SALT LAKE CITY — If you’re wondering how the live music scene has changed during the age of the coronavirus outbreak, let me tell you this much: I watched Josh Groban sing “You Raise Me Up” from his shower.
The video and audio quality wasn’t great.
“Somebody just said the audio sounds like I’m down in a well. Surprise! I live in a well,” Groban joked during the Facebook livestream on March 20. “Sometimes pennies hit me. But it’s OK because I know that every time they bruise me, a wish has been granted.”
In the end, though, the quality didn’t really matter. What did matter was that Groban was letting fans into his home — fans who may not get to see him in person for a long, long time.
As the dressed-down Groban sat at his piano singing the classic “February Song” and his rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” comments of gratitude — coming from Germany, Scotland, the United States and elsewhere — flooded the livestream.
“I have been depressed all week after losing my job. Looking forward to this concert has really helped.”
“My parrot is a huge fan. There is so much chirping going on right now.”
“This is the best thing in the world. I have so much hope right now.”
But Groban didn’t just sing. Through his dirty computer lens, he proudly showed his fans a framed photo of his dog, Sweeney, talked to his fans about the seriousness of COVID-19, encouraged fans who may be feeling lonely to seek help and even apologized for the plain gray wall behind him.
“I was going to tape a quilt or something to it, and it kept falling down,” he said. “So I put up a piece of art instead.”
Groban’s Friday afternoon performance from home — which 3,500 people watched live on Facebook — shows how the pandemic has drastically changed the live music landscape in 2020.
Artists and fans collide
As concerts worldwide have been canceled or postponed, and venues forced to shut down, the artists who once relied on people showing up to their shows are now coming directly to their fans.
Artists from Groban to Brad Paisley to John Legend to Pink to Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood have performed concerts online. Even Neil Diamond — who retired from touring in 2018 due to a Parkinson’s diagnosis — reached out to fans online with a funny, coronavirus-inspired remix of “Sweet Caroline.”
The bridge between artists and fans is narrowing during the coronavirus pandemic. Concerts are more intimate and informal. Fans are now being invited into the musicians’ personal space. You can see their expressive faces up close. It doesn’t matter what anyone is wearing. It’s not a big deal when a singer messes up.
”Just love me. This is all about community, it’s not about being perfect,” Yearwood said as she grabbed Brooks’ guitar to play a rendition of Linda Ronstadt’s “Long, Long Time” that had her husband in tears, USA Today reported.
More than 3 million people tuned in to watch that Facebook Live concert on March 23, causing the site to crash multiple times, according to USA Today. As leaders and health officials have limited social and public gatherings throughout the world, the desire for connection is stronger than ever. These livestream concerts are one way to fill that void.
And these concerts have other benefits. Gone are the long bathroom lines and the fretting over what to wear. If you miss the live concert, you still have a chance to watch it — a week later, Groban’s concert is still accessible through Billboard’s Facebook page, and concerts streamed on Instagram have at least a 24-hour shelf life.
People who previously could not attend concerts due to medical reasons or weather conditions can now listen. All of the outside distractions are gone, allowing fans to just listen to the artists they love.
But also gone are concert tickets and merchandise — the livelihood for many musicians.
‘The rules have changed’
While the COVID-19 pandemic likely won’t break the wallets of artists like Groban, Brooks or Yearwood, for many smaller touring artists, these social media livestreams and the power they have to reach people throughout the world and broaden an audience base could be everything as a major source of income is being wiped out.
About an hour before I watched Groban sing from his shower, I watched my favorite band, Jamestown Revival, perform via an Instagram livestream. The band was supposed to come through Salt Lake City on St. Patrick’s Day but, like most other musicians, had to postpone its shows.
“We’ll probably have a cultural shift as a result of all this. Maybe online concerts become a more common thing,” Jamestown Revival musician Zach Chance told the Deseret News. “If this was to go on for a really long time ... eventually it would be nice to at least carve out some sort of money (with the livestreams). But to me right now, it doesn’t feel right. So many people have taken a hit economically.”
That Friday afternoon was the first time the folk-rock duo had ever done a livestream. Chance said he noticed bandmate Jonathan Clay’s hand shaking before they went live on Instagram.
“We enjoy the live experience so much. ... Obviously now, the rules have changed,” Chance said. “I think the hardest part is you’re just singing to a phone or a computer camera and you can’t see people’s faces. That disconnect is a little unsettling at first.
“But then at the same time, it allows you to let your guard down a little bit,” he continued. “Since people aren’t there, it breaks down some of the barriers. It’s made (musicians) open up and share more of themselves. If there’s a time for that to happen, it’s probably now.”
Jamestown Revival was off the cuff during the livestream — in a second livestream the duo did, the musicians attempted to please fans by singing a song from their first record that they hadn’t played in a long time. They made it through one verse.
In between singing harmonies that had me — and I’m sure the other 370-plus fans watching the livestream — grinning ear to ear, Jamestown Revival reiterated the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. The musicians, whose incomes rely heavily on touring, had no idea when they would be able to hit the road again.
“This might be our only option to keep in touch and play for you all,” Clay said during the livestream. “You all put bread on our tables for years and kept us employed and gave us jobs and have come out to shows again and again. If this is how we can pay you all back a little bit, we’re more than happy to do this.”
Raising each other up
Near the end of his 30-minute Facebook Live concert — which so far has raised more than $15,000 for Meals on Wheels — Groban picked up his computer, walked to his bathroom and stepped into the shower.
Crouched down and staring straight into the shaky 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.
As he sang, Groban invited his fans to join in. My feeble voice is no match for his, but I knew no one could hear me. So I sat on my couch, alone in my house and belted out the words.
I’ll never know for certain, but I have a feeling that the 3,000-plus people also watching were doing the exact same thing.
And then it was over. There was no clapping or cheering; no encore.
“Keep your chins up,” Groban said before signing off. “Don’t let the darkness in. I know this is a tough time, but we just gotta stay put, we gotta take care of each other.
“Hope we can do this in person sometime again really, really soon.”