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Live Online Shows — Cover Charge Optional — Keep The Music And Maybe Musicians Going

A ban on large gatherings has shut down the music club scene in Massachusetts and elsewhere. Necessity being the mother of invention, among the inventors is a group of friends from western Massachusetts who are producing several weeks’ worth of live music events, online at the #SocialDistancingFest. 

It began Thursday night, live from Agawam, where singer-songwriter Faith Rheault was the first of several musicians playing almost one-hour long sets. Rheault on guitar, sitting behind her keyboard, began to play.

After a cover of Sia’s “Cheap Thrills,” she looked into her laptop camera and told the audience she was a concerned about the noise.

“Hopefully my neighbors don’t complain. It’s probably a little loud,” Rheault said, and then went on to her next song.

Dylan Pilon and friends created the #SocialDistancingFest, booking regional and national acts into April.

“Depending on the day and time, a different music act will be livestreaming a performance from their remote location into a Facebook event that the public can view at no cost to them,” he explained.

There is a virtual tip jar, though, and each artist has a Venmo link. Pilon, who runs his own marketing company, said he and his buddies are producing the fest in part as a way for musicians to recoup some money. All their gigs are canceled because of the pandemic.

Pilon describes himself and his friends — one an event promoter — as music evangelists. They've booked more than 30 rock, folk, blues, hip hop and jazz musicians — and an Eagles cover band, who are all performing in relative isolation. But if a band doesn’t happen to live together?

“We have had some acts come to us and say, ‘Hey, [it’s ] just the lead [singer],' because the rest of the band might be on quarantine somewhere else in the country,” Pilon said. “So they can’t even get together if they wanted to.”

Pilon leaves it up to the artists to navigate the most current public health restrictions, but in the interest of self-quarantining, he said he's not hosting any watch parties, and hopes no one else will either. 

“We do hope that doing something like this will incentivize people not to go out, and hopefully flatten the curve,” Pilon said, referring to a well-circulated public health chart.

If all goes well, he said, “Come April 7th, the governor of Massachusetts might lift the ban and we can go back to resuming a quasi-normal life style.”

The #SocialDistancingFest is not the only gig in town. And like in pre-coronavirus days around the Pioneer Valley, there are just too many good bands playing at the same time. 

This weekend, over at The Parlor Room in Northampton, or rather on their website, the first of their "Home Sessions." The Winter Pills will be “on stage,” playing live from their own house.

With St. Patrick's Day this month, virtual live Irish music was also an option, with a house concert in Easthampton featuring Jim Henry, Guy DeVito and Craig Eastman, who'd been scheduled to play at the Majestic Theatre in West Springfield.

If you look around on social media, you’ll see all sorts of live events — music for kids, knitting circles, painting lessons, yoga — some interesting things to try to distract us from the current reality.

Maybe it will work, at least in the first week.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."
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