Among the many sectors of jobs hit hard by pandemic shutdowns were musicians, who saw full schedules of gigs dwindle one by one as restaurants, taverns and auditoriums were forced to close.
Still, local entertainers dug deep and filled their newly opened hours with learning new skills and focusing on friends and family while waiting for performance opportunities to return. With Thanksgiving Day in mind, we asked them: In the midst of all the craziness of this year and how COVID-19 has affected your gigs, what are you thankful for?
Fritz Dabulis, lead singer and sax of Memory Lane
“I’m thankful that everybody in the band is okay, despite going out and playing,” the Northumberland resident said. “So far, we’re lucky.”
Dabulis added the band probably will not perform indoors again until the virus is under control.
Bryan Noaker, member of the Ann Kerstetter Band, also performs with Alan Combs, Kimbo Reichley and solo
“I’m thankful that businesses have gotten creative with how they do their entertainment in a safe and responsible way,” Noaker said. “The wineries have been great. A lot of places extended their seasons. As we get into cold weather, we know that’s going to end.”
Ann Kerstetter, singer and band leader
Kerstetter said she was blessed to have had many outside gigs, many of those with bandmate Noaker. “We are taking it gig by gig. We want to be responsible.”
The very next day, she stated in a Facebook post that she and Noaker had made the “difficult but we believe a civically responsible decision” to cancel their upcoming gig at the Italian Terrace.
“We have friends and family members in the medical community that are experiencing the physical and mental challenges related to the increase in local cases,” Kerstetter wrote. “It became obvious to us being in the public eye that we should comply with the guidelines and set personal examples.”
She ended by showing appreciation for local venues and the struggles they face, but she focused on keeping everyone safe to make it through the pandemic.
“Pray for us!. Stay safe,” she said. “We can do it together.”
Howie Miller, DJ of Midnite Jam Sound System
“Personally, I’m thankful that myself, my wife and my stepson are healthy,” Miller said. “I’m thankful also that with my friends and followers, I haven’t heard anyone saying they got (COVID-19). They are healthy.”
He added that he had an opportunity a few years ago to go into the DJ/karaoke business full time. He is grateful he declined and sympathizes with full-time entertainers who lost their livelihood.
“Because of COVID I have lost 41 gigs (from March through July),” he said. “Luckily I don’t rely on my DJ-ing or karaoke to pay my bills.”
Jim McClincy, known as “the Singing Mailman” when he delivered mail in Sunbury
“As far as music goes, I’m thankful I have the opportunity in my church to participate in music,” McClincy said, adding that he is honored to be the song leader at Oaklyn Independent Baptist Church, on Route 61 in Sunbury.
Throughout the warmer months McClincy also met with other musicians at a picnic pavilion at the Rails to Trails railhead, in Vicksburg.
“Several of us get together and sit around the picnic tables and do a little jam session,” he said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to play music for my own entertainment.”
He learned new songs during the shutdown and enjoyed the rare privilege of being able to play whatever he wanted to hear.
“I think, in a lot of cases, it is what you make it,” he said. “You can play a little music to amuse yourself.”
Flora Eyster, flute, piano and six-time recipient and administrator of PA Partners on the Arts Grant Awards
“COVID has allowed me as an artist to contemplate, think, be more creative and find solutions to things in a way that is regular and has a pulse,” Eyster said, adding that she writes music and songs and bought a piano. “I highly recommend stretching your mind by getting yourself using a new instrument; for any level player, it pushes you, and focuses your mind. I always thought I’d hunker down in a cabin to write, and I did. In September I rented a cabin on Lake Seneca and wrote tunes like ‘Another Summer Gone By,’ ‘Hearts Like Magnets’” and more.
Other than sitting in on some outdoor bands, she’s had no bookings since Valentine’s Day and purposely chooses not to create live gatherings during the pandemic.
Eyster has recorded songs with friends and hired a videographer to record an outdoor, slam poetry event on Halloween titled “Full Moon, Blue Moon, Holler-ween.” It will be released after editing.
“It was 39 degrees. You do what you have to do,” she said.
“I am thankful for the writing outlet. It gave me a way forward,” she said. “I am grateful for the role of music outlets. I stream my favorite radio stations all day, every day ... it gives me ideas.
“Keep supporting radio and news outlets. I am grateful they have been a backbone of connection with others,” she said, adding that entertainers have a responsibility to help others. “Be a mentor. Support others, especially young artists, every day. And write your local stations a donor check, no matter how small.”
Van Wagner, teacher, historian, musician
Wagner was thankful for pandemic-induced free time that allowed him to study a new hobby.
“I’ve been using the year as productively as possible,” the Danville resident said. “I’ve been putting my efforts at becoming a certified arborist. I never would have had time to pursue this if I hadn’t had all my concerts canceled for the year. I love trees and I enjoy helping people solve problems they may be facing with their trees.”
Andrea Tufo, president of Buffalo Valley Singers
“Music will forever be in our hearts,” Tufo said. “Although there are times we sing to entertain, we also sing as a form of spiritual enlightenment. We are saddened not to be able to perform and rehearse as a group, but we are thankful we can stay connected through friendship and fellowship. We are benefitting from this time by building our individual voices, learning new techniques, and healing our spirits so that our passion is renewed when we are able to safely be together again.”
Jeremy Hummel, co-founding member of Breaking Benjamin and leader of Into The Spin
“I am thankful for my family and good health,” Hummel said. “I am thankful to still be able to connect with my drum students through online lessons. I am thankful for music, books, film and the arts, which can always be there to nourish the soul. I am also thankful for the teachers who have had to go above and beyond throughout the pandemic, still trying to make for a positive educational experience.”
John Derk, member of John & Lou, with Derk (vocals, keyboards and guitar) and Louise Tyler Charvet (vocals and percussion)
“All gigs from mid-March till the beginning of June were canceled,” Derk said. “But as soon as we moved into the green stage, venues were anxious to start up live music again. I received a lot of calls to play that week.”
Summer was very busy, but 95 percent of his gigs were outdoors.
“September was actually the busiest month I’ve ever had,” he said. “Now that COVID-19 cases are rising again and restaurants are having to move indoors, the jobs are starting to come in a lot slower.
“Venues have really gone all out to make sure their customers are safe and socially distanced, but they are still having a rough time making ends meet and unfortunately live entertainment is one of the expenses they have been cutting. I’m hoping when the vaccine starts getting distributed that things will start getting back to normal.”