By O’Hara Shipe
A tentative air of hope spread across Anchorage last Monday, as the hunker down orders were scaled back. Barbershops, groomers, retailers, and some restaurants opened their doors for the first time in six weeks. The previously desolate downtown streets are once again full of life—relatively speaking.
But as the workday approached night, Alaska’s bustling metropolis transformed into an eerily quiet ghost town.
No patrons were basking in the early summer sun on Williwaw’s rooftop. No excited crowds of people crammed into the Performing Arts Center to catch a show. Most notably, there was no music emanating from the usually packed bars. In the absence of sound, the silence is a deafening reminder of how life has changed.
“I just really miss my band. I miss making music,” says Lilac drummer Thomas Moore.
In place of their show, both bands quietly released their EPs to a distracted social media audience where the tracks fell off into the abyss. Similarly, Anchorage’s powerhouse band, The Jephries, dropped a new song and video that seemed to go mostly unnoticed.
No one has been exempted from feeling the sting of COVID-19, but its likely hit musicians and creatives particularly hard.
Nationally, the majority of the estimated 23 million independent contractors and gig workers eligible for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic are still waiting for relief.
Some of Anchorage’s musicians have produced mini virtual concerts and given viewers the opportunity to Venmo tips. Unfortunately, in a profession that is already associated with poverty, tips may buy an artists’ groceries, but it won’t pay their mortgage.
“I turn[ed] to live streaming for the first time ever, and I was just really honest about my situation. I lost both sources of income because I have Air BnB rentals, and I work in music, so yeah, both are canceled for what seems like it may be the entire season,” explains fulltime singer-songwriter Emma Hill.
While Hill has had some success live streaming, she is in the minority.
Even with the highly touted AK4AK virtual music festival, which took to place on Friday, May 1, the performing musicians were’t making a living wage. The festival’s website indicated that 100-percent of the $70,000 profit would be donated to the Food Bank of Alaska with a share of merchandise sales going to the performers.
According to Alaska’s reopening plan, music venues—better known as bars—are slated as being one of the last things to reopen. Which means musicians will likely be financially struggling for the foreseeable future.
As some musicians are finding, the repercussions are a lot more than financial.
“It’s not that we don’t want to be creative and be making music, but I think right now, we’re at the bottom of Maslow’s chart,” says Harper’s Farce keyboardist Jordan Gingery.
Penned by psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is used to study how humans intrinsically partake in behavioral motivation. At the most basic level, humans must have their physiological needs met. Creativity and art are positioned at the highest point of the hierarchy, meaning they won’t happen without first mastering the previous stages.
Even self-proclaimed white-collar band, The Secondhand Feels, has found it challenging to find their creative spark.
“I haven’t picked up my bass since this all started, and even if I did, what would be the point? You need a band to make a bass sound good,” says the band’s bassist Josh Zullo.
For some bands, with the impetus for prepping for a gig gone, the willpower to make music isn’t there.
“I mean, even if we could practice, there isn’t really a point. I mean, there aren’t going to be any gigs for a long time, and it’s not like we can record anything. Maybe we’ll write something, but what is there to write about that isn’t going to be a cliché when we get out of this,” says Sideways drummer Taylor Curry.
So, what are Anchorage’s musicians doing during hunker down?
“Just trying to get through each day,” says Concrete to Clouds lead singer and Anchorage School District band teacher, Jonathan Cannamore.