Green Bay, Wis. (WFRV) – Paul Hanna is a guitarist, singer and songwriter in Green Bay, who makes his living off of performing live shows.
“You’re walking up the steps to get up onto a stage, there’s something about that,” Hanna said. “And then that first connection of that first note, that first chord that you hit, there’s something there, it’s electric.”
The roar of the crowd echoing through a stadium.. Like when Paul McCartney comes to town.
The strum of the guitar vibrating through the ground.
These are sounds that feel so distant since live music came to a halt more than a year ago during the COVID-19 pandemic, since the day the music died.
“Phone calls come in, the emails, the texts, everyone’s letting you know that shows are getting canceled, this is getting moved, everything is uncertain,” Hanna recalled.
No one knew just how long the shutdown would go on, including Dave Willems, the man behind Appleton’s Mile of Music festival.
“Everybody thought, ‘Oh a month, two months, three months,’ or whatever and then within a few weeks, we all realized it was going to be much longer than that,” said Willems.
Musicians and venues were forced to change the way they do things, an evolution of sorts, adapting to a virtual world.
“Then the fear kicks in as a musician, this is my job, what am I supposed to do?” said Hanna. “There was a huge learning curve, it was a big jump obviously going from playing in front of a crowd, to now I’m playing to no one in the house, you don’t have that interaction immediately,” he said.
Acclaimed singer and songwriter Steve March-Tormé found things a little easier, using the time as an opportunity.
“I understand people doing the virtual thing because we kind of had to, but it’s so different. I mean, I’m overstating the obvious, we feed off audience feedback and vice versa, people feed off of live acts,” said March-Tormé.
“So that’s what I did, I did the virtual concert, and so I have some nice tape I can look at and I started writing and rearranging some of the stuff I already perform and that’s it,” he said.
While some artists could transition to virtual venues, using social media and apps like Venmo and PayPal to create some income, many venues and festivals, like Appleton’s Mile of Music, were shut down entirely.
Willems estimates that the festival missed out on close to $2 million after its cancellation last summer, with its 70-plus local artists missing out on money and exposure.
“Music venues, event companies like ours, it was a very difficult time, sad time more than anything else,” Willems said.
“We’re happy that we were able to survive through this, we’re still going to need some help as we come back with the announcement of Mile 8 and we’re going to need some financial help and all of those things from the community but we think they’re ready to help,” said Willems.
Silence, dark, empty theaters. That’s been much of the scene for the last year. Now, the lights are starting to come back on. Shows are being booked again, musicians are going back to performing, and the music is being brought back to life once again.
“I just love being out and performing, that’s what I’m most looking forward to,” said March-Tormé.
“I’m not that much different from everyone else, we’re all musicians. I can’t do anything else, that’s the truth of it. I can’t be a computer programmer, this is what I do so I’m looking forward to getting back out,” he said.
Hanna feels the same way; “That’s what we do this for, to hear that crowd, when you hear it screaming, I wish I could explain that to someone who doesn’t play music because it’s quite a feeling.”
Willems said an announcement about the 2021 Mile of Music festival is expected later this month.