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Music in Time of Covid

2020 started on a difficult note. Little did I know that the word “difficult” would soon take on a whole new meaning. Despite the challenges surrounding my personal life, I resorted to my safety haven, music. As the new year had begun, there was no better time to immerse myself into discovering new music, enjoying my usual favorites and putting together a list of live music events, concerts and festivals to attend.

In January, for the third year in a row, I attended the NAMM Show in Anaheim. A weekend convention of musical bliss consisting of live performances, endless rows of instrument displays and demonstrations and informative discussion panels. After three invigorating days; exhaustion aside, I was already excited to return next year. Little did I know this would not happen.

In February, I purchased tickets to see one of my favorite bands, She Wants Revenge, at the iconic Roxy Theatre in Hollywood. With drinks on hand and my friend by my side, the performance was nothing short of orgasmic. Little did I know that this would be She Wants Revenge’s last show before they announced their breakup a few months later.

It was during this time that I started hearing vague reports about a virus arising, which at the moment seemed irrelevant.

At the beginning of March, I had the privilege of attending a special performance at the stunning Walt Disney Concert Hall in DTLA. The controversial Residente of Calle 13 performed with conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the magnificent LA Phil Harmonic Orchestra. The blend of urban music with orchestra sounds was absolute magic. I picked up a program booklet on my way out with the purpose of attending future shows during the season. Little did I know that would be the last show at this venue and the last live show I would attend this year.

Within the next couple of weeks, the corona virus; which became known as Covid-19, made its presence heavily in California. While it had already previously become a phenomenon in the US and in around the world, our state began to feel the effects. Business and schools were shut down. For those of us who had the ability to do so, we were sent to work from home, while a significant number of others were forced to stop working all together. We were placed on quarantine for safety. Streets were empty, most of us were indoors at home and the world was somber. There was a stillness that we had never felt before. Little did we know we would continue to feel this for some time.

Like many others, I felt this silent pause, but this pause was felt significantly for music. Concert venues closed their doors and held on to hopes for rescheduling and re-opening for shows. Their hope was visually displayed on their marquees of venues all around. I put on my mask and took a brief tour around several of these venues to capture the positive messages each one of them had placed. Their encouraging messages were whole-heartedly felt. Just being at the entrances of these venues allowed me to have a familiar feeling of excitement and anticipation. Unfortunately, it would be a premature sense of hope. I began receiving notifications of more shows to be rescheduled for a much later time, as far as next year and even worse, shows were cancelled completely. I would not be able to cross off seeing Pearl Jam from my bucket list. System of a Down, who rarely comes around, would not make their scheduled appearance this year. Some of my most anticipated summer festivals like good ol’ rock’s Arroyo Seco and Latin rock’s La Tocada would not happen.

The hunger for live music remained. Live-streaming and “No Audience” shows and performances surged. Post Malone performed from his home a full-set tribute to Nirvana as a benefit concert to raise funds for COVID-19 relief efforts. Early reports showed over $1 million had been raised. Drive-In concerts were produced. Amongst the first to perform in Ventura and Orange Counties were Cypress Hill, Bush, and LA’s very own Los Lobos and Ozomatli. Another LA-grown band was Chicano Batman, who were one of the few to perform a beautiful “No Audience” show at the historic Hollywood Bowl.

Local and emerging artists certainly rose to the occasion. They maintained consistency and showed their creativity to continue projecting their passion and talent. Artists continued making new music and even videos. My heart went out to them, but I also admired them deeply, as they reinvented themselves under new performance settings.

As if a pandemic wasn’t enough to mentally and physically deal with. The US was faced with more challenges. Police brutality led to severe and massive protests and demonstrations. Politics and an election year added fuel to the fire. The country had never been so divided. And throughout all of this, music still persisted. Virtual events were held, nationally and locally to encourage peace, unity and the urgency to vote.

The Save Our Stages Act was created with the purpose of saving independent music venues from permanently closing, especially long-standing venues like The Troubadour in West Hollywood and the Echoplex in Silver Lake. The thought of these venues closing permanently was agonizing. I participated in signing petitions and sending e-mails to congress to potentially approve the Save Our Stages Act. The Save Our Stages Fest was held in October, which included virtual performances by Foo Fighters, Brittany Howard, The Roots and many others. After endless efforts, donations and over 2.1 million e-mails sent to elected officials, this Act was passed in December.

It was necessary for me to make it a point and tune in to these virtual events, not just to support music, but for my own sanity. Not witnessing live music, not having it be a part of my life after 20 years was a void that was palpable. And every time I watched these events, for a brief moment, I was transported to standing amongst the warmth of an audience, being blinded by the bright and colorful stage lights, to the sound of every string, horn, drum, keyboard and vocal note; running into old friends and colleagues, feeling that comforting comradery; a complete perfect and memorable experience and it was these brief moments that gave me joy and brought back some hope.

This was the year where the phrase “Little Did I Know” was unfortunately and truthfully overused. It was a year like no other filled with incredible challenges, for some a lot harder than others and while we might remain floating in the “Little Did I Know” limbo, we may also reset mentally, hang on to hope tightly and welcome the new year. And in the meantime, music will always remain by our side.

Article and Photos by Laura Pelayo

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