As COVID-19 Threatened the Live Music Scene, Philly-DIY Got Creative and Went Digital
Major moments in history often lead to lasting questions. Earlier generations have “Where were you when you learned that JFK was assassinated?” For older Millennials (e.g., us here at Left of the Dial), it’s probably “Where were you when the Twin Towers fell?” Most recently, we’ve begun asking one another “What made you realize this whole coronavirus thing was serious?” I can pinpoint the moment for me, exactly: Thursday, March 12th. Rumors were beginning to swirl that cities would soon be heading into lockdown. I was on the adjunct hustle at the time and unsure whether or not we’d be coming back to teach in person after Spring Break. People were starting to say we shouldn’t be meeting indoors. We hadn’t yet graduated, as a nation, to fighting about whether or not it was unpatriotic to wear a mask.
Left of the Dial podcast co-host Kitzy and I had a double-header weekend to see Brian Fallon and Dave Hause. Fallon in DC on Thursday. Hause in Jersey on Saturday. Thursday morning, Kitzy’s allergies were acting up. “I’m sure it’s just allergies” they texted, “but just in case, I think we should skip this one.” We didn’t have the rapid test; we still weren’t sure how COVID-19 spread; we were totally in the dark about how serious it might become. So I agreed with Kitzy. We decided to skip Fallon and save our weekend energy for Hause. Besides, I remember thinking, Fallon plays Jersey, like, constantly. We’ll catch him after things quiet down. We didn’t get to make that decision for Dave Hause. That show was the first one canceled for us. Kitzy texted me while I was on the way to their house. “Damn the Dave Hause show on Saturday just got postponed.” “Ah fuck,” I responded. “I was wondering what was gonna happen with all of that. I was especially excited for that one. We’ve got so many shows [and] stuff in the next month or two.” But, I followed up, “Better safe than sorry.”
It is, in retrospect, funny-not-haha to think I was worried about what the next “month or two” of shows might look like, when over the following days, weeks, and months, more news like this would continue to roll in. A show would be postponed. And then rescheduled. And then re-rescheduled. Inevitably, it would be canceled. We watched a year of live music get wiped out. I know it was a small loss in the face of so many of the major losses we’ve all suffered this last year and a half, but still, it was a loss. For many of us—yourself included, it’s likely, since you’re reading this article—live music is a major part of what makes this terrible world worthwhile. And for a while it seemed like we were just going to have to live without it, at least until we could get our collective shit together (still working on that).
But, as they say, where there’s a will, life, uh, finds a way.
So here’s what happened next. We figured it out. We found ways to connect with one another, to bring music and fans together in digital spaces. Here in Philadelphia especially, it seems, we refused to let a pesky global pandemic get in the way of bringing live music to the people who most wanted to hear it. To be clear, we aren’t the only city that rallied around its music scene to make sure there would still be a scene to speak of when we eventually got to the other side of this thing, but we’ve certainly been one of the most determined. No surprise there.
With the above in mind, here are three Philadelphia-based live music outlets that got their start in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic but who show zero signs of slowing down as live, in person music slowly makes its way back to the world.
Luigi’s DIY/Luigi’s Mansion PHL
Based out of West Philly, Luigi’s has been putting on house shows since 2019. When quarantine kicked in, their ability to do so was obviously put on hold, but like so many of us involved in the DIY scene, they quickly worked out a new way to put their spooky basement to use, streaming first on instagram, and in the last few months, beginning their monthly series, “The Basement Tapes.” You can watch their shows, most recently with Hit Like a Girl, on YouTube, and pick up their limited edition monthly tapes here.
Like Luigi’s Mansion listed above, Fuzzy Sweater also began with hopes of being a DIY spot for local and touring musicians—hopes that were quickly side-lined by the pandemic. And just like Luigi’s Mansion, Fuzzy Sweater Productions used their Philly gumption to put their space to good use. From the “About” section of their site: “We want to provide FREE IN STUDIO LIVE SESSIONS for artists to share with their fans in hopes that we can help keep the local music scene thriving. Our goal is to capture the sounds that are coming out of Philly, and really, anyone passing through.” Since making this pivot to recording live music for artists to share with their fans, Fuzzy Sweater Productions has hosted musicians like Divine Lorraine, Lukey Boy, and Ali Dougherty, with more upcoming.
Yeah, it’s slimy, but we weren’t gonna write an article like this and leave ourselves off of it.
Though we began as a podcast, our plan at Left of the Dial had always been to start a live in studio music series, well before the pandemic hit. Kitzy bought a house just before the world shut down with the express purpose of building the studio we have been streaming out of since our first show with Philly’s own Riverby back in February. As it became increasingly clear that we weren’t just going to be waiting a “month or two” for things to blow over, we kicked it into high gear and began rolling out twice-monthly sessions of our Left of the Dial Live series. Featuring artists such as Kayleigh Goldsworthy, Mikey Erg, Hit Like a Girl, The Tisburys, and Bacchae, we’ll continue to do this for as long as bands agree to show up and play.
One of the things I have loved most about our series is the fact that when we say “livestream” there’s a heavy emphasis on the “live.” Our bands come in a few hours before their scheduled session. We get a single run-through of the set with our entire crew (myself, running the stream, Kitzy making sure the audio sounds great, and our intrepid camera crew, Alex and Jesse, making sure you’ve got something rad to look at) before our cameras go live. We want our shows to feel as close as possible to being in the room with a band, so their set goes out as is; there’s no editing, no smoothing over. If you show up for one of our Saturday night live streams, you’re getting it pure and unfiltered. Obviously, it’s not a total substitute for getting out to a show (what could be?), but it sure feels good to watch anyway. Especially when folks in the chat “sing” along, “shout” for encores, drop exploding-brain and fire emojis, and otherwise whoop it up. It’s been a blast.
Something else that makes our production unique here in Philly is the fact that once a show happens with its warts and all, we take all that good footage and edit it into a smooth, rad as hell, live video that lives forever on YouTube. If you can’t make a Saturday evening livestream, you might miss out on some between song banter, a tuning mishap, or a shout out to our studio dog Pacey, but you can still catch a killer performance. My favorite thing about our sessions though, is that we release live albums for all of our Left of the Dial Live shows on bandcamp. Kitzy mixes all of the audio so you can have high quality recordings of our shows to listen to anytime you want. We split every dollar we make on bandcamp with the bands, who we record and shoot for free.
Until we get some really incredible VR, nothing is going to fully take the place of a live, in person show; however, outlets like Luigi’s Mansion PHL, Fuzzy Sweater Productions, and, hopefully, Left of the Dial Live, have shown us that, at least in Philadelphia, no matter the circumstances, nothing will stop us from making live music happen. And if we do ever get some really incredible VR, we’ll figure out how to work with that, too.