being an album of lullabies since I’ll be becoming a grandfather soon. The other is an album I’ve been working on for a while with Dwane Hall that we hope to finish up soon, with special guests Bill Kirchen, Albert Lee and Redd Volkaert.

 

JAM: Is there anything positive that’s come from this?

David: To be honest, I kinda needed this break. It takes so much energy and time to book tours and do the logistics required to be a self-managing touring artist that the last five years left me little time to create and burned me out a bit. I’ve enjoyed the down time at home, with my wife and dogs, while learning how to run my studio gear.

Critt: There’s some silver linings as a whole as it relates to family, self-care and the like, however there’s zero silver linings to live music. Even the live music that happens now – while novel, needed and necessary, it’s not real. And everybody knows it. We’re trying to pretend like things are moving forward – but it’s willful pretending – from the venue to the player to audience member.

Jerry: Certainly, the new seven-song EP is a positive! Working on all the videos for the Quarantine Collaborations forced me to learn more sophisticated video editing techniques. It also forced me to invest in a better computer and video software, so moving forward I’ll be able to do cooler stuff (like working with greenscreen effects and layer masking).

Another positive that came from all this is a greater appreciation for my bandmates and I will never take live face-to-face playing and even rehearsals for granted again. It’s a classic “don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone” thing.

Grace: I think one thing that I’ve noticed is that people are hungry for music. Original music even! Myself included. When a new album or music video comes out, I sit down and watch or listen to the whole thing. I’ve noticed a lot of people doing this. It seems to have brought more value back to these albums and releases. Which is great because if you have people listening to recorded music or videos, that can be a great showcase of a new song. Musicians are being forced to up their game with the quality of their video and recordings. Recordings of songs that a person will have to listen to for their first time while at home alone with no distractions.

Dan: For me, that’s a hard question to answer without getting too deep, but I’ll try. No one can put a price on how the venues that we play in are suffering, nor are there any guarantees of them all returning. I suppose the hard facts of how quickly venues, bands, organizations and time can go away will create a deeper appreciation for our art community. Being artists, we need to perform but we also tend to be a caring bunch and our fellow human’s well-being tend to be of the utmost importance. I don’t think we will have a full understanding of the impact, both good and bad, that this year has had for quite a while.

Doug: Since I’ve lost so many days and nights out doing live shows, the positive aspect is that it has given me time for writing and recording that I couldn’t quite fit in my schedule previously. And I’ve also been able to focus on some other home projects.

 

JAM: What are your thoughts about what the live music scene might look like in 2021?

David: Well, I’m kinda trying not to think about it too much, but as a barstool prophet, I think its gonna take a few years before returning to what we saw in 2019, which was already a starving scene. I predict that once the states open up again as we can beat back COVID, for myself, I will be doing more solo/duo touring and looking for new and different opportunities for performing live. Music venues are hurting and even restaurants and breweries will all be fighting their way back, so budgets for bands will be lean. It’s gonna be a climb.

Critt: Again, I think there will be similarities to what there once was and I would like to think that being denied live music and most forms of culture would grow a significant renewal – but the politics behind this virus has largely poisoned the culture pool. Venues have lost any expendable income. The end result will be lowballing artists out of survival. And artists will probably respond in kind. Eventually it will get to where it needs to be, but it won’t be anytime soon. I hope I’m wrong. The writing for live music has been on the wall for a long time. COVID just exposed it – just like it has exposed many other things we all willfully denied for the sake of feeling normal. For example, in the ‘90s bands could tour and play festivals as frequently as they wanted. As long as you continued to build your audience, marketed right and toured right – you could have a pretty decent career. Then all of a sudden 100 possible festivals became 50 and then like 20 worth pursuing. Glam festivals like Bonnaroo and Coachella and the like have become the bloated bottom-line centric norm. Not everywhere and certainly there are great festivals and still plenty of opportunities for artists and buyers alike – to make a difference. Even the aforementioned festivals have great moments, acts and experiences. But live music, like every other cultural American experience, was co-opted, commercialized and gentrified. It’s pay to play, who you know and incredibly inequitable across racial, gender and social lines. Again, typical to the true America. My hope is that the great reset that has jarred our lives beyond blissful denial will return to its roots of congregating to express our humanity amidst a backdrop of groove, energy and song. The very essence of communicating across those things that divide us can easily be communicated by a groove and a smile. This concept is as old as human history, so hopefully we go to that place as we emerge from the ashes. But I can’t lie that I’m not glass half full as I used to be – but still thirsty, nonetheless.

Jerry: I think the 2021 scene will be dependent on the production, distribution and the public’s reception of vaccines, but also very dependent on how people choose to behave. If people can’t get over themselves and follow the recommendations of doctors, epidemiologists and scientists, I think the virus won’t abate and the protective orders (some getting a bit carried away) will cripple our abilities to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

What I fear the most is that all these lockdown orders will drive many clubs and venues into bankruptcy. I really wish the federal government would get off its ass, stop the political infighting and provide businesses (and the citizens) with the help we all direly need. I have never been more disappointed and angry at the ineptitude of our elected representatives than I am now. It literally disgusts me.

Grace: I’m really not sure to be honest. All my predictions for the end of this year were way off, so I don’t feel inclined to confidently say anything, ha ha. I hope, of course, that a cure is found and the numbers go down. In that case, though it might not snap right back to normal with shows and full capacities, I believe there will be a serious demand for live music. If it’s slower and shutdowns continue, it’s going to be super hard on these music venues and will take a lot of creativity to keep them afloat. As to the concern some people voice about live music NEVER coming back, I’m not worried about that. Playing and listening to live music is an essential part of living.

Dan: I think it will come back pretty damned strong. We are resilient and most of us look out for each other. I pray that the venues survive.

Doug: In my world as a musician I’m acutely aware of the large number of workers that support what I do, bar tenders, waiters and waitresses, cooks, club owners, support staff, alcohol distributors, production crews, repair shops, and the list goes on and on. We had hope in June when many restaurants and clubs we play were able to open on a limited basis. Now the second wave hits as the weather turns cold and any chance of outdoor gigs fades with the summer sunshine. Here in WNY we are watching our most cherished gigging venues close their doors for now. For me that means the Sportsmen’s Tavern and the West Falls Center For the Arts, of which I’m the musical director. Those are the ones that hurt personally the most. For 2021 and beyond, I think the live music scene will endure, although some clubs may close and some musicians may choose to drop out.

 

JAM: Anything else you’d like to share with the WNY Americana music community?

David: Well, just because “why not?” … I released “Rise,” my first Miller and The Other Sinners studio EP in June (perfect timing right? Lol) in digital, CD and Vinyl formats and just took delivery on a double vinyl release of “Poisons Sipped,” the album that got this solo music career journey thing really going. I’m really proud of these projects and the message in each. I have no plan to stop creating music, even if performing it live becomes more challenging.

Critt: We all just need to chill the fuck out. Mother Nature isn’t anything to fuck around with. Nature doesn’t care about your politics, your income, your constitution or your fucking opinion. Science rules at the moment — best to stand back and stand by and let science save us. Most of us anyways. I will say this, though, if the auto, housing and industries can constantly get bailed out — why not entertainment? These fat cats who make the rules unwind with our art. Playlists and Netflix will only get you so far. Life without art is death.

Jerry: I want everyone to sit back and think about live music performances – artistic performances in general – and how much they value them. I want people to realize that their actions have a direct effect on our ability to provide them with live shows. As I said, if people can’t get over themselves and stop their disregard for public health protocols and mandates, we will not get out of this situation any time soon. If this goes on much longer, venues will permanently close and live music will be incredibly hard to come by. We have the power to fix this situation. I really hope we choose more wisely.

Grace: This is a time for creative people to shine and help save the music industry. It was hard to make a living as a musician before, right now it’s next to impossible. But with the time we have to grow stronger and create a new path for the future, I am hopeful that new avenues of opportunity will be opened and art will roam a little more freely than it did even before all of this happened.

Dan: From what I’ve observed in the most part, I think what the music community did by figuring out how to make this whole thing work was creative and responsible. The effort put into creative online ticket sales, which ultimately prevented too many people from showing up at a particular venue or event, which was one of the government’s stated concerns early on, was absolutely phenomenal. I won’t completely get into my opinion about how that was then temporarily suspended, but I will say that the powers that be couldn’t have been paying attention to how effective and responsible that actually was and is.

In closing, we have to understand that no two of us are in the same position or mindset in this whole situation. The WORST thing we can do is criticize one another for just that. People are scared in one way or the other and we need to show kindness and understanding through our fear. That is not easy but, hey, we’re artists. We know how to prevail. Be well all.

Doug: I’m well aware of the many differences of opinion on the right course of action in response to the COVID crisis and my opinion is just one of many. I want and need to work at my trade, but I can see the logic in keeping our distance from one another as this plays out. Like so many others, I’ve suffered the loss of a loved one to COVID and if closing down when numbers are high helps save lives, then count me in. One thing I know is that creating a climate of division among the population on wearing masks or anything else will not serve any of us and can only prolong our time away from the people we love and getting back to our professions. Let’s be smart instead of confrontational.

 


JAM:  Just before Thanksgiving, bars and restaurants were shut down again in Erie County, including the legendary Sportsmen’s Tavern. The Hall family has done a phenomenal job over the past several months to try to keep the music going, under very difficult conditions of drastically reduced crowds and strict rules to keep everyone safe at their venue. I’m sure I speak for everyone who loves live music when I convey my appreciation for what they’ve done. We have all lost so much of the experiences of human connection that we treasure.

Looking at photos of pre-COVID gatherings is like looking at pictures from the old days. We can only hope that with a new emphasis on following the science and the development of a vaccine, 2021 will be better for all of us. Hang in there and keep yourself and your family safe. When the time comes, and it will, when we can all get together again, we hope that all of us will be there. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, and Happy Holidays and Happy New year to all of you.

Bob McLennan
Board Member
SAM Foundation

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Greg Czech says:

    Hi Bob, Greg Czech with McCarthyizm here and want to thank you for this article. Reading comments from our music family is reassuring and has me feeling we’re all in the same boat and am so looking forward to getting back out there! Thankfully for me I spend my time working on the craft of playing and recording in the studio I built in my home! Thanks for what you do and hope you and your family stay healthy and safe! Cheers✌️

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