Franklin County-based-band Cadagan turned to practicing as an outlet for their musical passion when performing for live audiences was not possible during the pandemic. Pictured from left are band members Jake Murphy, Eric Heath, Nathan Platt, and Barbara Heath. Photo courtesy of Eric Heath

FRANKLIN COUNTY — It’s been a challenging year for local musicians in Franklin County. The live music industry has been among those hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Without the ability to safely gather in groups, live performances slowed to a halt in March 2020. Concerts made a resurgence the following summer and fall thanks to outdoor venues and events. However, Maine’s harsh winter weather put a swift end to outdoor events.

Many local musicians expressed that they’ve been struggling during the pandemic without the ability to perform live.

On the financial aspect, it became very stressful. But I found it got even more stressful as a soul aspect of the whole thing, your industry just being shot and nothing is the way that it was,” said Lauren Crosby, a musician and graduate of the University of Maine Farmington.

Barbara Heath, lead singer of Franklin County-based-band Cadagan, misses performing because it’s “such a great release.”

“[Performing live] was an outlet for us. It was the one day of the week where I didn’t have to be a worker, I didn’t have to be a mother, I didn’t have to go to the grocery store. It was just a day of music,” said Heath.

Many musicians expressed that they miss the in-person audiences and feel “lonely” without them.

“The joy of performing is feeling that energy from a crowd. That’s what drives you through to the next song,” said Corey Bonnevie, lead guitarist for Ragged Jack and a Farmington resident. “When you’re standing up there and the crowd responds to what you just did, you’re drawn off of them from that point.”

Crosby misses “a vibe, an energy” that she got from her audiences. She misses the ability to exchange banter with them, tell stories and connect.

Like many musicians, Ragged Jack and Crosby tried performing online. But both Crosby and Bonnevie said it didn’t provide the same satisfaction and passion that performing in-person does.

I played two online shows and they sucked my soul like no other. I started saying no even though it was a possible revenue booster,” said Crosby. “Performing at home is not the same. It’s also something hard to articulate. There’s magic that happens. Anyone who has seen live music knows.”

Bonnevie said livestreamed performances are “just sterile and it leaves you lacking” and that Ragged Jack stopped “the online stuff because it was depressing us.”

However, GoldenOak guitarist and vocalist Zak Kendall appreciated virtual performing for its “connecting ability, especially during such a lonely time.”

“We learned to take [the virtual concert] for what it is and understand that even if we couldn’t play shows this past year, this is an amazing way to connect with people and bring our music to people all over the world [and] bring fans of ours together from different places who had never listened to the same shows together,” said Kendall, a New Sharon native.

The shutdown was also financially jarring for many local musicians who perform in Franklin County, Maine and around the country. Crosby, who said she books her shows nine months in advance, saw the cancellation of all her performances and anticipated income for 2020. As a result, Crosby had to turn to a non-musical source of income, which she said is “not my passion.” Likewise, Kendall and GoldenOak have struggled because their “living depends on playing shows.”

It was definitely a challenging year financially for the entire music industry,” Kendall said.

In the summer and fall of 2020, outdoor venues started popping up across the state. Meg Brown, owner of Meg’s Sweets in Farmington, began hosting a backyard-band series in her garden in September. Brown said she started the series after Farmington-native and Twice Sold Tales co-owner Amber Stone suggested the backyard be used as a space to provide local musicians, some of whom they are friends with, an ability to perform for a live audience after so much time off.

It was an outlet to relax on the weekend and have some normalcy, so to speak,” Brown said.

The series is returning to Brown’s “secret garden” backyard for an extended run this summer, in collaboration with The Warehouse, a new events company run by sisters Jerrica Richards and Cheyanne Cushing.

As Maine hurtles toward summer, outdoor performances are once again king. Beyond that, it’s unclear what may lie in store for the music industry and Mainers, in general.

Kendall feels the best way to “help the Maine music scene and the national music scene get back on its feet” during this time to is “take the risk” and “see a band you’ve never seen before” or arrive in time to be “there for the opening act.”

Like many people, the pandemic has been a time for “creativity,” “transformation,” and inner-reflection for musicians.

Crosby spent the pandemic finishing an album; Bonnevie spent the pandemic writing music; GoldenOak spent their time creating their own album, out on June 25; and Heath spent it listening to song after song.

Everybody’s going through a transition,” said Bonnevie. “I don’t think anybody’s coming back the same musician that people remember them as.”

When you’re writing a song, it’s the opposite side of [performing.] You’re really introspective and you’re trying to pull those pieces out and create something. It takes a different mind frame,” Kendall said. “Having that time away from the road has given us a chance to create music that way, really effectively.”

Heath said the pandemic has also been a lesson in not taking performing for granted. “You realize when [the ability to perform is] not there and you can’t do it, how much you really appreciate it.”

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