Local Musicians Go Online To Bridge Social Distance

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Topics: Local Music , COVID-19

Edmund Robinson shares “Row On,” from the log book of the Nantucket whaling ship Three Brothers, Quarantunes number 34, on April 20. Find Quarantunes on Facebook and on YouTube.


There’s nothing like live music. With nothing but a few feet of air between you and the musicians onstage, the sensation can be felt as well as heard. The give and take between performer and audience is never the same twice, so the enjoyment of rhythm and melody is heightened by the knowledge that yours is a unique experience, never to be duplicated. In your favorite local venue, you might run into friends and neighbors as you enjoy the talent onstage.

Who would have imagined a few short weeks ago, before the necessity of social distancing, that a simple evening out to enjoy a band or a favorite singer would seem like a far-off memory? Fortunately for music lovers, a number of local musicians have chosen to reach out in a way that doesn’t jeopardize anyone’s health—they are sharing performances online via platforms like Zoom, YouTube and Facebook Live.

Chatham’s Michael DeAngelis picked up his guitar and played his first regular singing gig at the Chatham Squire 40 years ago. He got the idea to try an online show from fellow Cape Cod musicians Caroline Henry Brennan and her husband Sean Brennan, who had done some shows under the title Solidarity Sessions.

“They had a few other musicians (on Cape) that they recruited for their shows and ended up having a few conflicts during the same time slot, so I decided to stick to every Thursday from 7 to 10 p.m. and called it Songs from the Shelter,” DeAngelis explained, using the title from his own latest CD release, available for listening on YouTube.  This week, he will be back on Solidarity Sessions (as it's an open slot), although Songs from the Shelter will still be present somewhere in the event as it will be posted on Facebook. His wife Suzie is the producer/director/lighting/sound and costume designer. He said the response to the online tunes has been amazing.

“I'm very lucky, because before moving to the Cape two years ago, I was in two very successful Irish bands in upstate New York for a total of 27 years. We had a huge following, coupled with the fact that Facebook can have a heck of a reach (old friends,classmates, etc.). This will be our fifth show,” he said.

DeAngelis confirmed that for musicians, social distancing, although necessary, has been devastating, with any and all gigs wiped out for the foreseeable future. Online shows provide a way to stay connected with audiences, gain new fans and followers, and even make up a little bit of the revenue that has been lost (via online and mobile payment services like PayPal and Venmo) due to COVID-19. Since the shows are made up of nearly 100 requests, DeAngelis gets to connect with people from all over the United States, Ireland and beyond.

“These internet shows allow me to do ballads that would not go over in a loud pub or restaurant. That alone is worth writing and rehearsing my request song list every week,” DeAngelis said. “I plan on doing these Thursday Shows for as long as I can.  At this point, none of us knows when the craziness will end and things will start to swing back to semi-normal. It's better than watching Wheel and Jeopardy every Thursday night.”

Check out DeAngelis’s Facebook Live shows every Thursday evening from 7 to 10 p.m. at facebook.com/michael.deangelis/71. The Solidarity Sessions schedule posted includes DeAngelis on Thursday, April 23 at 7 p.m., Barry Hynes on Friday, April 24 at 5 p.m., followed by Dave Hickey at 7 p.m., Terry Brennan on Saturday, April 25 at 3 p.m., followed by Caroline and Sean Brennan at 7 p.m. Declan Houton will perform on Sunday, April 26 at 7 p.m. Learn more about Michael DeAngelis at mikedeangelismusic.com.

Fiddle player and WOMR DJ Dinah Mellin of Orleans is another local musician who has responded to the demands of social distancing by reaching out in other ways. Mellin, however, as a DJ at WOMR since 1999, had some experience sharing music from a distance. Right now her co-host Mark O’Leary is creating their radio show “The Fiddle and The Harp” remotely from his home while Mellin and the show’s three other co-hosts, who normally do the show together in a studio in Provincetown, contribute remotely by sending O’Leary tracks to play. The co-hosts then phone him and chat about their choices.

Before COVID-19, Mellin hosted Brick Hill House Concerts, a non-profit concert series, in her home since May 2010. The in-person format is currently on hiatus in accordance with social distancing.

“I actually opened up my whole downstairs, then the concerts were born,” Mellin explained. “My being a fiddler in loud pubs made me very hungry for music people can actually listen to. I was familiar with Jeff and Jani’s Red Too Artist Retreat in Hyannisport, a popular house concert series which unfortunately had to discontinue in spring of 2010. So I was inspired to start my own house concerts.” Mellin has had to cancel the house concerts and her own gigs as one half of the duo Fiddlers Rock and her wintertime Irish session at the Land Ho, but like many other local musicians, she is beginning to branch out to explore video platforms.

“Social distancing has forced all of us to learn how to connect with Zoom, Facebook Live, and other online resources,” Mellin said. “Zoom is how Mark is putting our recording together for radio too. I played a couple tunes a few weeks ago for Facebook. I’m thinking of doing a little more on Facebook Live.”

Learn more about Mellin and catch her upcoming Facebook Live appearances at facebook.com/dinah.rmellin.

Rev. Edmund Robinson of Brewster is well known as a musician and as the recently retired minister of the Chatham Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, where he spent 11 and a half years. His wife, professional pianist Jacqueline Schwab, is well known for her performances on the soundtracks of documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns. When social distancing became the rule of the day, the musical couple couldn’t keep their music to themselves.

“I have several pockets of friends around the Cape that I play music with on a regular basis,” Robinson explained. “It is both entertainment and a spiritual practice, and before the virus I told myself I could not get by without it. Shortly after we went on lockdown, the name ‘Quarantunes’ came from my friend in Wellfleet, Paul Greenspan, with whom I’ve been wont to play music.”

When the virus hit, Robinson soon found out that the internet is not well set up to play music collaboratively.

“There is something called a latency, or lag, between the note that you play and the notes that someone else plays remotely that makes it impossible to keep in the same rhythm,” Robinson said.

A few days before the couple went on lockdown, a cousin of Robinson’s wife Jacqueline visited from London. When Robinson mentioned the idea of Quarantunes, cousin Douglas seized it and ran with it.

“He set up a page on Facebook called Quarantunes and he has moderated that ever since. At this point it has several thousand members,” Robinson said. It is a very simple concept. People record solos or duets of themselves playing a variety of tunes and songs in a variety of styles, and post them on the Quarantunes Facebook page.

“I have found it pleasant to do so myself. I’m now up to 34 Quarantunes that I have done,” Robinson said. “They can be accessed on Facebook under Quarantunes, and they can also be accessed under my name on YouTube.”

B.C. (before COVID-19), Robinson explained, he was in one performing group, the All Worn Out Jug Band. He also made appearances at various sessions, and as a result had acquired some sound equipment. That came in handy in quarantine, because he could use the gear with his computer and get a little bit better sound quality than people were getting on mobile devices. It’s definitely amateur hour on Quarantunes, Robinson admitted, but it’s a little like going to an open mic: the quality will be uneven but the sincerity is there.

“My sabbatical project is writing a book on evil,” Robinson said. “Dealing with the evil of the virus somewhat distracted me from that project, but I’m still hoping to finish it in the next couple of months. In the meantime I try to post a Quarantune once a day. I don’t obsess over making the performance perfect, I simply do one or two takes and decide it’s good enough and put it up.” Other Cape Cod musicians who have posted include John Best, Paul Greenspan and Jim Rohrer of Wellfleet, Kathleen Healy of Harwich, Sean Murphy and Kim Moberg, and Heather Swanson of Centerville.

Like most professional musicians, Jacqueline has seen her gigs completely evaporate. The couple has managed to produce one home recording of a beautiful Mexican piece, “La Paloma,” which can be enjoyed on YouTube under her name, Jacqueline Schwab. They are working toward one or more livestreamed piano concerts in the future.

It’s not the same as playing with other musicians, Robinson admitted, and it’s not the same as performing for an audience. His own videos usually garner between 20 and 50 viewings on YouTube. That average, however, is a lot better than the hundred or so sermon videos he has posted.

“I’m OK with that,” Robinson said. “I don’t need to ‘go viral’ — in fact, that’s what I’m trying to avoid!”