Pandemic Arts series documents how WNC performers persevere

HOME STYLE: Director Deni McIntyre, left, prepares to film Natalya Zoe Weinstein of Zoe & Cloyd for an episode of "Pandemic Arts." Photo courtesy of the Will & Deni McIntyre Foundation

Hendersonville-based documentary filmmakers Deni and Will McIntyre are no strangers to traditional music or television production. Their PBS series, “David Holt’s State of Music” — which they produce through their nonprofit, the Will & Deni McIntyre Foundation — has been on the air since 2015. Featuring the revered Fairview-based musician interviewing fellow performers from across North Carolina, the award-winning program was gearing up to shoot its fifth season when the COVID-19 lockdown began in March. Their production plans for the new season went from being temporarily rescheduled to canceled until further notice, and, like many creative types, the McIntyres found themselves at a loss for what to do next.

With venues shuttered and festivals on hold, it didn’t take long for the longtime professional partners to realize they’d have to adapt. More importantly, they understood that the musicians and performers they love were likely being hit harder than they were.

“Back in April, when we were all pretty much staying at home, we came up with an idea for doing something that would be much more timely and that we could do as streaming only,” Deni says.

With these goals in mind, the pair decided to use the many contacts they’d made over the years to make a new show — one focusing on how local performers and venues have been coping with a near-complete loss of audiences and income. Thus was born “Pandemic Arts.”

“People were starting to do a lot of streaming concerts — performing online with [digital] tip jars and Patreon accounts and things like that,” says Deni, who serves as the show’s director and editor. “But what we weren’t seeing was a sense of community where the performers were talking about how they were actually being affected.”

Through a combination of performances and interviews, “Pandemic Arts” steps inside the day-to-day routines of regional artists and business owners who make up a small but significant slice of the local tourist economy. Featured artists such as Zoe & Cloyd, Jennifer and Darren Nicholson, and their old friend Holt, plus representatives from such venues as Isis Music Hall and, most recently, Flat Rock Playhouse, provide firsthand accounts of how they’re coping with the pandemic, both personally and creatively.

“What’s really been interesting is it’s not just the same tale of woe from everybody,” Deni says. “It’s not necessarily what you’d expect.”

Will, who serves as the show’s producer, concurs: “What we’re seeing is a lot of performers looking to online things. They’re trying to figure out how to make an online delivery system work for them. It’s tougher for some than others.”

Forced to adjust their production procedures to match pandemic-recommended distancing practices, the McIntyres have cut their crew to less than half of what they usually use on “David Holt’s State of Music.” In the new setup, Will takes on occasional cinematography and audio duties while Deni acts as grip — aka camera tripod and dolly technician.

“We had to do some modifications, because when we go out and do ‘David Holt’s State of Music,’ we have basically a crew of 10,” Will says. “With ‘Pandemic Arts,’ it’s a lot more intimate. We’re going into people’s homes …” — which, Deni interjects, might be something that some of their interviewees haven’t experienced in six months — “… so we really had to consolidate jobs.”

In addition to providing a spotlight for struggling artists and venues, “Pandemic Arts” also serves as a historical record: The entirety of the series will be archived at the Liston B. Ramsey Center for Appalachian Studies at Mars Hill University.

“They’re going to be the repository of everything that we gather,” Will says. “We’re aware that we’re going through this now, and I hope in five years we’re going to look back at this and go, ‘Wow, man! That was a strange time.’”

With financial support courtesy of the Community Foundation of Henderson County and the Perry N. Rudnick Endowment Fund, and with help from Blue Ridge Music Trails — whose sound engineers edit a condensed audio-only podcast version of the episodes that air periodically during “Morning Edition” on WNCW — the McIntyres hope to keep the show streaming for as long as it remains relevant.

“This series is topical and timely,” Deni says. “Of course, you don’t get the eyeballs you do with a network broadcast show. For now, this is just streaming, but I think more and more people are streaming, so it’s not the little cul-de-sac that it used to be.” But, she adds, “performers need audiences,” and until live music and theater return to their pre-COVID states, outlets like “Pandemic Arts” provide artists and venues the exposure they may need to weather the storm. avl.mx/88s

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About James Rosario
James Rosario is a writer, film critic, and punk rocker living in Asheville, NC. His blog, thedailyorca.com, is a D.I.Y. look at movies, music, and more. Follow me @TheDailyOrca

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