Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ), April 2, 2020
“Seattle just banned all live music performances for 30 days!” read a widely disseminated meme that made the social media rounds a few weeks back. “This cancels over 1246 gigs, affecting 320 working musicians…with a total income loss of almost $426.75!”
It’s funny because it’s true, more or less — but with the COVID-19 public health emergency having subsequently slammed into the Garden State like a killer frost, it’s a bit less funny for all those who toil in the fields of what up until very recently stood as this area’s major cash crop: the bar/ restaurant/ theater/ nightclub circuit.
When the region’s music scene shuttered almost overnight, music makers from all stylistic corners of the local soundscape took to the wi-fi “airwaves” to serve up home-cooked concert creations for their fans — a sonic smorgasbord that ranged from “saloon singer” supreme Pat Guadagno, to classic crooner Chris Pinnella, to kidrock romper Yosi Levin, to dancefloor DJ Mick Hale. But it was a longtime patroness of the arts by the name of Ellen Berman who took it as a cue to do something unprecedented, for the scores of creative individuals who have historically counted on eking out a spartan but steady existence making music. Beginning on March 18 and scheduled to continue every night at 9 pm for the duration of the public venue shutdown, a cast of singers from our neck of New Jersey (and the big world beyond) connects with their fanbase via Facebook, in an ambitious endeavor entitled Ellen Berman’s Viral Video Productions presents Corona Classic Concerts.
Appearing in that inaugural mini-concert — and taking a major role in the planning and production of the series — was a familiar presence on the Shore soundscape: Arlan Feiles, the singer/ songwriter/ producer/ multi-instrumentalist and activist whose intensely personal-yet-universal compositions have graced a catalog of acclaimed indie albums, stages of every conceivable size, high-profile film soundtracks, and collaborative projects with the likes of vocal veteran JT Bowen.
“Ellen is one of New Jersey’s great music fans,” observes Feiles in a call from his Matawan home. “I first met her at a holiday show at the Stone Pony, where she bought 40 of my CDs to give out as Christmas gifts!”
“She hired me to help put together this live stream project, with the idea that the musicians get paid for their work…I thought I’d line up a few guys; get a few shows going for a few weeks…but within three days we got a huge response, a healthy schedule, where we’re employing over 40 artists. So far it’s just been overwhelmingly incredible!”
Featured artists have thus far included such Jersey Shore perennials as Emily Grove, Tara Dente and Cranston Dean, as well as nationwide acts like the LA-based Canyoneers, Nashville (by way of her native Neptune City) sensation Nicole Atkins, and Joan Osborne (best known for the hit “One of Us”).
As Feiles emphasizes, “This is a curated schedule of artists who have been paid to perform…they all get 200 to 300 dollars, which is a drop in the bucket for someone like Nicole Atkins, but which goes a long way for someone whose livelihood depends on music-related activity. They can pay it forward, do what they want…but the important thing is that Ellen and I want to see these musicians get paid for their art.”
“They get to produce their segments as they see fit…but we ask them to please let us see where you are,” adds the music programmer in reference to the videos that have presented a quirky and engaging look at these “captive” creatives in their home environment. “And the at-home format has allowed us to get April Smith, who was such a big part of the scene before she retired from performing about ten years ago (the singer is scheduled to perform on Monday, April 13).”
Feiles, who performed his own virtual set on Wednesday night, returns for additional 9 pm schedulings on April 8 and 15 — while other upcoming Corona Classics spotlight such fellow Shore faves as Rick Barry (Sunday, April 5), Quincy Mumford (Monday, April 6), Dentist (Friday, April 10), and Rachel Ana Dobken (Friday, April 17), as well as NJ-to-NOLA transplant Allie Moss (Thursday, April 16).
The response to the nightly series has been such that Berman and Feiles organized a separate slate of virtual “Happy Hour” concerts, scheduled for 5 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The series that kicked off on March 27 continues into another weirdly quiet weekend with Ocean Township’s own Frank Lombardi featured on Friday, April 3. Gayle Skidmore and John Anaya, respectively of the Netherlands and Scotland, round out the Saturday/ Sunday scene — while Asbury fans will not want to miss a solo appearance by Swagmatics frontwoman Deseree Spinks on Sunday, April 11 (there’s also talk of an 11 pm late-nite series). Continue reading