April Bennett’s guitar-driven, funk-rock group, April B. & The Cool, was on tour and set to play at the Pour House Music Hall in Raleigh on March 14 when everything went sideways due to COVID-19. “It was expected to be a sold-out show, and we were waiting with our phones to see what the governor and mayors and people in power were saying about, ‘How do we do this?’” she remembers.
Ultimately, the show went on, albeit with capacity dropped to just 100 people. And since then, Bennett, like other touring musicians, has been navigating a strange new career landscape — one without live crowds. “It’s just been a process of processing and trying to figure out what the new normal is,” she says.
On May 15, she joined forces with local R&B and hip-hop band Lyric to kick off what might be part of the new normal for Asheville’s music scene with the first livestream Downtown After 5 concert. For the show, Bennett and her band gave a rousingly energetic performance to a nearly empty Orange Peel. “It was definitely weird playing in one of the biggest rooms in the city with no people in it except for the staff who were recording it,” she remarks with a laugh. “But I was really glad for that [opportunity]. It was definitely a much-needed morale boost during these crazy, crazy times.”
For now, in the interest of safety, Bennett plans to stick to doing virtual shows and she feels that the Downtown After 5 livestream could be an effective model for other efforts. “This quarantine is going to require a lot of innovation and creativity, and I think that [show] was one of the starting blocks for future innovations,” she says. “I was really happy to be a part of that.”
The coronavirus downtime, she adds, has allowed her to focus on songwriting and working in her home recording studio as well as developing other outlets, including a new obsession with gardening. “I’ve been finding so many different ways to be creative,” says Bennett.
This article is part of COVID Conversations, a series of short features based on interviews with members of our community during the coronavirus pandemic in Western North Carolina. If you or someone you know has a unique story you think should be featured in a future issue of Xpress, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.