It’s been a year since everyone’s lives flipped upside down in unimaginable ways. No corner of life was immune to drastic changes, and the music scene was no exception. From big ticket acts like Harry Styles and Pitbull, who postponed and cancelled world tours, all the way down to local artists who had to miss out on coffee shop gigs, no artist was unsusceptible from halting changes. In an industry that relies so heavily on live shows and in-person connections, musicians, especially those local to the Blacksburg area, have been making adjustments to their way of life.
Typically, the local music scene in our little corner of Virginia is vibrant with bands and solo artists across all genres. Most of these acts are Virginia Tech students, so they have the special task of keeping up with their school work and other obligations while still writing and producing songs. In addition to producing music, local artists also perform their music live at venues like the Lyric Theatre downtown. The monumental shift these musicians had to make in their routines once the COVID-19 pandemic hit was a feat that no one had ever dealt with before, but musicians across the scene took advantage of their time off in different ways.
For Julian Santos, a junior majoring in business information technology, his tasks in local music rely heavily on connections. Being both a musician and producer, his niche in the scene depends upon being able to make himself visible, not only to an audience, but also to other artists and future collaborators.
“I have been mainly just trying to find other artists at this point in time. Due to (the novel) coronavirus, it’s really hard to connect with artists, especially since I am not a music major,” said Santos. “For the most part, I’ve been getting in contact with event handlers as well other musicians. My main interactions with artists have been kind of indirect. I actually met one of the acts I’m collaborating with, Friend of the Three, through a job with another organization.”
While COVID-19 has definitely halted the rapid production of music he releases on behalf of himself and his collaborators, Santos has found ways to keep himself busy and avoid a sort of musical lull. He has taken this as an opportunity to start projects he’s been hoping to get around to for a while, such as producing a music video for one of the bands he is working with. Santos says that “(he’s) been wanting to make a music video for a long time now,” and via connection through an organization Santos is part of, the band Friend of the Three reached out, asking to make a music video.
“We got together, we churned out the music video, and they realized I also produce music, so from then on I’ve been collaborating with them,” Santos said.
His time away from live performances and scouting out new acts to collaborate with has granted him the time to start projects he’s always wanted to do, but never had the time to do.
Attacking projects that artists have always wanted to create is just one way local musicians have been filling their time during the loss of live gigs, and the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity-based band Chimpanzees and Cigarettes, composed of Drew Robinson, Nick Richards, Neel Kaloji, Luke Rutigliano, Grant Mayo and Daniel “McLovin” Majikes, has been taking full advantage of their time off. For the neo-alternative band, down time has given them the opportunity to find and solidify their sound as a group and participate in the numerous virtual performance opportunities Virginia Tech has to offer.
“I think we’re way (more) productive when we don’t have gigs coming up, when we’re just recording for fun,” Majikes said when speaking on what has been filling the band’s time over the past two semesters.
Future plans for Chimpanzees and Cigarettes have not slowed down due to the pandemic. Rutigliano says that, for their fraternity, they’re “trying to put together a philanthropy event in which (they would) get an artist to come, and (they would) probably open for the artist, and after that (they are) hoping in a few weeks to release an EP.” As Rutigliano finished his sentence, the rest of the band started overlapping each other with ideas that they have for future projects and performances during COVID-19, making it obvious that they are itching to share their music with live audiences again.
“Everybody’s looking for something normal to go and do, so if we’re providing something like that, everyone wants to be a part of that while being as safe as possible,” Mayo said.
Taking the time off to work on music, though it has been productive for the band, cannot replace the rush of playing music for people to enjoy in person.
“As an athlete, I used to get nervous before games, but performing live just feels so different, and I can’t wait to get back out there,” Richards said.
The boys all nodded in agreement, and it was obvious the sentiments were shared. “Being in a fraternity has been such a vehicle for (us) as a band. When we release our music or we have events, we have full support,” Kaloji said. The band’s first event back is sure to be one to remember, not just for them, but for the music scene in Blacksburg.
Despite the loss of live performances, the virtual Blacksburg music scene has been hot. Nick Robinson of Chimpanzees and Cigarettes said that, most recently, “(they have) been trying to work on their act for Bandslam.”
Bandslam is a virtual battle-of-the-bands hosted by VT Union, in which viewers would log onto YouTube to watch acts perform and, at the end of the concert, vote on their favorite act. The winner of Bandslam will book the gig of performing live on the Drillfield.
Many Virginia Tech organizations have hosted virtual events to listen to and enjoy the music from our local artists. Last semester, some events included acapella live stream showcases, such as the Soulstice Fall 2020: Girls Night In concert, and the VT Union hosted a Homecoming Concert featuring student music acts and pop/R&B star Jason Derulo.
Virginia Tech’s annual Relay for Life fundraiser is on April 9. Typically, a number of local artists would perform for participants of the event with one big ticket artist as the headliner. This year, local artists will still have the opportunity to perform for Relay, only this time their performance will be live streamed throughout the week for Relayers to enjoy their music. With the hard work and cooperation of music organizations, artists and the music community, students are never more than a few clicks away from enjoying “live” music from the comforts of their couch.
In the midst of a pandemic, everyone was forced to prioritize the essentials in their lives while sacrificing the joys that luxuries brought. While live music is considered a luxury for most, it is an essential part of the lives of local musicians here in Blacksburg, and no pandemic was about to stop them from going forth with perfecting their craft and planning for a great comeback once live music gets the green light to happen.