By Tom Travis
As the coronavirus pandemic ensues it seems to be unifying the human race. There isn’t a person on the face of the earth that can’t somehow relate to it. We drive by empty schools in the middle of the day, empty parking lots at movie theaters and shopping centers. Once busy city streets are now sans the sounds of buses braking and horns honking.
However, if you take a walk down East Court Street, stroll past the college and into the neighborhood, going down Beard Street or up Montclair, or if you saunter by a certain porch in Carriage Town, you just might hear the tunes and sounds of Flint musicians making the best of the pandemic blues.
So many people are discovering new things about themselves and about the world they live in as they hunker down in the four walls of their homes. With so many more eyes glued to phone and laptop screens during the pandemic there has been a thirst for “what to watch” after the usual screen time entertainments fade away.
So some local musician have taken to their front porches or put themselves on the screen for others to watch and enjoy. EVM spoke with some of them to find out how they’re keeping their spirits up and their music alive..
Kim Streby: “God told me to do this”
Local singer and music teacher in the Flint Community Schools, Kim Streby is offering Facebook Live performances. Singing in her dining room, Streby is sometimes joined by her son Ronan. Streby pushes play on her boom box and sings along to the accompaniment of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Karen Carpenter, beloved old standards and musical theater.
Streby says she’s not doing it for money.
“God has told me to do this. I’m using the best of my talents to help others,” she says. She is even considering doing a fund raiser for a local organization through her Facebook performances.
The schedule for her Facebook Live shows are 7 p.m. Tuesdays and 12 noon on Fridays. Tuesday’s repertoire usually consists of standards, and musical theater songs. On Friday Streby turns to spirituals for a shorter performance.
Dylan Grantham: “Is this the new normal?”
Another local musician, Dylan Grantham, has a solo music project called Young Ritual that he’s been working on since 2015. He describes himself as a singer/songwriter and while his work is solo in nature he often collaborates with a bass player and drummer.
Grantham said that when the pandemic hit he was planning on releasing some new songs and had performances lined up. “That all got canned.” he said.
Grantham reflecting on what to expect, “It’s so unknown what shows are going to look like in the future. Most shows are cancelled through September but what will they look like? What will they be like when we return to normal or is this the new normal?”
For a live performer, Grantham said, “it’s difficult to not be able to play with fellow band members. What I miss most, about having to stay home, is the collaboration and playing and practicing with my buddies.”
Being a singer/songwriter Grantham said he’s looking for inspiration from the pandemic experience but he has nothing new pandemic related yet. Grantham said that through the pandemic he’s personally discovered that people really appreciate when you reach out and check on them.
Grantham, who lives with his family, said his pandemic daily schedule usually involves, listening with his mom to the daily Cuomo press conferences and then they both “cringe” as they listen to the White House press conferences.
Alesia Byrd and Wendell Johnson: concerts on the porch
Taking to their porch, Flint Symphony Orchestra violinist and String Department Chair at The Flint Institute of Music, Alesia Byrd-Johnson and her husband Wendell Johnson have been performing their way through the pandemic. The Johnsons perform either on their front porch or indoors in their home. Their performances can be seen at their personal Facebook page.
“I never thought I’d live to see something like this,” Byrd said.
Byrd continues to teach via online tools like Zoom. Some of her students who are very young, too young to even have a Facebook account or to maneuver online tools, these youngest students have to rely on their parents to help them navigate this new experience of learning to play a string instrument while watching their teacher on a screen.
Byrd said that she tries to make videos the student can watch throughout the week that will help the student to stay engaged, involved and interested. Byrd noted that she has one senior high school student that anticipates performing her senior recital online via Zoom.
Byrd is often joined by her husband Wendell Johnson who plays guitar and sings for their Facebook live performances. Johnson described the scene when they play on their front porch saying that sometimes neighbors come up on the sidewalk to listen, while some park in their car at the curb, and still others bring a chair to sit socially distanced.
Byrd recalled, with warmth in her voice, about her young cello student who lives across the street from her and joined her and her husband. The student brought out his cello and from his own porch across the street joined in playing together with his teacher.
Wendell has been a part of a “jam band” on Friday nights for many years. Johnson, Byrd and many of their friends come over and hang out in the basement to “jam” to their favorite tunes for hours at a time. Both said they really miss doing that.
Byrd said about their first virtual online performance, “As soon as we did it the first time, the first night, my husband had such a big smile on his face. He said that felt so good, that was a release.
“It’s a way of getting the weight off of having to think about this thing. Some way to get away,” Johnson said. “When you play music you can’t think about other things so it’s a way to focus on something else. It’s an emotional release and it’s also a connection to these other people listening in and commenting.”
Byrd added, “You can play music and not physically touch anyone. When we played on the porch one night some neighbors said they heard the music up on Court Street. “
Byrd said anyone is welcome to watch from the sidewalk if they’re out walking or to watch their evening performances. They live at 1116 Beard Street.
Erik McIntyre: Live gigs wiped out, easing into virtual
Local guitarist Erik McIntyre has taken to virtual online teaching and performing during the pandemic. Some of his performances can be seen on his personal Facebook page.
Erik says he’s been slowly easing into the world of virtual teaching. McIntyre said, “As this was going down [the pandemic] I had a lunch gig but no one was there. So I still played and it was broadcast online. I got a good response and made some tips. ”
McIntyre said since then he’s been using the time to explore a new video and multi-track app to do some recording. McIntyre collaborates with musician friends in Toledo.
McIntyre said he’s not spent a lot of time doing live performances online. For his online teaching sessions he has been meeting with students online but adding a video that they can take with them to view again and again throughout the week. He’s found that online teaching can be labor intensive due to technology issues.
McIntyre is used to having three to six gigs a week. But he said, “A couple of months of that has just been wiped out.” But yet he said some people who had had gigs scheduled before the pandemic and have kept him on. He recalled he had been hired to play at a wedding. The wedding party still wanted him to make some recordings. So McIntyre got his musician friends together and played some songs. He was paid for those recordings.
Early on in the pandemic McIntyre said he was hired by Blue Llama Club in Ann Arbor. The club was allowing bands to play in the restaurant without customers present. The club would broadcast the band performances on their Facebook page and allow the band to collect tips. McIntyre said he opted not to do that as the stay at home executive order was just going into place.
“I’m still kind of in this limbo,” McIntyre said. “I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do. I’m grateful because my parents have been helping me out with food. I’ve had some students and fans donate through tips. It’s been nice actually to not have to drive all over the place to perform gigs. I’ve been more free to practice–practicing on my porch while people walk by. They kind of enjoy the music I’m playing and that makes me feel good.”
EVM Assistant Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.