At home in Aspen: ‘Quarantunes’ and virtual concerts find grateful audiences online
IF YOU WATCH…
* DJ Naka G’s live sets are on his Facebook page HERE around 8 p.m. most nights.
* Jackson Emmer is performing weekly “Quarantunes” concerts are Thursday nights on Facebook HERE.
* Carbondale’s Virtual First Friday Celebration from April 3 is recorded for viewing HERE.
* Aspen-based children’s musician Miss Tammy is regularly posting new video singalongs and quarantine-friendly music lessons for toddlers and young children on the Aspen Music Together Facebook page HERE.
* Brad Manosevitz’s coronavirus-inspired song and video, “Even the Bad Days (Are Pretty Good)” is on YouTube HERE.
* Steve’s Guitars, which ended its streak of Friday night live music at 977 concerts last month, is raising funds to begin live-streaming. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details or sign-up for the Steve’s newsletter HERE.
* Jazz Aspen Snowmass is keeping a regularly updated daily schedule of live and recorded virtual concerts HERE. The list covers a wide variety of genres, with an emphasis on Jazz Aspen artists including pianist Jacob Collier, The Roots, Leslie Odom Jr. and H.E.R.
With his turntable setup, some black lights, a disco ball and occasional cameos from his children, DJ Naka G has been at the helm of a popular virtual dance club in Aspen over the past month.
As the novel coronavirus outbreak spread and stay-at-home orders went into effect, the Aspen-native X Games and Olympics DJ has been streaming free Facebook Live sets from his home.
With hundreds of people watching and commenting — upwards of 1,100 watched his April 1 performance — they’ve become near-nightly community gatherings for Aspenites in quarantine and people around the world who follow Naka. He’ll regularly offer shout-outs as people join in on the virtual party, on a recent night calling out viewers from as far as “Japan! Australia! Downvalley! Denver!”
Usually it’s about an hourlong set, spinning his long-established signature mash-ups of crate-diving old school funk, hip-hop and soul with pop hits and rock anthems.
It’s peppered with his dry wit and snarky humor, as Naka occasionally picks up his handheld microphone to react in real time as fans comment (he keeps three computer screens running to track his mix, monitor video and view comments simultaneously).
“The theme tonight is ‘hump day funk day,’” he said at the top of a recent Wednesday night performance. “Kind of like some of you might be smelling after days without showering: quarantine funk.”
Another set was themed #ILoveNewYork as COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths surged in the city, honoring the town with sounds from Wu-Tang Clan, The Ramones and the Talking Heads.
“I wish I could say this is the first time I’ve been at a Naka show without pants,” one commenter wrote on a recent night.
Over the past several weeks, Naka’s streams have developed into communal experiences and a sort of safe haven from the fear and rage that pervades much of the online conversation around the coronavirus crisis.
“Any sense of normalcy is such a relief right now,” wrote another, echoing the outpouring of gratitude during Michael Nakagawa’s stream.
Naka’s shows are part of a steadily growing and evolving ecosystem of virtual concerts, mirroring the national trend of online performances during the nationwide stay-home period. They range from Naka’s sets to Jackson Emmer’s “Quarantunes” sessions, from Thunder River Theatre Co.’s “Thunderstream” shows to local children’s musician Miss Tammy’s Facebook sing-alongs, the first of which included a kid-friendly refrain that sounds like a mission statement for all these virtual performances: “I don’t sing because I’m happy, I’m happy because I sing. I don’t dance because I’m happy, I’m happy because I dance.”
While many national and regional musicians are performing online for virtual tips and tickets to support themselves in the wake of devastating revenue losses from canceled gigs and tours, the Aspen area concerts so far have been offered up as a free service or as a way to support others.
Emmer is performing a weekly “Quarantunes” concert from his midvalley home on Thursday nights, streaming live playing guitar and singing on his Facebook page and through Americana Highways. This week’s show is a tribute to John Prine, following the singer-songwriter’s death this week from coronavirus. The shows have been drawing upward of 1,200 views. He is accepting donations and directing all proceeds to the Community Resource Center in Nashville, providing relief for musicians affected by the coronavirus economic fallout.
“I have to help people because I can,” Emmer said in a recent phone interview.
Emmer isn’t living gig-to-gig, and had a break from the road planned for this spring anyway, so he is in a position to help others who aren’t as fortunate.
Like all the musicians performing virtual concerts, he’s learning some new performance skills by playing to a laptop camera.
“When I’m on tour, if there’s a night when I show up and open my mouth to sing and I don’t feel like it, I have people there to interact with and remind me that I’m there for a reason that’s outside of myself,” he explained. “That gets me excited and re-engaged. Now, the interaction is different. It comes from a comment or from just knowing that people are out there.”
It may create a more personal expression for the viewer.
“I need to look inside of myself to the part of me that loves music most,” he said of playing alone for a virtual audience, “and really get in touch with that and play to that. I can’t see them, but they are there and it’s not about me. I have to show up and support them and offer something in these weird times.”
Along with the “Quarantunes” shows, he’s also releasing new songs weekly via Spotify, YouTube and SoundCloud. He’ll keep doing so every week, he said, until the stay-home period is over.
Between the “Quarantunes” concerts, Emmer has been doing some recording for film and commercial scores, but is also writing songs. He’s finished 10 songs in the past three weeks (“five of them are good,” he said) and has gotten label interest in some of them.
As a touring musician, Emmer rarely has this long of a stretch at home with his wife, Olivia, and their dog, Willoughby. Along with playing music for a few hours a day, Emmer is indulging in his baking habit and experimenting with bread, biscuit, cookie and popover recipes.
“A lot of it is mundane and that’s honestly a treat for me, because I don’t usually get that time,” Emmer said. “It’s a joy, even though it’s weird because we are on lockdown.”
He had a tour planned with West Virginia singer-songwriter John Lilly in April, now canceled. But he’d planned to be home a lot this spring, working on landing a label for a recently recorded album, his follow-up to 2018’s “Jukebox,” which garnered international attention.
Among his single releases in recent weeks is “Colorado Line,” a bittersweet folk tune about coming home to Colorado he wrote this winter during a five-week tour through Texas and California. “Colorado Line” is oddly attuned to our collective moment, though written before the pandemic took hold. The chorus goes “Money’s gone, but I’m feelin’ fine/Feeding off that sweet sunshine/Back over the Colorado line.”
“It was an amalgamation of a bunch of feelings I’ve had as I’ve driven in and out of the state regularly,” he said of the song, of which he recorded a vinyl single with a California-based record label.
Emmer also played a set at Carbondale Arts’ eclectic Virtual First Friday on April 3. In an introductory Zoom colloquy with co-hosts Corey Simpson and Amy Kimberly, Emmer summed up the spirit of the many virtual gatherings and performances that have spring up as public life has moved online over the last month: “I know we can’t be together in the midst of this quarantine, but at least we can come tougher around some good stuff and we’ll get through it together.”
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