As the coronavirus continues to spread, musicians are left to figure out how to adapt to a world in which live concerts are out of the question. While the live music industry as we once knew it remains crippled by the pandemic, we’re checking in with some of our favorite musicians to reflect on years past (both the good times and the bad), see what they’re most looking forward to once the ongoing live event hiatus comes to an end, and find out what they’d like to do differently when that time comes.
For the latest installment of this series, trombonist Natalie Cressman (Trey Anastasio Band) offers her ‘2020 Reflections’. You can also read the previous installments of the series from saxophonist James Casey (Trey Anastasio Band), percussionist Keita Ogawa (Snarky Puppy), drummer John Kimock (Mike Gordon), singer Shira Elias (Turkuaz), bassist Chris DeAngelis (Kung Fu/The Breakfast), bassist Reed Mathis (Electric Beethoven, Billy & The Kids, Golden Gate Wingmen), and saxophonist James Casey (Trey Anastasio Band).
BEST GIG STORY
One of my favorite shows I can remember was a tiny house concert I did in Rome with my duo last year. An Italian friend had set up the show for us, but we didn’t know at all what to expect. We arrived at this beautiful house, the walls full of modern art, with vestiges of music in every corner.
We set up to play in the middle of the cozy living room, with a tiny sound system, and hardly enough room for me to extend my trombone slide without hitting the first row of seats. But despite the humble setting and heavy language barrier it was an amazing show, packed to the gills with Italian Brazilophiles. The audience was so rapt with attention and our set flew by, with several requests for encores extending our set into the late evening. But the after-show hang was what made it so memorable.
Almost the entire audience stayed afterward to hang, drinking wine, and socializing, and then the most incredible food started rolling out of the kitchen, to our complete surprise. We had some of the best, most authentic Italian pasta I have ever tasted, my favorite being the Roman dish penne all’amatriciana, with fresh ricotta cheese, and it all turned into a huge party, with folks taking out guitars and playing songs into the wee hours of the morning. It was impressive how deep their knowledge of Brazilian music went, and everyone wanted to sing a song with my guitarist, Ian Faquini. Everyone was so excited to have an authentic Brazilian guitarist in the house. I even taught some ladies how to samba dance on the balcony!
The delicious wine fueled the adventure and helped break down the language barriers. We sang song after song into the warm fall night and eventually left with our hearts (and bellies) full. I know I’ve played many more impressive venues to tens of thousands of more people, but in a way that night was just the best gig ever.
WORST GIG STORY
On that same tour, we played the worst and weirdest gig of my life. We were in Portugal and booked a show at a place that translated to “grandpa’s house” – it turns out, it actually was someone’s house. Well, several people lived there, in fact, it was more of an urban hippie commune, with various boarders pitching in half-heartedly to run the venue. It was a windy night with freezing rain pouring down, so we had low expectations for turnout as it was, but those sank lower when we arrived at the “venue” to find the floor strewn with musty and stained yoga mats and free weights. The room had a rustic mildewy feel. Turns out they had exactly one speaker and one mic, so we ended up going completely acoustic and therefore “soundcheck” became obsolete. So, we wandered over to the kitchen area where they were prepping a meal to serve to the audience. I guess the idea was dinner and a show.
Our show was supposed to start at 8 pm and at 7:50 they were just getting around to cutting garlic and onions. We awkwardly sat there, drinking wine and meeting our audience, which was exactly 5 people. The food was great but it took about 90 minutes to make, so we ended up starting our set almost two hours late. Who knows how many people might have wandered into the venue area and left, perplexed by the empty room. I think some of the folks who stayed for the show might have just come for dinner and stayed for our set out of pity, seeing how dead it was. The worst was that an American couple came, TAB fans who were on their honeymoon, and I’m sure this dashed any impression of grandeur or professionalism that might have previously been conjured up by my other touring work.
I think we got paid entirely in coins that night, not even enough to cover the Uber to the airport the next morning. All in all, it was a bewildering and mortifying experience, and in some ways, we’re glad that very few people were there to witness it! We were able to laugh about it pretty soon after at least.
SOMETHING YOU’RE LOOKING FORWARD TO GETTING BACK TO
This time away from the stage has made me realize that a significant part of what I enjoy about music is the way that it connects people. Without the opportunities to be in the same room with others experiencing music, to feel that moment just before applause when an audience collectively exhales after experiencing a wave of emotion in the form of a song, I realize just how profoundly I miss sharing music live, in the same room with other human beings. There’s a certain magic that is hard to come by when you can’t leave your house, though we try to fill that void with livestreams and collaborative recordings.
I grew up all around music, tagging along to my parents’ performances since infancy, sometimes finding an upright bass player’s case backstage to take a quick nap in or wandering up onstage to sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” into an unattended microphone.
While that vagabond lifestyle felt absolutely normal to me growing up, as I’ve grown older, I realize that it primed me for interacting with people from all walks of life. As a teen some of my closest friends and confidantes were friends of my parents; since the generational divide was of no importance in music, it didn’t occur to me that it would be any different socially.
Music provides us with a way to communicate with people regardless of whether we speak the same language or come from a similar background, and some of my favorite memories have been of these interactions, late-night sit-ins in a different country where, with my horn in hand, I feel completely able to have a conversation with the folks around me. I can’t wait to travel again and look forward to creating more magical musical memories, once it’s safe to do so.
SOMETHING YOU’RE LOOKING FORWARD TO CHANGING
The whole quarantine situation has fostered a DIY mentality that I’m looking forward to applying more to my work going forward. All this artist-driven content has become more appreciated by music consumers over the past few months, and I think the genuine and candid nature of what we are able to come up with from home is going to change our industry for the better.
Even though the music world looks so different than it did a few decades ago when people still bought music and record labels reigned supreme, I’ve always felt this pressure to seek representation. I felt that the goal should be to get an agent, manager, label, publicist, social media manager, etc., and have glossy images and video content coming out constantly.
The reality is that most artists are somehow supposed to come up with tens of thousands of dollars to self-fund music creation in a world where album sales are so pitiful that you can’t even expect to break even from making your original music in the first place.
It’s sad to say this is the case for the majority of bands and musicians out there, even if they’re the real deal. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but that’s the overall climate I’ve experienced, and it can be discouraging for musicians like me who don’t color within the lines of one genre.
Over the last few months, mostly by necessity, I’ve taught myself how to use ProTools to record and mix pretty high-quality audio and Adobe Premier for video editing (along with other hobbies and skills that have nothing whatsoever to do with music). But this self-reliant attitude may be the new way forward, and whatever rough edges our livestreams or homemade music videos might possess, there’s something endearingly real and relatable about it that fans are responding to, and I think that’s a hopeful sign of a brighter future for us independent artists.