As we transition out of Covid-19 restrictions Quarter Note concludes its special coverage of Virtual Open mics with the following reflections on her Zoom year by Carolyn Broquet who has been following the details for us.
We remind readers that we have a robust calendar at Chicagocabaret.org. Members should post all their activities on our calendar including Open Mics and non-members should consider joining for that function. The cost of membership is a bargain with this benefit alone.
No singing. No live music. Wash your hands. Keep 6 feet of social distance. Stay home. Wear a mask. When Covid-19 shut down all live music, all singers went into shock. What? Our voices are spreading it? We could die? What’s a singer to do, even a casual singer like me? I used to go to piano bars and Broadway shows and Cabaret performances and concerts.
But everything stopped. For me, it was March 15, 2020. I went to Piano Bar class Friday night at Old Town School for Folk Music. Bob Solone was our teacher. There were only two of us in class. We FaceTimed with two other singers who were more cautious. They sang over the phone. It was a novelty. I didn’t go out on Saturday. I skipped the band playing at Marie’s on Lawrence, because it might be too crowded because of St. Patrick’s Day. I did go to South of the Border for brunch Sunday morning where Sami Scot was playing. That was the last time I went out to hear music.
It took barely a week before someone found Zoom. Sketchy audio, horrible latency, bad Wi-Fi and competing audio. First, Sunday afternoons with Sami Scot, then Bob Solone on Saturday nights, and George Howe on Monday nights. Then Mark Burnell on Tuesdays. You could sing every night of the week. Chicago offered five nights a week. You could also sing with people in New York if you wished.
Sonia Oyola, Fia Torres and I had a seminar for CCP to teach members how to set up a Zoom account and how to minimize the issues. I constantly pushed the need for an ethernet cable, and asked “is your kid playing video games on your Wi-Fi when you are trying to sing? Is your original sound ON?” The platform improved, we learned, we educated and we coped for over a year as we gathered and sang electronically. Because we weren’t going to stop singing. Or stop listening to others sing. And singing live. Many chose to record and edit their voices. They sounded great, but they missed out on the community of singers.
Classes at Old Town School tried Google meetings and zoom, always “Zoom.” It became generic – like Kleenex. It’s a verb. It’s a noun. We had piano bars, guitar bars, rehearsals, lessons and recitals, fundraisers for employees of restaurants and nightclubs and bars, variety shows, interviews and concerts all on this virtual platform.
Word of mouth spread the Zoom links. We had singers from Moscow, Costa Rica, Dallas, LA, Tampa, Portland (Oregon), Paris, Rome and Hawaii. And we had new friends, from all over Chicago we had never met, but saw three times a week on Zoom. And you didn’t have to worry about weather or parking! Let’s not forget there was support financially for musicians and music teachers when there was no opportunity to play anywhere else. Or see your extended family, or see a movie, but there were your friends on Zoom. Singing live with nearly one-and-a-half-million cases of Covid in Illinois, and 24,000 deaths. So, we stayed home. But we had our friends on Zoom singing live, seven nights a week.
Then the vaccine came; first responders, people over 65, then under 65, then teenagers. Cautiously, we went to outdoor concerts, then even more tentatively we went to indoor events. Our Zoom rooms seemed less attractive when we could hear live music and sing with a live musician. A monitor? You mean I can hear myself and the piano? When we finally saw our new/old Zoom friends, some of us cried. It was surreal. Can I hug you?
George Howe ended his Zoom on Monday nights, but Davenports reopened in person entertainment on August 5th, with Becky Menzie and Joan Curto singing in the back room and Dan Stetzel and Barb Smith singing in the front room.
Mark Burnell continues to have a Zoom on Tuesdays from 7-9, with the added bonus of saxophonist Kent Minor. Lynn Colbert Jones still has her Good Hearts Zoom on Friday nights. Bob Solone has chosen to reduce his Zoom schedule and to play on alternate Saturdays with his mad piano skills and guest singers from 8 to 10:30.
The Zoom rooms still have fans. If you live in Florida, maybe you still don’t go out. People come home from their live gigs and get on and sing one more song. New friends are traveling to Chicago to visit and perform here, because there is so much music here.
I play and sing in a band called “Cowboy Choir.” I hope we play again soon. But Covid really impacted some of our members of the band. We did have our first rehearsal in sixteen months. Glorious!
But the Delta variant lurks in the background and we are putting masks back on. The positivity rate ticks up. I have tickets to see Mary Chapin Carpenter in November. It’s sold out.
Zoom will still be there waiting for us.
−by Carolyn Broquet