When the pandemic hit, I had already been to four shows.

I had a lot more concerts I was looking forward to in 2020, of course — I know I’m not alone in that. At first, show dates got slightly pushed back. Then they were indefinitely postponed. And then they were ultimately canceled.

I thought it would end up being a bleak year for music. No outdoor concerts in the late summer sun. No shaking indoor venues with sweaty guitarists. But I was surprised month after month as musicians continued to create and share during this time.

Music ended up being a major part of my year. Whether it was Josh Groban singing “You Raise Me Up” from his shower or Andrea Bocelli singing “Amazing Grace” on a quiet Easter Sunday in Italy, I was constantly reminded that although many concert venues remain closed, live music hasn’t stopped.

Here are 10 musical moments that gave me hope, brought some excitement to my new work-from-home life and provided me a reason to celebrate during this relentless year.

Jan. 9 — Itzhak Perlman 

Tickets for Itzhak Perlman’s BYU debut sold out in under a minute. It was one of the fastest-selling concerts in the school’s history. I remember anxiously sitting at my office desk, trying to reach the box office via phone when general public tickets went on sale. I was No. 25 in a waiting line, and I knew deep down that I wasn’t going to get a ticket. 

As a violinist who grew up listening to Perlman for inspiration, I was crushed. 

Imagine my utter joy, when, six weeks later, I received a single reviewer ticket for the once-in-a-lifetime performance. I got this news just minutes before I was supposed to meet with my editors about Sundance Film Festival coverage. I was so happy and shocked and overwhelmed that I started crying during the meeting (my editors were surprisingly understanding of this). 

Itzhak Perlman performs the Beethoven Violin Concerto, accompanied by the BYU Philharmonic.
Itzhak Perlman performs the Beethoven Violin Concerto, accompanied by the BYU Philharmonic, at BYU’s de Jong Concert Hall on Jan. 9, 2020. | Jaren Wilkey, BYU

Perlman’s performance didn’t disappoint. Just hours before the big moment, I watched the violinist interact with the BYU Philharmonic musicians in rehearsal. Even from the back of the concert hall his love of music education was clear. And during the actual performance, I’ll never forget how an occasional “wow” would slip out every now and then in the auditorium. 

At the time, the year was nine days young. I remember thinking, “It can’t get better than this.”

I really wasn’t wrong.

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Feb. 8 — Tanya Tucker/Brandi Carlile

This was one of those rare concerts where I came for the opening act and ended up discovering the headliner.

A lot of people at Vivint Arena — including my family — clearly showed up for country legend Tanya Tucker. Wearing a long black coat and a fedora that covered her pink hair, Tucker belted out an hourlong set in her deep, raspy voice. She had people on their feet as she shimmied across the stage.

Tucker’s career started at age 13 with the hit “Delta Dawn.” But the singer, now 62, has had somewhat of a recent resurgence, winning her first two Grammy Awards this year. That’s thanks in part to Brandi Carlile, who helped produce Tucker’s 2020 album “While I’m Livin’.”

I was expecting to love Tucker. But I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with Carlile (I really don’t know where I’ve been the past 13 years). Carlile is officially the musician I’ve turned to the most during the pandemic. Since the Vivint Arena show, I’ve bought a number of her CDs, listened to her music on repeat and watched two virtual concerts she’s put on this year.

She’s got soul, a fantastic catalog of music, great harmonies with her longtime bandmates and a remarkable vocal range. I regret that I didn’t know about her earlier on so that I could’ve seen her at smaller, more intimate venues like The State Room.

But better late than never, right?

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March 2 — ZZ Ward

I’ve been trying to see blues/R&B artist ZZ Ward (no connection to ZZ Top) in concert for at least five years. For some reason, her shows in Utah tend to conflict with my schedule. But for all of its problems, 2020 was the year I discovered Brandi Carlile and finally got to see Ward in concert for the first — and hopefully not only — time.

Ward, 34, has been singing the blues since she was 12. She’s got a unique, heartfelt style.

“The one thing that I try to do consistently is be authentic with my words, be very honest about what I’m going through,” she told me a couple of years ago. “I think that’s all I can do.”

I’m always amazed when artists sound just as good — if not better — than they do on their CDs. She was a delight to see in person, and my husband, who didn’t know much about Ward before I dragged him to the show, now listens to her more than I do these days.

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March 6 — The Lone Bellow

I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be my last live, in-person concert of the year.

I showed up to the Commonwealth Room before the doors opened, so I could beat the crowd and claim a spot at the front of the stage. Up close, I watched the Lone Bellow — an incredibly talented trio of musicians — lean into the music, feeding off of each other and their enthusiastic fans. I could see the sweat dripping from their faces as they harmonized and danced across the stage. At one point, I even yelled out a song request (they didn’t play it, but they did shout one of the lyrics back to me in a slight form of acknowledgment. The song is in the video below).

The energy that night was palpable — I think about it every time I wear the shirt I bought from that concert. And it reaffirmed my love for live music and the special interactions between musicians and their fans.

I look back on that Lone Bellow concert fondly. I’m thankful to have it as a memory to tide me over until live music makes its complete and triumphant return.

March 20 — Josh Groban

Six days after the Lone Bellow concert, theaters and venues across Utah shut down. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced that mass gatherings be limited to 100 people or less.

And just like that, concerts were no longer feasible.

As an avid concertgoer, I was feeling pretty down about this. In March alone, plans to see my favorite band, Jamestown Revival, and Celine Dion were canceled. A few days later, I experienced my first earthquake. I was also in the process of closing on a house. Needless to say, there was a lot going on in my life around this time.

Since the start of the pandemic, Josh Groban has found a number of ways to put on concerts and stay in touch with fans. | Andrew Eccles

And then something so simple yet meaningful brought me a lot of joy. From his bedroom, Josh Groban put on a 30-minute virtual concert via Facebook Live. The sound and audio quality really wasn’t great, but I remember being moved that Groban seemed to genuinely want to keep in touch with fans during this uncertain time.

“Maybe live music hasn’t gone away, after all,” I thought.

Near the end of that concert, Groban walked to his bathroom and stepped into the shower. Crouched down and staring straight into his laptop camera, he began to sing “You Raise Me Up.”

No bagpipes, string section or choir accompanied him. Just a lone voice, enhanced by the acoustics of a shower.

And in some respects, it was more powerful that way.

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April 12 — Andrea Bocelli

By the time Easter Sunday rolled around, we were a month into the pandemic. The day was fairly low-key for me. My husband and I didn’t travel anywhere to be with family. But it was still a day I will never forget — and not just because it was our first Easter together in our new home.

On that Sunday morning — when church services were still canceled — I watched Andrea Bocelli sing “Amazing Grace” in front of the historic Duomo Cathedral in Milan, Italy. I remember sitting on top of a black beanbag in my basement, crying as the powerful moment unfolded on YouTube.

Andrea Bocelli performs at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Bocelli’s Easter Sunday performance during the pandemic was a music highlight of 2020 for Deseret News reporter Lottie Johnson. | Qiling Wang, Deseret News

“Thanks to music, streamed live, bringing together millions of clasped hands everywhere in the world, we will hug this wounded earth’s pulsing heart,” Bocelli said in a statement before the concert.

That moment gave me some much-needed hope. And I don’t think I’m alone in that — within 24 hours, the performance garnered more than 28 million views worldwide.

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Andrea Bocelli to perform special Easter concert from an empty cathedral in Milan. You can watch it live on YouTube

June 11 — John Prine tribute show

Legendary singer-songwriter John Prine died on April 7 at the age of 73 — one of 300,000-plus people in the United States who have died from COVID-19.

“It’s not an easy thing when a guy like John passes on,” Billy Bob Thornton said in a tribute show that aired June 11. “John was a simple, humble, complex, funny, heartbreaking guy, and it showed in his songs. He could make you laugh and cry within just one line in a song.”

The virtual show honoring Prine featured stories and performances from an all-star lineup of friends and colleagues that included Carlile (she’s really everywhere; I don’t know how it took me so long to find her), Vince Gill, Bonnie Raitt, Kacey Musgraves, Jason Isbell, Eric Church and more.

After the special two-hour tribute — which showed how far and wide Prine’s influence continues to be felt beyond his death — Prine’s family gave friends and fans a parting gift, releasing the musician’s last recorded song, “I Remember Everything.”

Watch: The last song John Prine recorded before his death was just released

June 27 — Garth Brooks

I still remember how I woke up on June 27. I had a specific feeling of excitement I hadn’t felt since seeing the Lone Bellow in March: I was finally going to a concert again.

Country superstar Garth Brooks brought a prerecorded but exclusively filmed concert to 300 drive-in theaters across North America — including West Valley City’s Redwood Drive-in.

I wasn’t the only one looking forward to the special event — when tickets went on sale, I waited online in a queue for close to an hour so I could snag tickets. Drive-in theaters became a reemerging trend during the pandemic — Brooks’ concert launched an entire series that saw everyone from Metallica to Blake Shelton hitting the big screen.

Garth Brooks performs his first of four shows at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015. On Saturday, June 27, 2020, Brooks performed a drive-in concert for 300 theaters across North America. | Chris Samuels, Deseret News

To date, this is probably the most “normal” thing I’ve done in a COVID-ridden world. Although physically distanced, I was out in public with other people. I sat on the bed of a truck, eating Papa John’s pizza and singing along at the top of my lungs to “Friends in Low Places.”

It was a great time, but I did find myself worrying a little that this could turn into the “new normal” when it comes to big entertainment. Yes, it was fun, but the event did not come close to matching the thrill of a live concert. But Brooks certainly gets praise for trying his best to recreate the concert experience — something that feels foreign now, nine months into the pandemic.

At $100 a car, was the Garth Brooks drive-in show worth it?

Dec. 6 — Lauren Daigle

I know going from June to December is a huge jump, but at least two virtual concerts I watched during this time frame featured Carlile, and I’ve probably already said enough about her by now.

Lauren Daigle is another artist I’m learning about fairly late. The singer behind the monster hit “You Say” is one of the rare contemporary Christian artists whose music has achieved mainstream success. Daigle was the guest artist for BYUtv’s annual holiday special “Christmas Under the Stars.” She came out to Utah in August to film the concert for a physically distanced audience.

Lauren Daigle was the guest artist for BYUtv’s “Christmas Under the Stars,” which premiered Dec. 6. | Justin Hackworth via BYUtv

Watching the concert premiere on TV, I was struck by the obvious passion she has for performing. She has a low, jazzy voice. I loved the New Orleans-vibe she put on a number of Christmas classics. I’ve been listening to her music all month now.

If she ever comes back to Utah once the pandemic subsides, I’ll be sure to go see her in person.

“I am eagerly waiting to get back on the road,” Daigle told me in early December. “I love so much getting to perform in front of people, getting to bring messages of hope to people, getting to see people genuinely impacted. That’s something that I want to be a part of forever.”

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Dec. 18 — Trans-Siberian Orchestra

I first saw the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in November 2017. Not really knowing what I was getting into then, I brought my mom along for the ride. After the two-hour production, my mom turned to me and said: “I’m going to need a few days to recover from this.”

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra puts on a huge and dramatic show. For 20 years, the band has traveled across the country at Christmastime, displaying an arsenal of laser lights and pyrotechnics that seems to grow larger each year.

But, of course, this year was different.

Amid the pandemic, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra put on a Christmas livestream show on Dec. 18. | Mark Weiss

Although TSO’s 2020 tour got canceled, the band did a livestream from a soundstage in Nashville in December. This time, by virtue of the setting, the production was less about the spectacle. Streaming the concert on my laptop, I watched the musicians and singers’ faces up close. I could really hear and feel what they were singing. I could also focus more on the talent of the performers rather than being distracted, wondering when the next round of lasers would shoot off.

Yes, there were technical glitches. I got disconnected from the livestream a number of times during the 90-minute performance. But TSO didn’t have to do a concert at all this year. In fact, all of the artists I’ve enjoyed this year could’ve retreated altogether from performing during this time.

Thanks to all of the musicians who have continued to find creative ways to share their talents, making the world a little brighter in 2020.

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