Everyone’s been adjusting to the “new normal.” People are working remotely. The streets are mostly empty and stores — the ones allowed to be open — are filled with masked patrons.
Change can be invigorating, but this change has caused everyone to re-evaluate their normal. Musicians, who typically spend summers touring or performing, have had time to reflect on summer’s possibilities.
Each musician, though, has a different “new normal.” Some picked up another job. Others have released new music. And some are enjoying a break from performing.
Here’s how some of Mankato’s musicians have been dealing with the new normal.
World On Fire
David Sandersfeld had been planning the release of his latest album toward the end of May. His CD release party was going to take place at The 507.
Then everything happened.
Gigs were being canceled, bars and restaurants were closing temporarily and the world came to a halt.
Sandersfeld, tempted to push back the release date, decided to go through with it.
“There’s always something,” Sandersfeld said.
On April 3 he released the first single — “Somewhere in the Dark” — off his studio EP, “World on Fire.”
His first EP, released in 2017, was his debut as a solo singer-songwriter.
“This next one, I wanted it to be a little more abstract, if you will,” Sandersfeld said. “A little more dark in kind of an artsy way.”
The EP’s concept is simple, he said.
“Sometimes you kind of have to go into the dark to find yourself and emerge — shed some new skin,” he said.
Sandersfeld released another single — “Starting Over” — May 1. And yes, he sees the coincidences in his titles. (By the way, his full EP releases May 29; you can pre-order or stream on most streaming platforms.)
“It’s kind of an interesting time,” he said. “It’s almost too fitting to the scene of the whole world. … It’s not like I planned that by any means.”
Sandersfeld, like many other musicians, has used social media to promote his music. The platform helps introduce listeners to new material. In normal times, musicians would follow that up by hitting the road for gigs at bars and festivals to perform and, hopefully, reach a new audience.
This summer might look different.
“It’s all about accessibility,” he said.
Sandersfeld has hit the stages of Bier on Belgrade, Moonfest in Kasota and Pride in the Twin Cities. As of now, he predicts, many of those won’t take place.
Normally, Sandersfeld would have planned a small Midwest tour to reach new ears. Social media, specifically Facebook live, is where the concerts will take place now. (You can catch him May 14 on Facebook @MCHSEventCenter at 7 p.m.)
And that will work — for now. Sandersfeld hopes to hit a few stages this summer yet.
“The difference is, obviously, people want to get out and see live music and go to festivals and see those things in live action,” he said.
‘I miss running around on stage’
Musicians say they’re ready to hit the stage. Especially for those whose summers are jam-packed with shows, like Jeremy Poland.
Between IV Play (local cover band) and his band with Lantz Dale, The Jeremy Poland Band, they’d hit bars, weddings, events, festivals, fairs — you name it. From southern Minnesota and Wisconsin to Iowa and the Dakotas — every weekend is booked with a performance somewhere.
He typically only gets two full weekends off every year, except for this year.
“This is the first time in the seven years I lived in Minnesota that I have so many weekends off in a row,” he said. “I’m not used to that. I miss running around on stage. I miss people singing along to the songs and those beautiful nights outdoors.”
Last year, Poland and the band had hit 170 stages. They average around 20 performances per month.
“We were booked for the summer, and some shows are already canceled,” Poland said. “From the beginning of the pandemic until now, 30 shows have been canceled.”
This month alone, 16 booked shows have been canceled. Their last gig was March 13.
And for Poland — and IV Play — summertime shows are when they make most of their money.
“I pretty much live off being a musician,” he said, “and live shows are where you’re making it. It’s going to be a big loss this year.”
Poland has taken to Facebook live to stream his music with band member Dale, and he says that they have helped. He says watchers have been generous with tips, but the lack of shows has taken a toll.
“It’s a full-time job during the summer,” Poland said. “It’s like farming — we make our money when the weather is good. ... Winter doesn’t make that much. Just like farmers, we can’t be in the field, we can’t play and we can’t get paid.”
The plan for now is more live performances via Facebook, Poland said.
“Then try to do some patio parties if possible,” he said. “And I’ll keep slinging them sandwiches at Jersey Mike’s.”
With the uncertainty of summer, the music scene will look different, he said. There might be some hesitancy for people to go out post-pandemic, but he believes people are ready to return to live venues. And so are musicians.
“I hope musicians hold on and make it through,” Poland said. “I hope they feed the music because people need it as much as we do.”
Keepin’ It Local
And they will. By nature, musicians are hustlers and will do what they have to do to continue making music and performing live, musician Ben Scruggs says.
Scruggs is the bassist for Good Night Gold Dust and Bee Balm Fields, along with vocalist/guitarist/songwriter for both The Watermelon Slush and Poor Lemuel. Much like Poland, Scruggs had been booked on the weekends. Though he says everyone’s situation is a little different when it comes to income for musicians.
“I don’t think there are a lot of musicians that solely play music for income,” Scruggs said.
Scruggs had been working at Patrick’s in St. Peter before the pandemic, which allowed flexibility for the musician. On nights when he’s not performing, he’d be working at Patrick’s — a nice balance.
However, now with the coronavirus pandemic, that has changed.
“My wife is high risk, so I’m just not working right now,” Scruggs said. “I’ve got unemployment because of that, and for me, we’re doing just fine. We’re not losing income.”
On average, Scruggs had around six to eight shows a month with his last show taking place in February. This year was looking to be a lot busier, too, Scruggs said.
Though plans for summer shows for most remain undetermined, Scruggs believes people are going to be itching for summer shows, even though the music scene will inevitably change.
“It’s all based on people wanting to be together,” Scruggs said. “People want that personable connection and that’s what musicians can give — live music. It’s a luxury for people.”
Scruggs and Chris Bertrand began a radio show, “Keepin’ it Local,” which plays once or twice a month on KMSU and features local music. Like most, musicians are stuck at home with extra time to work on more music.
“There’s tons of great music,” Scruggs said. “I’m not running out of material any time soon.”
The radio show gives local musicians a chance to showcase their new work because, after all, any exposure is good exposure.
Scruggs hopes listeners will gain familiarity with musicians through the show. He’s confident, too, that people will be excited to attend live shows again.
For right now, though, Scruggs is working on a record to be released in the near future.
‘I was kind of scared’
Chris Bertrand, bassist for Just Mirlyn and The Schell’s Angels, is also working on a solo EP to be released in fall.
Bertrand decided in January to become a full-time musician. He quit his job as a cook that month. Things were looking up for his music career and he decided to fully invest his time to record a demo and perform live.
Then venues began cancelling gigs.
“I was jobless for a couple of months there,” Bertrand laughed. “I was kind of scared, but it’s leveling off now.”
For three months, Bertrand focused on playing weekend shows while also working on new content. He’d spend time learning new cover songs and writing new ones.
“If you’re a singer-songwriter and writing your own stuff, it’s countless hours in your head after you’ve written it,” he said.
Being a full-time musician also includes a lot of traveling, most recently out of state for Bertrand.
“My work was on the weekends … now it’s totally different,” Bertrand said.
Without gigs to prepare for, Bertrand dipped into recording more of his music. And he also got a job. Just a few weeks ago, he began work in Waseca at Midwest Extraction Services.
“Right now, with everything going on, I kind of deemed it more important to focus on a job,” he said. “The biggest thing is job security. It’s kind of elusive when it comes to trying to play music full time.”
It took some adjusting after not playing every weekend. Bertrand has been performing live in various bands for the last 10 years.
“I would admit, that as someone that likes to play shows and trying to make it as a musician, I felt kind of abandoned by that career choice,” he said. “It wasn’t the right timing for it.”
But once gigs begin to pop back up, just like the others, Bertrand believes that there will be a strong desire for music lovers to check out live music.
“Facebook live shows can be so rewarding after so long,” he said. “So once we get back onto live stages, it’s going to be festering energy — it’s very kinetic.”
For Pete Klug, the last five years during the summer have been fruitful. Last year, he performed 130 shows.
This year he had been booked out in May with a few shows trickling into late summer. In the last few years, he had dedicated 100% of his time as a full-time musician, making enough to sustain himself. His last show was March 13.
This year, he took on pumping pig manure during spring.
“It’s a lot of hours in a short time,” he said. “It’s intense.”
Since shows began canceling, he opted to hang out and focus on his music — like a mandatory vacation. For the last five years, Klug had been busy with nonstop gigs.
And now, he’s had time for himself.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “Recording a lot and finishing up Just Mirlyn’s second album and doing my own COVID session recording in my house.” (You can check those sessions out on Facebook @peterklugmusic.)
The musician, who’s also in Bee Balm Fields and Poor Lemuel, has taken this time to reflect.
His words of advice to others?
“Eat healthy as you can and just keep honing in. You’ve got the internet, you can learn anything,” he said. “Just don’t stop.”
Think of this time as your cocoon, he said, and metamorphosis.
“That’s definitely how I look at it,” Klug said.