Iowa and national musicians weigh in on the effects of the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many musicians dealing with declining income and canceled shows. Although many have now returned to shows and tours, COVID-19 has continued to affect their concerts.

Jeni Grouws, lead singer of blues band Avey Grouws Band, said the pandemic had forced her band to cancel a nationwide tour that was due to take place in support of their debut album, the devil may care.

“In September 2019, I quit my full-time job running two radio stations to become a full-time musician,” she said. “My timing couldn’t have been worse. In March I was out of work.

Due to the tour being canceled, Grouws, who lives in Decorah, traveled 100 miles south to the Quad Cities to perform with the rest of the band. The group would perform live streams every weekend, sleeping on the couch of bandmates Chris Avey and Bryan West each night, she said.

Grouws said that despite the strain and stress of the long back and forth associated with not being able to shoot the band’s album — which she added was expensive to make — the livestream ended up helping.

“We’ve literally gained hundreds of fans in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Australia, all these people from New Jersey and California – they’re all tuning in to listen to our live streams” , she said. “And they became part of our family.”

Even without a tour to back it up, the devil may care reached number 10 on the Billboard Blues Chart. The continuation of the group in 2021, Say at the heart of the taledebuted at No. 7.

In addition to the live streams, the Avey Grouws Band performed an in-person concert in Minnesota in August 2020 for people in their cars. Grouws said it was a unique experience to know people were there but unable to see their faces. When a song ended, audience members would honk their horns and flash their lights instead of applauding.

The band plans to play three to five gigs a week as live events become more common, but currently average just two a week, which Grouws says has been stressful.

“All five of us play music full time, so if we’re only doing two shows a week, it’s still pretty stressful,” she said. “For us, selling goods has become very important.”

The pandemic has also banned fan interaction, which Grouws says has been difficult for her as she wants to let fans know they are valued. She said that as a singer she had to stay healthy as even catching a cold had caused her to lose her voice in the past.

Iowa City singer and guitarist James Tutson, who also leads the Iowa City Songwriters Collective, said he struggled the most with livestreamed performances during the pandemic.

“I would end a Zoom call or an online broadcast — and my wife can attest to that — basically 100% of the time I would say, ‘That was horrible,'” he said.

Tutson said the pandemic has also affected the camaraderie between band members.

“We haven’t been able to spend that much quality time together, united,” Tutson said. “Practices are more rare. They really focus on show, not creativity or innovation.

Due to the lack of opportunities to practice with his band, James Tutson and the Rollback, Tutson decided to devote more time to his solo work. He’s released a handful of songs in 2021, with more expected to drop shortly.

Now that new COVID-19 cases are trending down, Tutson said he remains optimistic about upcoming performances in the spring and summer when he will perform more with The Rollback.

Michael Leasure, drummer for blues-rock band Walter Trout Band, said the pandemic caused the band to cancel more than 200 shows in 2020 and kept him from playing a gig with the band since March of that year.

During this time, Leasure said he played gigs with local California bands and toured Europe with blues artist Danielle Nicole.

Walter Trout did his own European tour but only performed with European musicians due to concerns over COVID-19 cancellations.

“If he paid $1,500 for a ticket for me to fly to Europe and the tour was canceled, he would lose that money and I wouldn’t have a job and I would be stuck,” Leasure said.

Leasure said he would join Trout on his scheduled 2022 tour, which is set to begin in March in Atlanta.

Max Lipnick, an Iowa City guitarist in bluegrass band Flash in a Pan and reggae band the Wontu Trees, said he had to cancel 30 shows when the pandemic first hit.

At the time, Lipnick was in graduate school for a teaching degree at the University of Iowa, and music was his sole source of income.

“It was stressful,” Lipnick said. “I have a wife and she’s also a teacher, so we were kind of able to live on that salary alone for a while, but it definitely took a toll on our finances not being able to rely on that money.”

Now that Lipnick is a teacher at Alexander Elementary School, things have gotten easier, he said.

Although Lipnick was able to earn his teaching degree and, in turn, a teaching position during the pandemic, it still brought difficulties for his group. There was an internal question of whether or not to continue playing gigs, he said, and because of this the band went away for the whole of 2020 before returning in March. 2021.

When Flash in a Pan started playing gigs regularly again, all of them were played outdoors, which left them with fewer opportunities. The band also felt the residual effects of the pandemic on the local venues it played at regularly, preventing them from playing their usual 40 to 50 shows a year.

“We played a lot at The Mill,” he said. “We played quite a bit at the Yacht Club. They are no longer places in Iowa City.

Lipnick said one of the positive aspects of the pandemic was that it allowed him to form and join new musical projects.

“It gave us more opportunities to say, ‘Hey, let’s meet up with some other musician friends on Friday or Saturday night when we usually had gigs,'” he said. pandemic, I was in a band. Now I am in four groups.