Local music scene adapts to pandemic

 

The Dueling Pianos of Andy Anderson and Mike Leeds backed up by Party Party at Ragbrai in 2018. (Photo by Justin Miller)

Editor’s note: The author of this story, Justin Miller, toured with The Dueling Pianos as a stage manager for six years. During that time he traveled all over the Midwest setting up shows for a wide variety of musicians and bands. 

The world is quickly becoming more like the opening lines to Jackson Browne’s song, “The Load Out:” “Now the seats are all empty, let the roadies take the stage, pack it up and tear it down.” 

With the continuing fear and spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), local musicians and venues are having to get creative with how they will continue to connect with their audiences. Major concerts and festivals such as 80/35 have had to postpone and cancel due to the pandemic. This has not only affected the headliners but also the local musicians who rely on the shows for a living. 

 Andy Anderson, 39, of Des Moines, has been a traveling musician for over 10 years. He is a member of The Dueling Pianos of Andy Anderson and Mike Leeds and is also known for his role as Elton in “Elton and Billy: The Tribute.”

Anderson said, “For local musicians it hits us hard because every show you play gets you the next show. It’s all word of mouth and it is all making one audience member want you to come play for another event.” 

Leeds, 41, from Stratford, added, “What is nice is that Andy and I have regular everyday jobs that we can fall back on. It will be hard for the musicians out there that do only music, they will get hit hard.” 

With the steady influx of cancellations, Andy and Mike are approaching their time off in a different way: recording and producing their own albums together at their music studio or “Rock Shop,” where they practice and produce other musicians.  

“We are approaching [the lack of live performances as a way] to do more of what we want to do. I am using the downtime to reconnect with my family and my original music,” Leeds said. 

Local recording studios have also taken a hit. Dennis Haislip, 51, owns Alexander Recording Kompany, known as The ARK, in Ames. Family is all that is on his mind as he and his wife have a 3-year-old daughter.

He has also been focused on keeping the studio open during this time. Haislip has had to close down his studio, only allowing a few employees and musicians to come in, causing a sudden halt on his sessions. 

“This has destroyed the music business,” Haislip fears. 

Haislip also added how even the bigger, award-winning studios have taken a hit as well. 

“Studios like Blackbird [in Nashville, Tenn.] are probably bleeding money right now as they have so many rooms with no musicians coming through”. 

With limited options as to how to connect with fans, most musicians have turned to live streams. DSMTV LIVE is a new live streaming service on Facebook for local musicians. Created by musician Tony Bohnenkamp, 48, from Aurelia. Bohnenkamp has been a traveling musician for 23 years and is best known for his work in Pianopalooza and his role as Billy Joel in “Elton and Billy: The Tribute.” Bohnenkamp worked alongside fellow musicians Jon Locker and Jerry Lorenson to make DSMTV LIVE a service for all types of bands and musicians during this time.

“It was a way to keep us busy while we watched our shows fall off our calendars. Every show between now and June has been canceled,” Bohnenkamp said. 

DSMTV LIVE was created the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day and had no intentions to go any further after the holiday, but, as the world quickly changed so did the plans. There has been a lot of trial and error for the organizers as they adjust to the drastic changes. 

“As we go along we are finding which nights work and which nights aren’t as successful,” Bohnenkamp added. 

The live streaming service quickly became a hot spot for local musicians such as Courtney Krause, Cody Hicks, and Joshua Sinclair. It continually holds concerts for audiences as they are streaming Wednesdays through Sundays, with their highest reach coming April 4, when over 20,000 people tuned in to see The Pork Tornadoes. 

DSMTV LIVE allows musicians to broadcast their music while also getting donations created live on air. Organizers have also made sure to limit it to 10 or fewer people at each event and also have been mixing the live streamed shows with the same equipment as their normal shows to promise a quality sound. 

“Right now we are able to get in front of people that might not have been able to see us live before. I had many people who have never seen me play live, watch the live stream. So, there is some good in this,” Nicholas Borror, 39, from Norwalk and member of Party Party-The Ultimate Karaoke Band said.

A major part of every concert is the connection between artist and audience. While the live streams are great for showcasing live shows, other artists are using this time to connect with their fans as well. Many have been using this time to answer questions and engage with their fans on a different level. For right now, there are limited ways for musicians to connect with audiences and it puts a strain on those who invested everything into music.

“Just keep musicians and the performing arts in mind during this time and tune into the live streams. A pair of eyes is all we need,” Joe Kiplinger, 41, from Des Moines and member of Party Party, said. 

With no end in sight, local musicians are having to play the waiting game in an industry that does not guarantee anything. 

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