Keeping the Beat
Local musicians find new ways to connect with audiences
Online performances have become regular
during the lockdown
(May 2020) – With local bars, breweries, festivals and other venues shut down, local musicians are taking to social and streaming platforms to perform live for their fans. Although it’s not quite the same experience, fans can enjoy a musical concert from the safety of their home and not have to worry about social distancing.
Rusty Bladen is a performer born and raised in Madison, Ind. His career has been built through his high energy live performances. He has gained a following with fans for his loud, rockin’ shows that always involve audience participation. Things are now being put to the test with social distancing, closed bars and no festivals in sight – all due to restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bladen said his career is “pretty much at a standstill now. It was concerning at first,” but he, like other area musicians, is trying to make the best of it.
Milton, Ky.’s Joe Perkinson performs regularly at Off Broadway Tap Room with several different bands, but during lockdown, he has joined others in performing solo acts online from home.
For the moment he is relying on social media to keep his name in the spotlight. Since March 19 he has performed nightly at 8:30 p.m., excluding Sundays, through livestreaming. His Quarantine Live Stream performances can be viewed through his Rusty Bladen Friends & Fans Facebook page.
Sponsored by Mad Paddle Brewery, he said the experience has been “mostly positive.” It’s been a “phenomenal way to stay in touch with fans, and make new fans. I’ve gotten a lot of comments on it.”
In fact, many musicians, both locally and nationally, are taking advantage of a camera, computer and Internet to livestream as a way to reach fans and extend a message of hope. For Bladen, “it was the only option.” In the past, he had put up videos but never livestreamed a concert.
His career has been built on the road, with live shows being a huge part of what he does. What began with guitar lessons at age 10 turned into nine albums, part of which were recorded with John Mellancamp’s band, and 5,000 shows packed with fans wanting to hear more.
During his career, Bladen has played many clubs, bars and festivals within a two- to three-hour drive of Madison. While he has performed more concerts outside of Madison than in the city, he has played at Madison Main Street Program’s “Music in the Park” series and is popular at the Off Broadway Tap Room, located on Main street. He said he is looking forward to playing at Mad Paddle Brewery in the future.
In addition to his website, which offers merchandise, Bladen has already decided that livestreaming will remain a part of his social media outreach. “It has the power to reach so many people, and I’m seeing people reconnect through it. It also reaches people who may not be able to get out and travel a lot. I want to thank everybody for being so supportive though this.”
Bladen said that the thing he misses the most is seeing his band, due to social distancing. “When things lighten up a bit, we will do an outdoor location where we can stand six feet apart and do a live stream that way.”
For now, he is going to dedicate Monday nights to a certain musical decade – such as the 1950s or 1960s – to mix things up a bit. He said he hopes things will get back to normal by the time he reaches the current decade.
His band consists of his two sons, Neil and Jackson, plus Tyler Brindel and Ray Bowling. “I miss playing with those guys.”
Even though performing is more of a hobby for him now, Joe Perkinson, a musician from Milton, Ky., echoes Bladen’s thoughts on missing his band mates. When he’s not performing solo, Perkinson plays with Amy Noel, Leah Pruett, The Doctor’s Band, the Spare Change Band and the Jordan Wilson Coalition.
He calls the current restrictions an “inconvenience.” Perkinson still works part-time and does “enjoy the income I make from performing” and “stays pretty busy with it.”
He has played all of the local venues and several festivals. “I’ve played them all before. For this year, the (coronavirus) is probably going to shut them down.”
During the first three weeks of shutdowns and closures, Perkinson said he used Facebook about every night between 8-10 p.m. but has since slowed down a bit.
Originally from Bedford, Ky., Perkinson has performed with some big-name musicians in the past. He caught the eye of legendary recording artist Lonnie Mack after Mack heard him play bass.
Mack hired him, but after a while, Perkinson decided life on the road wasn’t for him, and he came home to work and start a family. He’s been highly successful as a backing musician and is still in high demand.
He even plays bass quite a bit for Jimmy Davis, a Madison-based musician. Davis is a seasoned veteran of the Midwest music scene with a diverse style who has dedicated his life to music. For a while he moved to Nashville, Tenn., to be in the thick of things, but decided he could do just as much from his home in Madison, with the advantage of being with his wife and children.
For a full-time musician and songwriter like Davis, all of the coronavirus closures have made him feel like “I basically got the rug pulled out from under me all at once. It’s been financially stressful – that’s the hardest part.” There’s no way to keep drawing a paycheck because “I can’t just get out and do a show.”
Davis has been doing live shows on Facebook nightly, shooting for 7 p.m., but like many other parents, he has been helping with his children while at home. But the time at home has afforded him more time to devote to his songwriting. “It’s helped because I’ve had more time to write, so in many ways it’s been a blessing, too.”
Davis has found that “a lot of musicians are hurting worse than me. And a lot of musicians are helping one another now.” It’s a community that is more than willing to pitch in to help each other.
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