Press | These Milwaukee musicians' live shows are canceled indefinitely. Now they're performing online. (March 27, 2020)

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel March 27, 2020

These Milwaukee musicians' live shows are canceled indefinitely. Now they're performing online.

by Piet Levy

Bars, clubs and theaters are closed around the world because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Pat McCurdy still did what he's done practically every Friday night for 32 years.

He put on a concert.

Except instead of performing in front of a crowd, McCurdy played songs in front of cameras in his living room for about an hour -- with 11,000 people tuning in on Facebook, and many viewers dropping tips into his Venmo and PayPal accounts.

"My show is very interactive and I depend on the audience, so it was hard to get used to," said McCurdy, who's streaming another live living-room show from his Facebook page at 8 p.m. Friday. "I had four people in the room who were clapping, but they've seen me 100,000 times so they weren't very amused. It was very hard to get used to, but by the end, I got the hang of it. ... And now my sound man is going to eat for a few weeks."

Since everyone started self-isolating, there's been a flood of videos streaming from celebrities' Facebook and Instagram accounts -- including online performances from Miley Cyrus, John Legend, Keith Urban and other major artists.

It's helping people -- musicians and music fans alike -- with their cabin fever, and there's nothing wrong with that.

But the ones really hurting from the indefinite shutdown of the live music industry aren't the huge stars -- they're the lesser-known musicians who rely on that gig money to pay their bills, including several in Milwaukee.

"The next couple of months have been shut off," said Gabriel Sanchez, frontman for tribute act the Prince Experience. "We're losing thousands of thousands of dollars." The "we" are nine people -- seven in the band and two in the crew.

Sanchez streamed a 90-minute concert for tips on Facebook last Saturday, taking requests throughout the night, and is doing it again from the Prince Experience and Gabriel Sanchez pages at 8:30 p.m. this Saturday.

"I'm learning songs I haven't played before," Sanchez said. "I'm trying to stretch myself and go into new territory. ... I love being pushed."

Several Milwaukee musicians have streamed performances online in the last week, including Willy Porter, Frogwater, Keith Pulvermacher, Taiyamo Denku and Zach Pietrini.

A Facebook group, the "Milwaukee Online Concert and Comedy Series -- Social Distance Edition," is organizing and hosting events, and Linneman's Riverwest Inn is turning some of its shows into private online performances on its Facebook page for donations.

The Violent Femmes' Brian Ritchie has been doing solo performances daily -- although not for tips. Chris Kroeze, who found fame coming in second place on "The Voice's" Season 15 in 2018, is hosting two Facebook concerts from his home in Barron, Wisconsin, at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; fans can post requests on his Facebook page in advance.

"If I can make $500 this month, that would be good," said singer-songwriter Carmen Nickerson, who lost all her gigs this month except for a church performance that was recorded and streamed to parishioners. She performed with her bandmates on Facebook last Friday.

"We did it to hopefully make some money," Nickerson said -- earning $1,000 that was split between her bandmates and donated to community organization Victory Garden Initiative. "But even if we hadn't made anything, it felt good just to play."

But with the flurry of Facebook concerts from local musicians, one band's performance stands out.

Last Sunday, the group Throwing Spaghetti did a Facebook concert for 24 hours. The band's four full-time musicians made some money themselves from donations, but most of the earnings, about $1,000, were donated to Roadie Rescue, a fundraising campaign working with the MusicCares Foundation to raise money for behind-the-scenes workers.

"A lot of friends in the industry are not musicians, they're sound men and lighting techs and stagehands who are instantly out of a job and can't stream to make tips," said Throwing Spaghetti guitarist Kris Crow.

"It was just incredibly touching to watch everyone give to this fundraiser, and it kicked us in the butt and kept us going," Crow said. "The last five hours were pretty sketchy. We were punch-drunk and laughing too hard at everything. ... We wanted to make this pandemic a little happier, and it was touching watching how many people reached out and said, 'Thank you. We smiled for the first time in a week.' "