Following the very late cancellation of this year's Country2Country festival in March, my friend and I made the decision to still travel down to London as planned. It was a good chance for us to have a proper catch up and an opportunity to have a weekend away in the capital. We spent some time pottering around Greenwich and had a look at the Cutty Sark, something I'd wanted to do for a while.
We got talking and both agreed that it would be good if we could still see some live music before the weekend was out. It was fairly obvious at this point what was about to happen with regards to the country having to go into lockdown.
I spotted a gig advertised at the Kitchen Garden Café in Birmingham on the Sunday evening, so we made the decision to leave London earlier than planned and drove back up to Brum. The Magpies were a female folk group I'd heard promising things about and they did not disappoint. It was a thoroughly enjoyable gig and it turned out to be my final gig before the lockdown commenced at the end of March.
The Magpies - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham
15th March, 2020
It became apparent to me quite quickly that live music would not be an option for quite some time. This obviously caused great concern to many artists across the world, for whom playing live music provides a massive percentage of their overall income. Alternatives had to be explored.
One such alternative that emerged was that of the internet live stream. Using various platforms including Facebook and Instagram, artists could play live in real time and fans from across the world could tune in and watch. When I first discovered these streams, I thought they were brilliant. It felt like in the absence of live music and gigs, this was the best option. I tried my best to keep up with watching all the streams that my favourite artists put on. Facebook was my stream platform of choice. The main reason for this was that most of the streams on there could be watched back at a later date. This was particularly useful as a lot of the streams from American artists were broadcast at times of the day that were not always UK-friendly.
As the popularity of these streams quickly grew, I found it increasingly difficult to keep up with all of them. Throughout the pandemic I have continued working full time and I just don't have the six or seven hours spare each day to watch internet live streams, as much as I would like to! I began to pick and choose more carefully the streams that I watched. Artists began to use virtual tip jars whereby fans watching the streams could donate money. This is something I have no issue with whatsoever - artists have a living to make in these strange times, just the same as the rest of us do. I have supported a few of the artists in this way and I have also bought some merchandise directly from artists. This was in the hope that by doing this I am maximising the amount that the artists receive, as opposed to buying from somewhere like Amazon.
After a while, I began to get a little bored with the live streams. The interaction between the fans and the artists just wasn't there. Comments could be posted on the live streams but mostly the artist wouldn't see them. Rightly, they were too busy concentrating on playing as the comments whizzed past on the screen at some speed. Obviously the performances were live but at times it didn't feel all that different from watching videos on Youtube. The sound and video quality was also very varied. With the sheer quantity of streams available, an iPhone stream just didn't cut it any more. It is probably an exaggeration, but it also felt like some artists were doing streams nearly every day. Less is definitely more. Always leave them wanting more!
I began to feel restless again - I needed something more. Something better. I was browsing a Country music group on Facebook one day and spotted an advert from a site called CES Virtual Shows for a live show featuring the group Steel Blossoms. They are a group I have liked for a while now. In fact I was looking forward to seeing them earlier this year in Birmingham before it was postponed until next year. The show was advertised as a free interactive concert on Zoom, very different to the other internet live streams out there. My interest was well and truly piqued!
Immediately these shows felt just so much more fun. Attendee numbers are kept deliberately low and it is so much fun getting to chat to the artists in between songs. There is also a chance to speak to the other music fans before the artists start to perform. This feels like a real gig! There is also the very real bonus of sitting in comfort on a sofa, having access to a clean toilet and best of all there is no queue at the bar!
CES do a great job of finding a wide range of different artists, each gig is enjoyable in its own way. There is a chance to ask the artist questions between songs and this is very interesting and I've found out a lot more about the music industry.
Amid the absolute glut of web streams out there, it is has been such a breath of fresh air to find something very different. It has also shown how fickle I can be. I was so happy initially to have the web streams but I quickly moved on when something better came along. I don't apologise for this, we all have to make the best of the situation. I don't really think that anyone knows how long it will be until we can get to gigs in person again. Gigs are one of my main social outlets so the web streams and now these Zoom shows have kept me going and I hope they will continue to do so!
If live streams are the gravy. CES Virtual Shows on Zoom are where the meat is. The link to their site is below, check them out!