Houston-area musicians go virtual to play for fans amid coronavirus cancellations of live shows

Karen Waldrup (top) and The Soul Rebels (bottom) both had to cancel shows scheduled in Houston due to coronavirus. (Photo illustration by Justin Howell/Community Impact Newspaper)
Karen Waldrup (top) and The Soul Rebels (bottom) both had to cancel shows scheduled in Houston due to coronavirus. (Photo illustration by Justin Howell/Community Impact Newspaper)

Karen Waldrup (top) and The Soul Rebels (bottom) both had to cancel shows scheduled in Houston due to coronavirus. (Photo illustration by Justin Howell/Community Impact Newspaper)

As the coronavirus takes its toll on small business owners around the Houston area, local independent artists are also adapting to an ever-changing landscape as in-person show venues shutter their doors left and right.

The Bay Area Chorus of Greater Houston on March canceled its spring concert, which was to be performed at Clear Creek High School on May 3 with the 80-member chorus, Clear Creek and Clear Lake High School choirs, international opera star Jesus Garcia and a 32-piece orchestra. Clear Creek ISD facilities are closed, with the district enacting distance learning, and are tentatively scheduled to reopen April 10.

"Our members are the heart of the Bay Area Chorus of Greater Houston, and we will remain committed to 'enriching lives through choral music,'” read a news release from the group on March 19. "We appreciate your dedication and understanding during this trying time, and rest assured that we will rise above this challenge and come out stronger on the other side."

On the other side of Houston, Cypress Bluegrass Rising Group member Nema Redding said members are “all missing each other” during their temporary shutdown. The group has jammed together for about five years, with 100 to 200 people gathering monthly to play together. Redding, who coordinates group activities with her husband Tony, said the jams are a fun outlet for seniors, both to play and to listen as spectators.

Members are looking for ways to jam over conference calls, she said—because in bluegrass music, nothing holds them back.

Houston-based country singer Max Flinn said his gigs are also canceled for the foreseeable future. He is unsure when he will be able to book or play a show again, since booking agents are in limbo as bars and other venues are forced to close.

Flinn is turning to services like Venmo and PayPal for virtual tipping when hosting live virtual shows, like the one he played at 8th Wonder Brewery on March 24. He also recently set up an online merchandise store to try and gather revenue.

Flinn left the oil and gas industry three years ago to pursue music. He said he is not opposed to asking for help or getting an additional job if it comes to that point for him, but that this is just a temporary setback in his music career.

“As far as music, this isn’t going to slow me down; this is my path right now and I’m staying on it,” he said.

Nationally acclaimed singers and groups are also feeling the effects of the coronavirus as they, too, begin to lose revenue.

Marcus Hubbard said he and his New Orleans-based band The Soul Rebels have been home from their tour since the beginning of the month. The group canceled more than 30 shows through June, including a performance at the Party on the Plaza in Houston scheduled for April 23. The group is exploring its options for live streaming concerts or hosting video festivals with suggested donations, he said.

“We’ve basically just been looking around for any ideas,” he said. “We’re still up and running with some different things we’re going to try to do to still connect with our fans.”

Hubbard added since entertainers are not considered hourly workers, they do not qualify for much assistance when it comes to unemployment. He is unsure what will be available to help him and his bandmates, he said.

Karen Waldrup recalled the various states of emotion she went through as, one by one, the venues her gigs were booked at began to close: first upset, then sad, and eventually appreciative, as she was too reluctant to cancel herself.

“The venues are stronger than I am,” added the country singer-songwriter, who was scheduled to perform at the Firehouse Saloon in Houston on March 21.

When the shows could not go on at live venues, Waldrup turned several canceled concerts into a Cabin Fever live video series in a new location: her living room. She performed on all of the nights she was scheduled to go onstage, both through a free public live stream and one separated by a $4.99 paywall on her Facebook supporter page.

Waldrup accepted tips and donations through PayPal during the performances. The numerous canceled gigs have had a massive financial impact on her, but she said playing music “for the grace of somebody tipping online...is a beautiful thing.”

Through her virtual shows, the singer hopes to bring her fans together and help people connected with one another as everyone copes with the effects of COVID-19.

“The best thing that I can do is know that everybody is going through it,” she said. “Maybe through the togetherness, my fan base can actually grow stronger in our connection.”

By Colleen Ferguson

Reporter, Bay Area

A native central New Yorker, Colleen worked as an editorial intern with the Cy-Fair and Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood editions of Community Impact Newspaper before joining the Bay Area team in 2020. She covers public education, higher education, business and development news in southeast Houston. Colleen graduated in 2019 from Syracuse University and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, where she worked for the university's independent student newspaper The Daily Orange. Her degrees are in journalism and Spanish language and culture. When not chasing a story, Colleen can be found petting cats and dogs, listening to podcasts, swimming or watching true crime documentaries.