When area performance venues shuttered — albeit temporarily — in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19, it felt like the day(s) the music died. But just because fans can’t currently gather for live shows, it doesn’t rule out virtual concerts. “What I can offer now, with the club’s permission, is if they want to do some closed-door concerts, we’re able to stream from the several venues we’re set up in,” says Josh Blake, co-founder of Independent Arts & Music Asheville.
In addition to the online concerts produced by IamAVL, and its “Echo Sessions” series, which is broadcast on UNC-TV and at PBS.org, the web-based music platform also provides streaming service from a number of venues around Asheville. In this era of coronavirus-induced social distancing, such digital capabilities are playing new roles.
“We want to be of service to as many people as we can. … That’s why we put livestream installations in these venues,” Blake explains. The IamAVL philosophy, he says, was always to make streaming possible for all genres of music.
“I joke that we’re the people’s web channel,” Blake says. IamAVL launched in 2012 with the mission to preserve and promote Asheville’s growing cultural renaissance through initiatives such as interviews with bands and live performance clips. Co-founder Scott Reese had enjoyed archiving concerts for decades and so was an early adapter to streaming music. “Once we started to stream people’s shows, [others] requested that we stream their shows,” Blake remembers. So IamAVL’s staff spent a year or two perfecting livestreaming installations they could operate remotely.
“As far as I’m aware, we’re the only city in the world that has multiple venues wired into one website for people to check out what’s live any night of the week,” Blake says. Within the first week of live music venue closures, he and his team were already working with bands whose shows had been canceled. “Echo Sessions” filmed performances by The Mobros and Screaming Js on March 15. “Post a short live video clip of your best boogie moves … in your own kitchen or wherever you be — and we’ll send our favorite a special Js BOOGiE survival kit merch care package,” the Screaming Js announced on the Facebook event page for that livestream concert.
At interview time, Blake was preparing to film Blake Anthony Ellege’s Quarantine Concert Series featuring Queen Bee and the Honeylovers and Posey Royale, followed by Slice of Life Comedy, at The Orange Peel’s Pulp club. (The series is no longer filming at The Orange Peel.) Pulp, says Blake “was actually one of the first places we ever set up one of our installations. When I went back in, our webcams were still up in the ceiling from seven or eight years ago.”
Many artists are staging their own online concerts through their websites or social media accounts. It’s a time of creative ingenuity, so resources such as Facebook Live, says Blake, are “an incredible tool to be able to stay connected to your fans and also gather donations — put your Venmo or PayPal up.” He adds, “The No. 1 thing musicians and artists can do now to continue to work is [to go] online — creating online concerts and putting their merchandise on sale.”
Blake and his team realized that they could also engage viewers through the IamAVL YouTube channel, website and archive of about 2,500 videos. They recently launched a donation platform — an effort they’d made in IamAVL’s early iteration, though at that time they rarely received tips. “But now, in the past four or five days, we’ve raised about $1,200,” he says. Those contributions can be directed to a specific band; unspecified donations go to the Recording Academy’s MusiCares nonprofit group, which has earmarked an Asheville-specific fund to which local musicians and those in the music industry can apply for aid (details at avl.mx/70y).
Additionally, Susan and Jim Knorr, the parents of late Asheville musician Jeff Knorr, donated $5,000 from the Jeff Knorr Scholarship Fund — collected through Asheville Music Professionals — to the MusiCares Asheville fund; and a $20,000 contribution from Don and Alexandra Clayton brought that total to more than $26,000, with aid continuing to come in.
The coming days and weeks will likely bring more innovations around the use of remote and online concerts, art shows, performances and productions. A number of local clubs have reached out to Blake about possibilities for closed-door sessions and series; artists have been seeking advice and insight on bringing their talents to the virtual audience.
And IamAVL has found other applications in this unprecedented time. Along with its regular shows and services, the organization is also available on a for-hire basis, Blake explains, to record and livestream various events, symposiums and conferences. As COVID-19 makes such large-group gatherings impossible, events are reaching out to Blake’s team to film panel discussions so conferencegoers can still receive the information from the safety of their own homes.
There’s also an opportunity for further local assistance and connection. “We have a platform we launched at the beginning of the year called WEareAVL,” Blake says. “It’s a place where content creators can showcase their work on our website, so people can go there and submit videos they made, submit their YouTube link, and we [post] it on that page. It’s another way music makers can interact with our website.”
It still takes a village. For now, the village is virtual — but it’s also very dialed in.
Learn more at iamavl.com. Look for Part 2 of this story in next week’s issue.