By Victoria Cymbal ’20 (Journalism)
A glimpse into the lives of Hudson Valley musicians and artists during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Originally published in Medium. Republished here with the author’s permission.
On March 13, indie-pop singer/songwriter Ciarra Fragale announced to her fans via social media that she was canceling the rest of her tour in March to ensure everyone’s health and safety and follow the necessary precautions enacted by the state to practice social distancing.
“I had to cancel the remaining two weeks of my North American tour and had many shows outside of the tour canceled as well. It’s unfortunate, but we are all adjusting to this situation daily,” says Fragale.
It would be an understatement to say that the Hudson Valley community misses the lively evenings that the local art and music scene would bring. Every weekend there would be an art show or a band playing somewhere in the local area.
COVID-19 was first recognized in China in December 2019, but it wasn’t until late January 2020 that the virus spread to the United States. There were no precautions taken in the state of New York until mid-March when stay-at-home orders were enacted which led to the ripple effect of all non-essential businesses closing and the practice of social distancing became the new norm.
In a world where the term “starving artist” exists, the COVID-19 pandemic is greatly affecting the local musicians and artists of the Hudson Valley. Since large gatherings were banned, all venues and bars were closed and many jobs were lost. Musicians were facing new challenges in the way that they connect to the community as well as their economic struggle.
Musicians are performing live stream sets either solo or by collaborating remotely. Organizations and centers have been hopping on the trend of connecting to the community virtually. Thanks to the digital age we live in, the liveliness of the community is not bound to location and the artists, musicians and organizations in the Hudson Valley have been acclimating to this new way of life, which is now livestreams and couch tours.
Over the past several years the way people listen to music has been shifting from the hardcopy of a CD or a vinyl and has been transitioning to online platforms, subscriptions and downloads. Since audience members are more likely to listen to music, new or old, through a screen, more recording artists have been making their music accessible online through streaming, downloading and subscribing. This change reflects in the recorded revenue of the music industry. With a lot of uncertainty in the air, the industry as a whole has been feeling a lot of pressure financially. According to Pollstar, a live-event trade publication and research firm, the projected revenue for 2020 in the modern music industry could lose as much as $9 billion.
Everyone is affected one way or another by this global pandemic and it doesn’t matter whether you are an organization, music venue, solo artist or band. All of our lives, as we once knew them, are on hold, yet Hudson Valley locals are finding ways to adjust.
Born and raised in New Paltz, Fragale has always been connected to the community and the people that inhabit it. Not only is New Paltz the place she grew up, but it is her home.
In early February, Fragale announced that she would be on the lineup for an annual music festival known as Mountain Jam. This would have been the second summer that the festival has claimed its new location at Bethel Woods, home of the Woodstock music festival in 1969. The festival was created in 2005 to celebrate 25 years of Radio Woodstock. The founder Gary Chetkof worked with musician Warren Haynes of The Allman Brothers to make the event annual.
Growing up in the Hudson Valley, Fragale was familiar with Radio Woodstock and has created a trusting relationship with the folks at the radio station since she has become a local musician by inviting Fragale to perform at events every so often. Just 12 days after she canceled the rest of her March dates, Mountain Jam officially announced the cancellation of the music festival for the summer of 2020.
Although Fragale says the staff of Mountain Jam acted responsibility, it still didn’t make it easy to hear the event wasn’t going to happen.
In light of all public gatherings and events being canceled, Fragale presented a ‘Stay At Home’ tour with the intended message to “spread the joy and not spread the risk.” Each night Fragale would livestream her performance from a different room in her house to represent a different “venue”. She started in her living room on March 14 and ended in her mudroom on March 20.
Fragale was contacted to be a part of a livestream series hosted by Radio Woodstock titled Sofa Sessions. Each musician is given about 20 minutes to perform live from home on the Radio Woodstock Facebook page.
Assa Sacko Zarcone, the marketing director of Radio Woodstock, explains that as all upcoming concerts and events had to be canceled, the staff at the radio station quickly realized that they would need to find another way to keep the community engaged since the physical events were canceled. The employees at Radio Woodstock engage in a lot of brainstorming during their weekly zoom conferences. The radio staff came to an agreement that Facebook Live was the platform that would help maintain some sense of normalcy and bring live events to their listeners and fans. The idea of featuring three local bands, with an open mic style, on Thursdays was not logistically complicated, but it required a lot of organizing.
“We are happy to be able to support local artists and musicians by giving them a platform. As long as they can share their talent, art and passion with the rest of the world, then I believe there is hope,” says Zarcone.
Each week the radio station makes an open call to artists and musicians on Facebook and strives to provide an eclectic mix so each week stays interesting. During Sofa Sessions and other livestream concerts, the artists have the opportunity to receive “virtual tips” if they provide their payment account information for either Venmo or Paypal. Depending on the night and the following of the particular artist playing for the night, the tips vary, but they do come in.
The radio staff are considered essential workers, so the on-air DJ’s are still going to work every day. Zarcone and the other employees in marketing and promotions are working from home. They have weekly Zoom meetings to discuss how to continue with promotions, programs and sales. There are also informal Zoom meetings to keep each other updated on how everyone is doing personally.
Zarcone explains that if any artists are struggling with how to promote their craft and stay connected during this pandemic that the people of Radio Woodstock are here to support anyone who asks.
“Reach out to us. We are here to help and would love to assist anyone in this time of needs,” says Zarcone.
The immediate goal with Sofa Sessions is to keep the music going and provide as much exposure as possible to the local talents of the Hudson Valley.
Since the radio station has a large following of over 40,000 followers on Facebook, Fragale was grateful to reach a much larger audience than what she is used to. The presence and support of the community is of great importance to Fragale.
“They want to represent the heart and soul of the Hudson Valley and that’s really what it’s about,” says Fragale.
Recently, Fragale moved to North Adams, Massachusetts because of an artist’s grant that she applied for at MASS MoCA. The capacity-building grant serves as working capital to be invested in the artist’s creative practice. It is designed to help artists strengthen their creative practice, grow within their work and learn to be sustainable.
A month after moving to North Adams, Fragale realized that music has slowly become her main source of income, without intentionally planning for that to be her reality. It became clear to her that she was running out of money when she found herself living off of her music funds instead of her personal-life funds. Before the move, Fragale had a day job in New Paltz to keep her afloat, but not having that extra cash from a side job has left her to admit that music was the way she made most of her money and would essentially help her pay her rent.
Fragale booked her March tour with venues that are known for paying well. She was expecting to get paid for each gig, and even made plans on how she was going to spend that money made from the tour. During her Stay At Home tour she let her audience know that she would be taking donations and selling merch using Venmo and Paypal. Fragale shared a special pre-release download of her new song coming out May 20 to those who donated two dollars or more.
During the quarantine tour, Fragale received about $200 in donations. Fragale also has a lot of support from her family, especially her parents who tell her to let them know if she ever needs anything. She feels forever grateful to have parents that understand, encourage and support her life.
“Money isn’t everything and I think a lot of us are realizing that now,” she said. “We all need to think about where we are spending our money right now because it does matter. Support your friends. There is such a present network of people who are all makers, a lot of us make stuff and sell stuff, so buy from them.”
Being that the music scene and non-essential jobs are unable to do business as usual, Fragale has not been working for over the past month.
There are many different artist grant programs as well as COVID-relief programs for musicians that depended on their paid gigs to get by. Each program differs in the application process, some being more difficult than others, but there are a lot of different places to look for help, it’s just about asking for help.
GARNER Arts Center is another Hudson Valley arts organization that has adjusted during a global pandemic to keep the community together. The mission for the multifaceted arts center is to create, share and present modern and experimental art.
On Monday March 16, GARNER Arts Center announced the cancelation of all upcoming events to ensure public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. A week after canceling their gallery hours, the Art Center announced the Fourth Annual Members Exhibition via Virtual Gallery. Jesse Heffler, Programs and Operations Director, helped bring the idea of #GarnerAtHome to fruition as a response to the suspension of all Arts Center programs.
“We believe that art and culture are essential public goods and we are committed to keep bringing arts and culture to our community throughout the pandemic,” says Heffler.
On April 16, the Arts Center hosted its first virtual concert with local artist Pablo Galesi under the streaming zone tab of their website where they offer a “Pay What You Can” option rate. Donations go directly to the performer. The center is livestreaming concerts every other Thursday.
The Arts Center has been virtually hosting the gallery and free art classes, including a tutorial on Pop Surrealism, a tutorial class on how to create Faux Stained Glass and a photo studio class using a smartphone camera. All of these classes have been hosted on GARNER’s Facebook Live and are available to view at your convenience on their Facebook page.
The Arts Center was founded in the early 2000s and has since been advancing as a supportive art community for all artists in the Hudson Valley. The Arts Center is supported by the New York State Council on the Arts and was part of the National Register of Historic Places.
CelebrateWomxn845, also known as Celebrate, organizes pop-up events such as open mics and art shows. Jamie Sanin, the founder of Celebrate, originally started the group to curate an art show. The opportunity to pursue this dream fell into her lap when a friend mentioned an open studio space in Beacon. Sanin jumped on the opportunity of this location and sent out an open call to all and any artists interested and had a turn out of over 60 different visual and performing artists. Since the first show was a big success, many people asked what was next and how they could collaborate. So, by popular demand, Sanin kept it going.
After COVID-19 put in-person events on hold, Sanin also decided that virtually connecting was better than nothing. The virtual open mic nights live on.
“As a true believer in the magic of showing up in person and connecting with your community, it’s sad that that’s on hold, but doing my best to maintain social unity while practicing physical distancing,” says Sanin.
When we were all able to still meet in person, the open mics would happen monthly, but now they happen weekly. There is an opening performer who gets a 30-minute set and keeps half of the donations raised during the event.
“It is so heartwarming and really special to know that everyone, performers and viewers, are logged on and taking a break from it all, just being present and being supportive of one another,” says Sanin.
As Sanin is well aware of the economic hardships for artists, especially during a global pandemic, she has been making sure the opening act is reserved for those who ask for the gig first. Since the organization mainly runs on pop-ups, there is no staff or bills to pay, which means Sanin has just been focusing on how she can help support artists financially whenever it is possible.
The future goal of Celebrate is to keep showing up as best as possible for the community. The virtual open mics and calls for art for digital zines will continue during this pandemic.
Nate Liebert, a 22-year-old New Paltz musician has a lot of time on his hands. His gigs in March, April and May were canceled, with only a few rescheduled, and he got lost his job at a local cafe because of the virus.
Liebert hasn’t jumped on the livestream bandwagon. He says he’s been less focused on staying connected with an audience and more focused on doing what makes him happy now. He’s always had trouble finding time and space to get together with other musicians, in part, he suspects, because no one wanted to jam unless it was “goal-oriented.” Now, even if he can’t get together with fellow musicians, they’re more generous about helping him develop new musical ideas.
To Liebert, there is great value in having a loose space to express yourself musically.
“I’m very lucky to have software to produce music with, and many instruments around the house to improve on, but I find much more motivation to practice when I can play with other people,” says Liebert.
Liebert has a supportive family to help with food costs and also has a bit of money saved up. Liebert is aware of the moratorium on eviction at the moment, so although there is a struggle to find money to pay his rent, he has faith that he will survive financially.
After quarantine, Liebert hopes to gather people together at the quad on SUNY New Paltz campus for one big jam session of anyone who wants to participate.
“We deserve to have a space for ourselves with no strings attached. The community at large benefits and so does the music community,” says Liebert.
The challenge of not being able to collaborate with other musicians is another roadblock for many musicians like Liebert, but not for Local New Paltz band What?. What? is a funk, R&B band that has taken advantage of being able to safely rehearse their music together.
There are seven members in the band, but only six of them are in the local area to be able to get together. What? attempts to get together biweekly, but it’s not always easy as a few of the members attend SUNY New Paltz and are trying to finish the semester through online classes.
When What? meets up for rehearsal, they all meet outside in the backyard of the bassists’ home, where they are not allowed to go inside. They all wear masks and they keep a six-foot distance between each other. The band brings their amps and equipment outside and this allows them to have a taste of the normal life when they would rehearse regularly.
What? had been working on their first recorded album, to be released in May of this year, but that has been postponed for now until quarantine rules are lifted. The band has done a few livestream sessions on Instagram since the end of March.
Local New Paltz psychedelic rock/pop band Moonunitt used to perform regularly at local dive bar Snug Harbor, popular with college students, and other Hudson Valley venues.
Moonunitt had to cancel their show on March 15, the first weekend New York started to become serious about social distancing and the danger of large crowds. Since the band lives together in a house with other roommates in New Paltz they decided to perform in their backyard live via Facebook that same day.
“Since we are not very well versed in technology it has been really hard to get the perfect setup and sound quality with the live stream shows. It’s interesting because they feel like we are practicing instead of playing live,” says Checa.
The number of people watching the livestreams is notably less, by 10 to 15 people, than the crowd of people who would come to the live shows. This is common for most local musicians simply because of the lower following on social media platforms compared to well-known musicians.
Every Monday, the band has participated in what they call “Moonunitt Monday.” In an Instagram post, Moonunitt announces the release of a new song that they then upload to their Bandcamp account.
“I feel so lucky that we have been able to live together during this time. We have been able to get so much more one and it has been great to reflect on stuff we have done and what we can do,” says Checa.
Moonunitt is working on their second album now as they are all isolated together and plans to stay connected with their fans and community of music lovers as they are stuck in quarantine using either Facebook or Instagram Live.
No one truly knows when this will end and with so many questions at hand for artists across the Hudson Valley and everyone is experiencing their side of this pandemic.
“Starting new creative endeavors has really been the best way of getting through this all so far,” says Checa.