Van Wagner wasn’t about to let the coronavirus end his streak of performances at a Millheim pub. Instead, he created a celebration with other musical family members and friends.
Tune in to Elk Creek Café & Alework’s Facebook page for Pub Hang: Social Distancing Style Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
“This thing has exploded with musicians,” said Wagner, a musician from Danville. “I perform at Elk Creek Cafe & Aleworks the first Thursday of each month. May 7 will be my 103rd time performing there. I could not let the quarantine stop this tradition so I reached out to friends to do some music together for a special video.”
Among the performers will be Kj Reimensnyder-Wagner, Hannah Bingman, Kate Woodruff, Anthony R Hannigan, Woody Wolfe, Tom Flannery, Joel McMonagle, Darren Schlappich, Brian Crane, Robb Bomboy, Rick Victor, Ken Fausnaught, Kate Anderson Twoey, Ollie Wagner, Zoey Wagner and Ethan Weader.
Ollie Wagner is Van Wagner’s brother, Zoey Wagner is his niece, and Ethan Weader his nephew, adding a “family vibe” to the show.
“Each person does a song with me split screen,” Wagner said. “Most of the songs are my songs but a few are songs by the other musician.”
“I’m excited to join Van on harmonies on his ‘North of 80’ song, since this is one of my favorite parts of the state and I believe it truly can be a different world up there ... in all that’s good ... of the rural parts of our world,” said singer Reimensnyder-Wagner, of Mifflinburg.
Performing virtually takes some adjustment for people accustomed to audience feedback. Wagner compared it to what folk and blues singers in the 1920s and ’30s must have experienced when first recording their music.
“The idea of ‘singing into a can’ was strange when there was no audience in front of them,” he said. “In some cases I’ve been outside next to the woods for this video project. I play my songs very differently in that kind of setting than I do to a room full of people. I think it makes for an interesting setting.”
“I have to admit that when I worked off of Van’s recording to me, I lit up when he said ‘Hey, Kj,’” Reimensnyder-Wagner said. “It was as if there was finally someone in the room with me, even though it was just a recording.”
In this isolating time, she finds comfort in singing along with a fellow musician.
“It reminded me of previous times in joining Van for a song or two at a festival,” she said. “And adding a part, a recording to someone else’s recording, it causes you to listen a bit more to their intonation, their rise and fall of the voice, and hopefully blend with them. As Van’s ‘dancing instructor’ mom can tell you, it’s sort of a dance you do — only with vocals — offered by two musicians at the same time.”
“Van has a great rapport with his audiences,” said Hannah Bingman, a folk singer from State College. “As an introvert, I find it harder to keep folks engaged, so this is kind of anxiety reducing for me. That said, there is nothing like coming together with people in the same room to create and communicate. My iPhone can’t replace everything.”
Through Heart to Hand Ministries, Inc., Woody Wolfe, of Danville, sings to ill children.
“The majority of my audiences that I have sung to over the last 39 years have been hospitalized; often an audience of one, so there are no typical audience reactions,” he said. “This is not really that much different for me. It’s just always been about trusting the power and magic of music for me.”
People tuning in tonight can experience that power and magic for themselves, Wolfe added.
Wagner compared the show to online teaching for his Lewisburg Area High School environmental science students, saying it’s great to connect but not the same as seeing them daily. Some of his students are also working on a song for the concert.
“I really do miss them,” he said. “I know all of the teachers miss their students.”
Listening to the Facebook video, people will enjoy “songs about Pennsylvania by some of the coolest Pennsylvania musicians out there,” Wagner said.
“Sure, many of us play music for some income but ultimately it’s about the songs,” he said. “We create music because for us it’s like breathing. I can’t imagine life without music. Being able to do these songs with my musical brothers and sisters has been a very positive thing during this time.”
“I think everyone will like the variety of musicians Van has pulled together,” Reimensnyder-Wagner said. “We are all ‘one big family’ in this music world, and I’m honored to join the gang here.”
“It will be fun,” Bingman said. “Van is a great songwriter, and he has some talented folks joining him. Music is what’s getting us through these times. It’s a great excuse to carve out an evening and actively listen.”