How’s your year been? For some of you, it’s been a busy one, even with the quarantine. Between virtual work/school and spending free time out in the cool Autumn air, you may have found yourself more occupied than you were anticipating for a pandemic.
The same goes for local musicians. When you’re a performer, thinking on your feet comes naturally. So the local scenesters repurposed their time and used it to develop and polish up their skills. Here are some of the best things we’ve seen local musicians accomplish during the quarantine so far:
Jeff Stolz built a studio
For Jeff Stolz, the music never really stopped. A couple of weeks ago, he played live music from his front porch to doting passers-by. But long before that, he constructed a massive studio next to his house to focus on his craft. It’s a project that had started prior to the shutdown. “The one small benefit of the pandemic for me was the opportunity to have a little extra time to finish building the studio in my backyard,” he says. “It had been a dream of mine for seven or eight years now to have a creative space, a planning space, a rehearsal space, a space to sing at the top of my lungs, to bang on stuff and turn up my amp at all hours, a potential show space, a hang-out space, a community space, who knows? All while keeping the peace and quiet in my house.”
Here’s a clip performing in his studio right after he finished building it:
Cuee got famous on Spotify
At some point this Summer, I Heart Local Music noticed a spike in web traffic. All signs pointed to stories about Cuee. When we called the Lawrence rapper up, he confided that he had a Spotify breakthrough after being added to an official list. “It was PRIDE month and I was featured on their curated playlist, ‘Transcend,’” he says. “Then it was picked up by Chani Nichols (another big playlist) that features trans artists all around the world. As a result, my following is more centered and increased drastically.” It didn’t take long before he started getting messages from all over the world. “I’m getting calls for radio shows, receiving emails for song placements in movies/TV shows, someone is writing my story in a documentary who is working with a director from ‘Pose’ and on the radar of a few labels.”
Here’s the official Spotify playlist that garnered all the attention:
Nick Carswell mastered the art of virtual performances
Somehow, during the quarantine, Nick Carswell has been EVERYWHERE without ever leaving his home. It feels like every time you fire up social media, he’s taking part in a live stream either from his home-studio or from his driveway with his full (and socially-distanced) band. Let’s not forget that just days after the shutdown, the Irishman was singing (and broadcasting) Irish favorites from his driveway on St. Patrick’s Day.
“My ‘virtual’ musical efforts since the pandemic have been all over the map: solo livestreams, produced cover song videos, live socially-distanced outdoor concerts both low-key and large scale, and everything in between,” says Nick. “In the beginning, there was not a whole lot of forethought or great design to simply going live and playing some music. It was really a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that every gig on the books had been canceled.” The steady livestreams meant Carswell started garnering an online audience who tuned in every week.
“Artistically, it’s been tough because it’s hard to create something that is really visually or sonically where you want your music to be,” he confides. “So instead, it becomes more about staying connected and offering something that people can enjoy, that can lift spirits, distract, and soothe a little bit through this crazy time.”
Megan Luttrell lifted up her fellow gal pal
It’s easy to let a career fall through the cracks when something as unexpected as a global pandemic hits. But Megan Luttrell kept spirits high with a longtime goal of hers. Pre-quarantine, she hosted weekly showcases at Kaw Valley Public House to highlight women in the local folk scene. She kept those up after arranging safe ways to host those showcases (primarily by moving them outside and online).
“When things started opening back up I decided to get the Women’s Showcase going again,” says Luttrell, who changed the format from in the round (four onstage at once) to individual sets for social distancing purposes. Participants also brought their own microphones and they performed outside. “I am always so inspired by the different women who come and share their music and their stories. It immediately motivates me to write more music myself. I love the sense of musical community it creates.”
Luttrell also notes that the showcases helped battle the loneliness brought on by the pandemic. “COVID has been so isolating, stressful, anxiety-provoking, and downright depressing at times. Music lifts people up, both the people listening and the people performing,” she says. “By continuing the event (safely) I wanted to share the inspiring and supportive feeling I get at this event with others, get artists playing out and engaging with people again, and help overcome all the negative feelings brought on by the pandemic. Music is the best medicine.”
Willie from Drugs + Attics got “baked”
What do you do when you’re the frontman for Lawrence’s premier party band, but there’s no party? If you’re Willie from Drugs + Attics, you pick up a new hobby in the kitchen and absolutely knock it out of the park. When the party stopped, he headed into the kitchen and started perfecting pastries. Gorgeous Galettes? Tempting tarts? He can do it all, thanks to weeks of practice and a knack for avoiding those “soggy bottoms,” as Mary Berry would say.
“I started baking during quarantine to fill up some time,” he says. “It’s time I get to spend with my folks bonding, and at the same time a way for me to explore my creativity, playing with recipes and ingredients. Plus, we all get to enjoy the end product. It’s always nice to share a piece of food made with love to your friends and family.”
We sampled his Strawberry galette with Myers lemon zest (he titled it “The After School Special”), and can confidently say he’s earned a “Hollywood Handshake” from us.
He’s also been working on some demos, which you can sample below:
Fally Afani is an award-winning journalist with a career spanning more than two decades in media. She has worked extensively in radio, television, newspapers, magazines, and more. Currently, she resides in Lawrence, Kansas, where she works as a music journalist and is the Editor of I Heart Local Music.