As we come to the end of 2020, I can’t help but feel caught between some relief at seeing an end to the craziest year I’ve endured, and looking at the ‘anniversaries’ quickly coming up in a new year that has yet to show change. For some 2020 has been hell, for the music scene it’s been the closest we’ve ever come to music dying. We in the music industry, fans, bands, venues and more, have been hit from so many angles that this could be seen as the worst year we’ve encountered and yet, looking back, I see 2020 as the year that touched us all in a very personal way… and so this article is going to be very personal.
January 11th, 2020 sticks in my mind as one of my first moments of seeing a bright and open future for myself and First Angel. Heartsick headlined Pittsburgh, with Dread These Days, Hahn Drive and Greywalker amping up the crowd. The entire night was a smashing success and seemed like the best start to the new year. Surrounded by friends new and old, Cattivo was packed with people enjoying one of the best shows Twist of Fate Productions had put on to date, my then-VP of First Angel Media and I talking about upcoming shows our whole team was traveling to cover that summer, and all of us doing what we do best; at the top of our game, and seeing nothing but sunshine on the roads ahead. If this was a fictional story, the foreshadowing may have been him tearing a ligament in the mosh pit that night… but I digress.
By February, Covid hit the US enough for us to grow concerned and between then and March headlines rang out with warnings and case numbers. Shelves began to empty and we watched, seemingly in third person, as the governments of the world began to shut down their borders and our own cities began to see restrictions we’d never encountered. It’s listed that the official arrival of Covid into Pennsylvania was March 6th but it was the 19th that all non-life sustaining businesses shut down and suddenly this virus became all to real. Due to the nature of my business, Facebook events I was invited to or listed on were many… and in one night I watched them all cancel. I can’t really explain the cold, gripping, emptiness I felt as I watched those notifications fly across my screen. All joking memes of toilet paper shortages and masks slipped away into this reality of what it meant for public gatherings, the music scene, my profession and everything I’ve poured my heart into for the last few years of my life.
At first it was surreal, but we expected the restrictions to lift. This was the vacation from busy lives we’d all sort of wanted, taking time to yourself, but when your life is the music scene… well, suddenly you find yourself adrift. All those things you wanted to do when you finally had time were sort of meaningless when you’re in limbo. Like many others I started buying paint and changing around my home. Cleaning out closets and busy work kept most of us sane during this short period before life returned to normal. It never returned though. School closings left many of us suddenly emergency home schooling, jobs were closed, gatherings restricted, as a country we felt the pain of lives stopped dead in their tracks and while we may have disagreed on certain aspects as individuals, we began the grief period together. Make no mistake, it has been a year of grieving. We denied it, we knew this would be over soon. We grew angry, they took away our lives! Our livelihood! We bargained, if we could just hold live video streams for a bit? Maybe if we can reach a capacity limit that allowed it to come back? We slipped into depression, oh lord how we did. While the words “We’re like a family” get thrown around in the music scene, the truth of the matter is that we are. We are creatives, often with a broken history, that have found our place among others like us. We’re driven to create, and suddenly there was no one to create for and no way to come together to share our talents. Mental illness is, unfortunately rather prevalent in music scenes; A bunch of people feeding off of the energy and happiness of others from the floor filled with music lovers to the stage of musicians, and we lost our only outlet that let us be ourselves and step outside of our own personal insanities. For myself, I lost my ability to write and I had no photos to take or edit so I had no outlets. I watched my little family at FAM fracture into themselves as we tried to wait patiently, but we grew ever more concerned as the days slipped by. I felt an ever present guilt because I wanted to fix this, to draw my family in closer, but I was lost and in my own dark place, wondering where the light had gone. All levels of entertainment felt this pain and loss, no one was untouched by this process.
It’s been nine months, and finally life is being born again into the industry. We have reached that final stage of acceptance. It came at a high price. Left alone with our thoughts we had to face ourselves, apart from the world we knew we had to find our identities. For many of us, we always felt we were fighters but that’s against a physical enemy. When the enemy is an invisible virus, or your own thoughts and emotions, it’s a lot harder. To reach the point of acceptance we’ve all had to travel our paths, stare into our own eyes, and looking back; Hindsight really is 2020. Yes, we’ve watched the world stop turning, but we’ve also seen those who refused to stop, who continued and grew despite it all. They stood up and said, “No. I refuse to back down”, and without making much ado, simply kept going.
From my own corner of the world I watched my Co-VP at FAM, and owner of Build the Scene radio and podcasting, Bill Domiano, as his personal and professional lives suddenly became far more than complicated. A teacher by day and father of three, his work life was in turmoil as the schools attempted to keep educating and his own children began the process of home education. He’s been my friend and practically my brother for years and I know how this affected him, but not once did he miss his scheduled podcasts. If anything, he faced his fears and started adding into the shows to raise the bar on what he’s been doing for the last two decades or so. He reached out to as many bands as he could to get their content out, all while juggling a hectic life. It should also be noted how much time he gave to those of us needing an ear as we tried to find our way through. He has tried lifting others spirits when his own were low, and not once did he try to put the scene stuff on hold, he kept pushing, supporting, and never failed to amaze me.
The previous Co-VP of FAM, and vocalist of 9 Stitch Method, Patrick McElravy, left us about the time Covid hit and while his loss was felt deeply, we all watched with pride as he took over ownership of the record label Brutal Business Entertainment during this craziness. Never one to stand still, he began pounding his fists against any obstacle 2020 threw at him, and he and his team made a splash in the Pittsburgh scene. Adding artists to the label, getting their names out there and starting his own solo project Seethe, he refused to go down without a fight. Several First Angel Media writers are also BBE staff or signed artists and I know that even though I couldn’t bring a spark of light for some time, he started a fire there that carried over to my own team, something I am eternally grateful for. Heading into the new year, and knowing the way his mind works with business, I can only imagine what he’s going to accomplish.
The Sub Alpine has been a hold out venue during a time most places can’t put together shows. Josh Montedoro built a new stage there when the world went silent and, once capacity and restrictions were passed to allow it, he’s continued to put on killer shows, even if they do now come with masks, sanitizer and tables to sit at. Some bands have sent themselves into the studio, Winter’s Descent is dedicated to finishing a long awaited album the events of 2020 almost knee-capped, The Fading Light just released their first album, and artists like Demo Demon not only kept putting out amazing content but found ways to give back to the community with events. New bands such as Aqua Dementia have sprung up like the first signs of Spring on a winter landscape and some bands have simply kept going despite it all. Eric Rodger invited multiple bands to take part in raising awareness and support for the Pittsburgh Music Scene with a new project called SOS2020PGH. Trish Smith, of 412unes, came back with a blast to support the scene through her video blog. Black Forge Coffee took to roaming America in a coffee van to not only promote their delicious wares, but to raise awareness for venues. Local promoter Drusky Entertainment put on events that, due to restrictions, weren’t going to be as profitable but kept his crew getting paid as long as he possibly could. We have all come together in ways we never needed to before and grown because of it. I’ve watched those at First Angel come back to the fold, reborn, and found that I didn’t need to be a light in their darkness, because they were mine. I look back over all of these events with a sense of pride to know any of these individuals and be part of this scene as a whole, and an industry of family.
There are too many people to name who have walked their path and found their place in all of this turmoil, and others who are still on that journey. Some of us have been the ear to listen or the shoulder to help bear the burden, and we’ve all taken our time of leaving no footprints in the sand because we needed to be carried. Possibly the best part of this year was when we allowed ourselves to be carried, and found that we had people willing to. 2020 may have been the biggest trust exercise the world has ever seen, but from high to low, we’ve all brought each other through the fray. National bands have reminded their fans to check out local music, Bandcamp has dedicated the first Friday of each month as sales with no fees for artists to help them during this time, even into the new year, and the government has finally included funds for venues in relief packages. I feel as though I’m watching as the world wakes up to a new, and self aware, era.
I recently drove past Cattivo and saw a for sale sign on the door. It broke my heart to see it join a growing list of lost venues, especially because of that bright January night when everything I wanted was in my sight and nothing seemed impossible. I’ve taken my lumps this year and maybe I still have lessons to learn, but if you’re reading this and feeling low, I want you to know – We will get through. Now, more than ever, those in this scene appreciate each other, we’ve seen how important our binds are and we’ve accepted the roles of brother, sister, mother, father, uncles, aunts, and cousins. It isn’t just Pittsburgh, fans of FAM from Egypt, Asia and more are feeling this too. We are in this together and we will stand beside each other. Looking back I can see the love that has continued to unite us, and going forward I will not lose sight of it again, and I hope that you won’t either.
Music Unites Souls Everywhere.