We Used to Have Live Shows, by: GARRETT SHEARMAN

We used to have live shows

{Photography by: Victoria Mendiola)

Garrett Shearman on American music, for American Culture Reporter: Music venues shut down, both temporarily and permanently, in March 2020 due to a global pandemic. Performing musicians and sound engineers lost not just a source of income, but also social interaction, the exchange of ideas, and networking opportunities that would be needed for future performances.

I, like many mediocre musicians, frequented cheap shows in a college town, Athens, Georgia, in my case, in hopes of securing another gig when I wasn’t playing with one of my several bands. Bass players are apparently hard to come by if someone’s willing to pay me to play mine.

For creative souls who produce their proudest work through collaboration, money isn’t the only issue at this point. We formerly paid musicians have adapted by going back to old restaurant jobs, delivering food, driving for Uber or Lyft.

What we have struggled to adapt to is the lack of socialization.

Any stereotypical struggling musician who makes a third of their rent from relentless creative pursuits is inherently resilient. Such tenacity has allowed us to persist through a time where we feel like our greatest love and, for some of us, our only talent, has been stripped away from us. Somehow, we’ve powered through the sudden-then-prolonged dearth of sharing creative ideas while locking eyes with a current or potential collaborator.

The first band I joined in my college years was a funk outfit called Gin Runner, a tongue-in-cheek comment by a bunch of musically inclined sports nerds on how our university’s primary donors to the athletic department were all in the liquor shipping industry. Also, we liked playing for free beer and liquor.

I was recruited to this band, one that lasted four years, increased from four members to seven, and changed its name twice, because I had a Spanish class in high school with a drummer who told them I was the only bass player he knew.

Networking, baby…

Our first show at the Caledonia Lounge, was one when we played with a band consisting of brilliant young Athens musicians Josh Sherrill and brothers Ben and Jack Colclough. In the following years, I found myself playing bass in two side ventures with Sherrill and the brothers Colclough.

After having played punk, shoegaze, metal, jazz, and everything in between, Jack is now drumming for a very sonically appealing country group called The Pink Stones. I spoke with him about what he misses from and what he looks forward to when he resuming touring.

“I would say the biggest thing I’ve missed about playing live is meeting and connecting with people around the country.”

The Pink Stones have achieved a following in the Athens/Atlanta area as local boys done good, and a reputation across the United States as the psychedelic country band that can connect people hanging out at house parties in the Southeast with art school kids frequenting the hippest of small Brooklyn venues.

The drummer added “there’s no doubt that everyone has been socially deprived during COVID, but being able to meet likeminded people on tour was really special. Now that things are starting to open up, I can’t wait to get back out there.”

For many creatives, music is a comfortable escape space from depression and anxiety, even if briefly. Fellow drummer David Boughter, founding member of Atlanta death metal band Sustenance, echoed similar feelings and added that he misses the catharsis of spending time on stage and consequently letting go of negative feelings and self-doubt for short periods of time.

“What do I miss even more than seeing people I care about and performing with my idols? When I’m performing, my brain turns off. My only perception is what I’m hearing, feeling, playing, and doing. As a sufferer of PTSD, not having that 30-minute sort of ‘mental vacation’ for over a year has been draining.”

Most musicians I know have similar stories. We’ve lost a sense of comfort in forgetting about anything that plagues us wholly, even not for as long as we want.

Austin Lanham, Boughter’s bandmate in now-defunct progressive metal band I’ll Be An Empire, mentioned the factor of instant gratification in front of a crowd.

“Sometimes everybody’s going wild, but then sometimes they’re just staring at you for 30 minutes and you don’t know how they’re perceiving it. Then you’re finished, and you have several people rush over to you and say ‘that was so sick!’ It’s such a good feeling.”

In regard to attending shows as a patron, Lanham said he misses being the guy who approaches other musicians to encourage and congratulate them. That’s the beauty of the music scene: being a cheerleader for others while learning to be your own.

For some, the frustration in the transition going from regularly playing live to becoming a “bedroom guitarist” channeled new projects.

A few weeks before I turned 21, I played a show at The Foundry in Athens, Georgia, when I first met Blake Kole. A brilliant multi-instrumentalist, Kole drummed in math rock band Honeywheel before starting a myriad of side ventures drumming. He and I started a few projects together and still regularly exchange ideas via text.

In isolation at his Midtown Atlanta apartment and working from home, Kole spent free time practicing each instrument he can play instead of focusing on just drums.

To take it a step further, he decided he’d record an entire album by himself.

Kole’s debut solo release The One With Words was expertly produced by and featuring vocals from friend and fellow Atlanta/Athens area musician Tommy Trautwein, formerly of the band Jester; the two met through music in their childhood.

While Kole is glad he had the extra time to take on such a herculean task of this passion project, he certainly wishes he could be playing some of this wonderful new work in front of beating hearts.

“The thing that I miss most about live music is the actual transfer of energy from artist to crowd that can only really be experienced in full in person.”

Kole continued:

“There are two sides to every live show: the artist and the venue. I just really miss the way that those two separate but undeniably codependent aspects play with each other. An artist can make a venue magical and a venue can make an artist magical.”

As young idiots, the two of us were so proud to be playing venues at which we grew up seeing some of our favorite artists.

When playing a new venue in a new town, or the same big venue in your hometown, it is not lost upon you fact that you’re standing where giants stood. From local legends R.E.M. and The B-52’s and Widespread Panic and Waka Flocka and Mastodon and Deerhunter to your childhood influences like Nirvana and Primus…and even freaking Snoop Dogg for crying out loud.

“I remember playing at the 40 Watt in Athens with my first band formed while I was in school there. I, being a relatively self-involved and naive 20 year-old-kid, was still able to perceive the weight of that venue, and all of the great artists that have come and gone while passing through there. I felt intimidated but more so I felt honored to just play a part in its history.”

I myself have similar stories. During sound check at my first time playing the Georgia Theatre, I shed tears just looking around, absorbing exactly where I was about to be dancing like a fool while slapping a bass.

The first time I played the 40 Watt, I showed our drummer a picture proving he was sitting exactly where Dave Grohl has sat upon a drum throne. He kind of just stared off into space, his face reading a simple “woah, dude.”

We were in a green room where George Clinton had done cocaine once upon a time. We wiped off sweat and washed our faces after shows in a bathroom sink where Jason Isbell has washed the hands that make some of my favorite music. It gives one a sense of importance, a sense of belonging, a sense of realizing a childhood dream. And it feels just as incredible every single time you’re there.

As for going to shows? I don’t know where to begin.

Seeing everyone of different creeds locked in on a communal concept as unifying as performed art, bobbing heads in perfect synchronicity. Spotting the cute couple in the corner having the time of their lives. Meeting new people. Even seeing the parents of a person you’ve been playing with for five years. There are millions of little things like that.

Until houses are able to be packed again, we’ll just sit here patiently. We’ll adapt and change colors back and forth like the chameleons that we are.

Opportunities to play or not, one truth stands:

We musicians have lived through many a tough time by doing what we love: playing music. This is just another one. We’ll deal with it by playing alone if we have to.

Garrett Shearman

GARRETT SHEARMAN is a graduate of the University of Georgia and has written for Sports Illustrated and USA Today media brands.