Edited and packaged by Norma Brickner
It would be an understatement to say the Hudson Valley community misses the lively evenings local artists provided. An art show or a band playing in the area raised peoples’ spirits in the Hudson Valley almost every weekend.
The COVID-19 pandemic is greatly affecting the local musicians and artists of the Hudson Valley. Only small gatherings are permitted and only a few venues and bars were able to survive being shut down earlier this year causing many jobs to be lost. Musicians continue to face new challenges in the ways that they can connect to the community as well as their economic struggle as “starving artists”.
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. Stay-at-home orders were enacted by Governor Andrew Cuomo in March 2020 leading to all non-essential businesses closing. The practice of social distancing became the new norm in order to reduce the spread of the deadly virus.
Over the past several years the way people listen to music has shifted from the hardcopy of a CD or vinyl to online platforms. 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 to music platforms. This change is reflected in the recorded revenue of the music industry.
With a lot of uncertainty in the air, the music industry is feeling a lot of pressure. According to Pollstar, a live-event trade publication and research firm the modern music industry could potentially lose up to $9 billion in 2020 revenue.
Everyone is affected by this global pandemic. All of our lives are put on hold, yet Hudson Valley locals are finding ways to adjust.
Musicians are currently 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 gatherings being in-person at the same place at the same time anymore. Organizations in the Hudson Valley have been acclimating to this new way of life- live streams and couch tours.
On March 13, indie-pop singer/songwriter Ciarra Fragale announced to her fans via social media in March the cancellation of the rest of her tour dates to ensure everyone’s health and safety.
“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. Fragale booked her March tour with well-paying venues and made plans on how she was going to spend the money made from the tour.
Born and raised in New Paltz, Fragale has always been connected to the community and the people that inhabit it. New Paltz is where she grew up and is now her home.
Fragale has created trusting relationships with the folks at Radio Woodstock and they continually invite her to perform at their events including Mountain Jam 2020. In early February, Fragale announced that she would be on the lineup for Mountain Jam, an annual music and camping festival created in 2005 to celebrate 25 years of Radio Woodstock.
Just 12 days after she canceled the rest of her March dates, Mountain Jam officially announced the cancellation of their music festival for the summer of 2020. This would have been the second summer that the festival has claimed its new location at Bethel Woods, home of the historical Woodstock Music Festival.
“The way that we handle tragedy or the bad things that happen in our lives is what defines us.”Ciarra Fragale
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 live stream her performances from a different room in her house to represent a different “venue.” She began her first live stream couch tour in her living room on March 14 and her last in her mudroom on March 20.
Fragale was then contacted to be a part of a live stream series hosted by Radio Woodstock titled Sofa Sessions.
Each musician is given about 20 minutes to perform live from home and is showcased on the Radio Woodstock Facebook page.
Each week the radio station makes an open call to artists and musicians on Facebook and strives to provide an eclectic variation of music styles. During Sofa Sessions and other live stream concerts, featured artists have the opportunity to receive virtual tips if they provide their payment account information for either Venmo or Paypal.
The immediate goal with Sofa Sessions is to keep the music arts alive and provide as much exposure as possible to local talent.
Since the radio station has a large following of over 42,000 followers on Facebook, Fragale was grateful to gain a much larger audience. The constant gain of support from the community is of great importance to Fragale.
“[Local musicians] want to represent the heart and soul of the Hudson Valley and that’s really what it’s about,” says Fragale.
Assa Sacko Zarcone, promotions and marketing director of Radio Woodstock, explains that as all upcoming concerts and events were canceled, the staff at the radio station quickly realized that they would need to find another way to continue community engagement without hosting live events. Zarcone and other employees in marketing and promotions have weekly Zoom conferences to discuss how to continue with promotions, programs and sales.
The employees at Radio Woodstock came to the conclusion that Facebook Live would help maintain a sense of normalcy and bring live events to their listeners and fans. The idea of featuring three local bands, with an open mic style weekly on Thursdays was not logistically challenging, but 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.
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 need,” says Zarcone.
Recently, Fragale moved to North Adams, Massachusetts since being awarded an artist’s grant at MASS MoCA in North Adams. The capacity-building grant serves as working capital to be invested in strengthening artist’s creative practices, helping artists grow within their work and learning substantial ability.
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 tips and money she earned from music gigs more than from her regular paycheck. Before her move Fragale had a day job in New Paltz to keep her afloat but not having the extra cash from a side job made Fragale admit that performing music paid her rent.
During her Stay At Home tour she informed her audience that she would be taking donations and selling merch. Fragale shared a special pre-release download of her song “Too Good (For You, Baby)” which premiered 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 and she feels forever grateful to have parents that understand and encourage her music career.
“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 the past several months.
There are many different artist grant programs as well as COVID-relief programs for struggling artists. 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 a Hudson Valley arts organization that has adjusted during this global pandemic to keep the community binded by the arts. 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 their virtual initiative, #GarnerAtHome to life which offers exhibitions, classes and concert streaming 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 within their streaming zone with local artist Pablo Galesi. Art lovers can donate through the Arts Centers “Pay What You Can” option rate where all proceeds go directly to the performer. The center is live streaming concerts every other Thursday.
The Arts Center has also been virtually hosting free art classes, including a tutorial of Pop Surrealism through the creation of 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 to foster a supportive artists community 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 this opportunity and sent out an open call to artists interested and had a turn out of over 60 different visual and performing artists. Since the first show was a big success, Sanin kept hosting artists’ events.
After COVID-19 put in-person events on hold, Sanin decided that virtually connecting was better than nothing.
“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 I’m doing my best to maintain social unity while practicing physical distancing” says Sanin.
When we were all able to 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 possible.
The future goal of Celebrate is to be there for the community. The virtual open mics and calls for art for digital zines will continue during this pandemic.
“Do what you’ve got to do to get through the days. If you can make art and share it, great. If you can volunteer or donate some of your stimulus, great. If you’ve gotta be alone or be sad or ask for help or just don’t know, also great. Do you, and remember that you are loved.”Jaime Sanin
Local musician Nate Liebert’s gigs in March, April and May were canceled with only a few rescheduled, and he lost his job at a local cafe because of the virus.
The 22-year-old New Paltz musician hasn’t jumped on the live stream bandwagon because he’s been focused on doing what makes him happy. He’s always had trouble finding time and space to collaborate with other musicians, but they’re happy to help 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.
After quarantine Liebert hopes to gather people together at the quad on the SUNY New Paltz campus for a big jam session. “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 the band What?. This funk, R&B band 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 rehearse 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 finishing the semester through online classes.
When they meet up for rehearsal, they all meet outside in the backyard of the bassists’ home. They all wear masks and keep a six-foot distance between each other. The band brings their equipment outside and this allows them to have a taste of their normal lifestyle rehearsing regularly together pre-COVID-19.
What? had been working on their first recorded album that has been postponed until quarantine restrictions are lifted. The band has done a few live stream 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 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 we feel like we are practicing instead of playing live,” says band member Bianca Checa.
The number of people watching the live streams is notably less by 10 to 15 people than the crowd of people who would attend live shows.
“I feel so lucky that we have been able to live together during this time. We have been able to get so much more done 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 plan 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 pandemic will end and with so many questions at hand for artists across the Hudson Valley, 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.