Wilmington Musicians Coping with COVID INdoors

Sam Nobles - photo by Kevin Francis

We’re well over a month into the COVID-19 Stay-At-Home orders and self-isolating has begun to take its toll. While many of us sit inside endlessly streaming Spotify or re-listening to our favorite albums to dissociate from the craziness, the musicians that create that music are one of the communities hit hardest by the pandemic. Wilmington’s vibrant and once bustling music scene has been shaken up by Coronavirus in a way many never expected. 

Live music venues were one of the first things to shut down when Stay-At-Home orders went into place. For some this signified a slight decline in their personal life and slightly less exciting weekends, but for Wilmington’s homegrown artists it had drastic effects. It meant a loss of not only self expression but also their main source of income. I reached out to some local musicians to see how they were coping with the Coronavirus Blues. 

One of the best known musicians in the area is Sam Nobles. You may recognize him playing upright bass in his jazz duo Bruce & Sam or possibly behind a synth with the dreamy Mean Lady. With the majority of his income coming from playing live shows, Coronavirus has definitely had a negative impact, but he, like the rest of us, is trying to stay positive. He’s lucky enough to have scoring work he is able to do from home and has tried his hand at live streaming to raise money. He’s also trying to take advantage of the creative freedom he’s been gifted now that other projects have ground to a halt. It’s much easier to lock yourself in a room and grind out an EP when you don’t have any other obligations distracting you. 

Sean Flynn, charismatic front man for both The Bad Larry’s and his solo project Maurice, plus, the artist behind 1984’s iconic murals, was looking forward to touring this summer but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen any longer. For him, the virus has brought with it a varying viewpoint. The hard work and anxiety that went into planning so many events this year seemed a little trivial once they had all been canceled. This has allowed him to take a step back and reevaluate his goals as a musician, offering an almost Zen-like perspective shift. He’s using his self-isolation time to reassess what is important to him musically and is collaborating on projects with his roommates and friends. 

One of the biggest changes I personally have witnessed during the quarantine is the emergence of Social Media as a major platform for live music. I haven’t seen many Wilmington musicians adapt to this better than Jea Street Jr. When he isn’t trying to keep his two children entertained while cooped up in the house, he is putting together social media events where local musicians can play over Facebook Live and give out their payment app handles so the audience can virtually tip them. His first event, The Corona Concert, was initially intended to be a one-off gift to the local music supporters but it went so well that he launched the Ronapalooza series. These shows feature a number of local acts doing 30 minute sets and have had INspiring results. Musicians have noticed across the board the amazing generosity that has come from the community, with people donating to help support their favorite local acts in record numbers. 

Jani Duerr, singer and guitarist for Earth Radio, video called with me to talk about how he’s coping with Coronavirus and how social media’s place in the scene has shifted because of it. Earth Radio was scheduled to release a new EP in June, but due to the shut down, that’s getting delayed further into the year. Jani went on Instagram and Facebook Live for the first time ever recently to try to raise money to finish the project and while at first it was a bit of an odd experience, he warmed up to it and was excited to be able to interact with the fans. He thinks that live steaming concerts is not only a great fundraising tool that has come from the pandemic, but also something that allows local musicians to expose themselves to entirely new demographics by facilitating the ability to watch live music in the comfort of your own home. 

Members of local rock band TreeWalker have found multiple ways to cope during self isolation. Frontman Kirby Moore has taken to recording and releasing a series of solo EPs. The first, a self titled EP, was recorded before the pandemic and was scheduled to be released in the summer. Kirby pushed the release date up to March to give his fans something during the quarantine. After the success of that release, he recorded a second EP “LUNGS“ at his home studio and put it out in April. The more stripped down and emotional EP accentuates the minimalistic nature of life with Coronavirus. Kevin McKee, guitarist for TreeWalker has been using this time to launch a Podcast, Musicology with KMAC, that delves into local musicians personal inspirations and the science behind their songs. All the episodes are recorded remotely, allowing the artists to still converse while still social distancing. 

One of the bands featured on Musicology with KMAC was The Susquehanna Floods. Jared Obstfeld, their sax player, spoke to me about working from home in Wilmington, DE and dealing with being away from his band during all of this. Constantly traveling and playing music together turns a band into a family and it can be tough to not be able to see each other. That’s why the Floods have turned to weekly Zoom meetings to stay in touch. They are trying not to focus on the canceled gigs, like the show at The Queen they were supposed to play on April 25, but instead use the time to write new material. I had the pleasure of collaborating with Jared remotely during the quarantine by sending tracks over email to build a song, which is one way Coronavirus has changed the way musicians are creating.  

Danielle Johnson has the unique aspect of going through the shut down from both the perspective of a musician and a booker. While her band, Hoochi Coochi, has faced the same mass cancelations as a majority of other acts, her job with Gable Music Ventures has kept her busier than ever. As Assistant Booking Agent, she’s able to work from home rescheduling all the shows on their calendar and helping direct their social media campaigns. As a way to promote the annual Ladybug Festival, Gable has been doing #MiniDigitalLadybugFest, a series of Facebook Live shows featuring female acts. 

Hometown Heroes has been the hub of the local music for nearly two decades, and it’s host, Mark Rogers, has always had a keen eye on the scene. While he, like everyone, is struggling a little adapting to life while self-isolating, he believes he is witnessing musicians blossoming creatively. His feed is now filled with new music and collaborations, allowing him to watch local music live streams in the evenings in lieu of TV. Hometown Heroes was removed from WSTW’s lineup earlier this year but is set to re-air after the Stay-At-Home orders on all three of Delaware Public Media’s stations, as well as streaming online. Mark looks forward to continuing to have a finger on the pulse of local music and hopes to be able to use his new platform to help those negatively affected by COVID-19.

It is clear that the Coronavirus is going to have a lasting impact on the Wilmington music scene. While financially it has been a struggle for local artists and venues alike, the pandemic has in some ways made the music community even stronger. Live streaming allows you to watch your favorite musicians from the comfort of your home. Video calling and other technology has made collaborating from a distance easier than ever. The way that so many musicians stay optimistic during the pandemic and focus on helping others is inspiring, and it is clear the Wilmington music community isn’t going to let COVID keep it down.