I don’t have a musical bone in my body, but I do think of myself as a live music aficionado. I’ve travelled far and wide to see musicians and bands I love, in stadiums and outdoor amphitheaters that can home 30,000 people to tiny, grimy clubs that look more like a spacious closet than a music venue.
I know how to stay hydrated in a massive crowd, and I can get myself and several friends to a stage barrier without upsetting too many fellow concertgoers. I have tried (and failed) at moshing and crowd surfing. And don’t get me started about my ticket stub collection.
When COVID shut down most of the world, the loss of live music was hard for me to accept. I tuned in to concerts on Twitch and Facebook Live, but it wasn’t the same.
According to a December 2020 article in Rolling Stone, the global concert industry lost a record $9.7 billion in ticket sales alone in 2020, not to mention the loss of sponsorships, concessions, and merchandise. And though many venues are reopening, with the Delta variant a looming threat over many parts of the United States, it’s hard to say what the future of live music will look like in 2021 and beyond.
That got me thinking about the different ways I could still enjoy live music, without physical being at a venue. I’ve seen some of the most famous musical acts in the world. But when I sat with my thoughts, I realized some of my favorite live music experiences were free, local, and performed by young musicians, still figuring out their groove.
Take my Aunt Theresa’s intimate wedding in 2018. My aunt and her longtime partner, Stacey, asked my Aunt Jenn, my cousin Gibson, and Gibson’s father Gary to perform two songs after their wedding ceremony. Watching my aunt (a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and founding member of Rusted Root), perform with her son, a budding and wildly-talented young musician, was a special moment for our entire family. For many of us, it was our first time seeing Gibson perform in front of an audience.
In middle school and high school, I surrounded myself with aspiring musicians. I spent many sweaty afternoons watching friends practice with their bands in garages. I’ve lost count of the number of times a friend has asked me to sit and listen to their rendition of their favorite song, playing on guitar, drums, or another instrument.
I attended “festivals” that friend’s parents kindly put on, inviting family and friends to watch three or four local bands perform in their backyard. These concerts weren’t perfect, and the talent varied, but that wasn’t really the point.
These were kids who were still learning how to play instruments; talented singers who were figuring out their range; and young songwriters who were sharing their lyrics and inner thoughts with an audience for the first time. It was so much fun to watch my friends be vulnerable and share their love of music. And many of them have continued to perform and practice their craft into adulthood.
Supporting young, aspiring musicians on their music-learning journeys not only helps with their development as artists, but it creates lasting memories for all involved. These musical spaces provided community and a sense of belonging to many of us as we navigated our teenage years.
A live music experience does not need to be at a fancy venue with performances by famous artists. You can enjoy live music by sitting on the couch with a budding musician. Or asking to tune into someone’s band practice via Zoom. Or supporting a friend’s singing career at a local venue.
COVID has taken so much from us, but we don’t have to let it take away live music. We can encourage and support young, local talent even in the most turbulent times.