By Lucy Bell
“Bottom line: I’m a performer first, and for me nothing can replace an audience,” says Geno McManus.
Well, types. Like so many things during the pandemic, the interview wasn’t done in person .
Sitting in my temporary home of Syracuse, New York, I’ve had a lot of time to sit and think about the two years of the pandemic and its effect on the music industry.
Throughout the pandemic, so many negative articles have been written about this post-apocalyptic-esque reality musicians and the industry are facing today.
No, I’m not insinuating we should bust down the guideline-built walls that surround our everyday life, I just think that we should focus on how we, as a community, can endure such devastation and morph it into new opportunities and really, roll with the punches.
I asked three Buffalo musicians – Tyler Westcott, Geno McManus and Sally Schaefer – how the pandemic has changed them as musicians and performers.
“There are still people who do not feel safe going out,” says Tyler Westcott. “Whether they are immunocompromised or work with the elderly or have elderly family, we still have a ways to go.”
The Buffalo music scene is definitely back, but with a hesitant air surrounding the venue doors.
Back at the beginning of the pandemic, the Buffalo scene reacted quickly by holding streaming events to help struggling venues and its musicians. The events even came with “virtual tip jars,” so the virtual audience could make a contribution, virtually.
One of the many streaming events was Post-Apoc, a livestream that featured multiple Buffalo musicians playing solo and even including interviews with the performers. It’s led by David Mullen and Christina Stock through Zoom and is still streamed on their Facebook page today.
One of the Buffalo musicians on Post-Apoc was Sally Schaefer.
“About a month into the shutdown, some local musician friends and open mic hosts put together a weekly online open mic night called Post-Apoc. After some convincing by my friend Christina, I participated in the first one, and I became a regular thereafter,” says Schaefer.
Since Post-Apoc focuses on performances by an artist in a solo setting, Schaefer, a regular backing musician, said it was a challenge to create arrangements for herself, but that the new challenge led her to experiment with new musical equipment she never thought she would use.
“I used a Trio+ loop pedal to not only loop guitar parts so I could perform guitar, violin, and the occasional kalimba lead over rhythm guitar, but sometimes to cue digital bass and drum parts as well. Later, I was gifted a Boss RC-30 Loop Station and used that to do some vocal looping, creating stacked vocal harmonies,” says Schaefer.
With time to experiment on her own, Shaefer said the pandemic gave her the chance to start experimenting with effects pedals and looping, something she really didn’t do before.
“I still only use looping for specific things at home or for solo arrangements, but I now use effects pedals for guitar and violin in full band settings whenever I can get away with it.”
Westcott, a Sportsman’s and Nietzsche’s regular, says he “pivoted into streaming early on.”
“I was already making a point of having more content out regularly, so it kind morphed into that. For a while I just would jump on randomly. Throw up a tip link and hope for the best,” he said.
Westcott then started to realize that a lot of people seemed to hop on the stream and enjoy what they were seeing. So, he got the idea to start Roots Music Wednesdays, a live stream event that started at 6 p.m. every Wednesday.
“Each week I would play the music and talk about the life of one or two artists. I would post my own tip link, but I would also put a link to benefit a business or venue that was shut down that needed help at that time.”
And it kept evolving, with Westcott adding in interviews, showcasing music by one or two artists for the stream, and sharing their stories.
“I was lucky enough to be able to interview some really cool people. When I did an episode about Blaze Foley and Townes Van Zandt, I featured Nietzsche’s because Townes played there many years ago,” says Westcott.
“My special guest was Gurf Morlix, who was a band mate of Blaze Foley and a friend of Townes. I found that once I turned it into more of an event, people really enjoyed it. My fans, friends and family were all very generous to me during that time and for that I am eternally grateful.”
The interviews, includng the Gurf Morlix interview, are on the Folkfaces YouTube channel as a playlist titled, “ROOTS Music Wednesday Series.”
Geno McManus, no stranger to the Buffalo music scene, says that he did a few livestreams.
“Each one was very different in feeling,” he said. “In a late night ‘facebook live’ setting, people tuned in and made comments and requests, so there was still some interaction, but it was more of a relaxed hang kind of vibe.”
Some of the streams went well and others were confusing, with musicians and techs still trying to figure out how to stream correctly and how to even set up a stage, whether makeshift or literal.
“The Band Together Buffalo show I did was full lights and sound minus a live audience, and that was a bit strange because in live shows I interact a lot with the crowd, and get immediate feedback on how we’re engaging, and adjust accordingly,” said McManus.
When doing the Bitchfied Friday Live remote show, he found it a bit challenging, showing how a stream could go south in the moment.
“I had zero idea who was watching etc. … and it was kind of a hassle working to get a good sound to translate. It was a lot of trial and error, [but] thankfully, it all worked out and sounded fine.”
No stranger to the stage, McManus is known for Stoneflower, the Black Rock Beatles, a duo with Frank Grizanti and his solo work. An artist who depends on the feedback from the crowd, he said that he sees a difference in attendance at shows.
“Crowds are a little smaller, as I think some people are just not ready to sit inside a club yet. Advanced [tickets] don’t sell as much either, and that could be because a show could be cancelled last minute due to the virus. Also, people seem to sit and watch more than I remember.”
But, it’s happened – the venue doors have unlocked, the bars have opened, soundchecks can be heard across the land, once clean hands are now marked with “x”s and stamps for reentry and underaged drinkers.
However, people’s guards are still up.
Schaefer, whose music crosses a number of genres, offers an interesting insight after attending punk shows.
She said, “Moshing at punk shows is a little bit of a gray area right now. Getting up and dancing with strangers might be over the line for some people and/or some venues. The shows are still fun for the music, but I think the audience’s overall experience might be different.”
“We start much earlier now,” said McManus on how he’s adjusted to live performances after the quarantine. “We do full concert length ‘no break’ shows regardless of material, and we also aren’t sharing the night with another band like we would in the past.”
“We’re also more creative with our setlists,” he adds. “Instead of random covers mixed with original songs, we’ve started doing more ‘tribute’ nights so people know exactly what to expect, which has actually been a lot of fun!”
“I also think, when people are able to go out,” adds Schaefer, “there is a heightened appreciation for live performance. The first show back with Over & Out was just Rob and me playing as an acoustic duo. It was a sold out show (under capacity restrictions) and we received more in tips that night than we sometimes do from door sales. It was a room full of friends that were as excited as we were to be there. The venue was essentially silent when we played. Every eye was on us the whole time. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced that type of hyper-focused energy at a show before, like we were magnetic.”
Much like McManus’ observation of people sitting and watching him play, concert goers have seen what could be fairly called “An End of Times” reality and in knowing the fear and desperation that brings, being in the moment has become part of the norm now.
We may not have the luxury of going to a show next week, so staying silent at a show and appreciating something as beautiful as a fellow human presenting their most vulnerable self to a room of friends, family, or strangers, is brought back to being an almost a sacred ritual that we have the privilege to see.
And the only offering we have to give is the green in the tip jar or the price at the door.
Tyler Westcott is part of Folkfaces, Banjo Juice Jazz Band, The Paper Roses, is a solo artist, and plays bass in the Kathryn Koch Band, Black Rock Zydeco and the Observers.
Sally Schaefer is part of Over & Out, McCarthyizm, Creek Bend, Buffalo Bluegrass Allstars, Christina Stock, Captain Tom & the Hooligans, Finnegan’s Punch, Celtic Spirit Pipe Band, Stress Dolls (Chelsea O’Donnell) and Koko Neetz (Andrew Kothen), and has acted as a session musician on many recordings.
Geno McManus is part of Stoneflower, The Back Rock Beatles, a duo with Frank Grizanti, and his solo work.