Musicians among the victims with bar, restaurant shutdowns

Local singers and guitar players could break out their best renditions of Don McLean’s “American Pie” and sing about last Sunday as, “the day the music died.”

Only problem is, they have no place to sing it now.

Directives last week from Gov. Mike DeWine shut down most concert venues for touring acts. But after seeing that many didn’t heed the warning about avoiding large gatherings over the weekend, on Sunday afternoon the governor ordered bars and sit-down restaurants to close effective at 9 p.m. that day.

The long list of people affected by that decision — small business owners, cooks, bartenders, servers, etc. — also includes the musicians who play those establishments.

Most local musicians have day jobs and don’t rely on that once-or-twice-per-month bar gig to pay the bills; however, with the growing number of layoffs statewide, some are losing both right now.

Others work five or six days per week, and playing music for people is their sole source of income.

Singer and piano player Todd Cutshaw of Howland said, “My wife said last night that the feeling is like right after 9/11. With a hurricane, it’s gone in four days. We don’t know how long this is going to last.”

Cutshaw does Dueling Pianos concerts and solo gigs, and when he’s not performing in bars, restaurants and private events, he plays daytime concerts at nursing homes. Those facilities are on lockdown now, too, so all of his outlets are affected.

Instead of playing those daytime gigs, Cutshaw said he was calling his credit card and mortgage companies, looking for deferments and extensions.

Violinist Katherine O’Neill, who plays with the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra and the Warren Philharmonic Orchestra as well as restaurants / bars, said she’s lost at least $600 in jobs for March and could lose another $1,000 if this extends into April.

“Psychologically, it causes a little bit of unsettling panic that sits on your chest throughout the day,” O’Neill said.

Fred Whitacre Jr., drummer for Kitchen Knife Conspiracy, said he expects the band will lose the two gigs it has booked in April, and it also could affect the rollout of a solo project he planned to release in May.

“It will be tough to nail down a show date for release until this all passes,” Whitacre wrote in an email.

John Dante, frontman of John Dante & the Inferno, wondered about what would happen with the canceled gigs once the bars reopen.

“My biggest concern is how bands and venues will deal with rescheduling missed gigs as well as finding new bookings when the ban is lifted,” he wrote. “This will definitely shake things up for the whole scene. Many bands would be filling up their schedules for the year now, including us.”

Steve Vuich is another musician who works five, six nights a week, either playing solo gigs, hosting open-mic nights or performing with the River Saints.

“My calendar went from a dozen gigs to zero gigs, and April is looking the same way,” he said.

With elderly parents still living and band members with health issues, Vuich said he’s willing to be cautious in order to keep people safe and healthy. But the man who normally spends six hours performing on St. Patrick’s Day spent Tuesday posting a solo version of “Danny Boy” and other videos to Facebook.

Vuich is filling the time creating what he’s calling “My Musical Plague Journal,” daily posts of songs that reflect the current mood of the crisis. He also hopes to write some original songs inspired by what’s happening.

Several musicians talked about trying to turn a negative into a positive.

John Anthony, lead guitar player with The Vindys, said, “It will be exciting to see how we can use social media to our advantage, release some of those live show videos sitting around waiting for a moment like this.”

Dan Butch, lead singer of Haymaker, Stage of Dreams and Edward Be Thy Name, said Stage of Dreams will work on completing the final three songs for its original heavy metal rock opera, and the bands may try other ideas to keep connected.

“We may possibly invite some of our biggest fans to rehearsal and livestream performances to stay in touch with everyone,” Butch wrote.

Several bands plan to use the time to practice new songs and expand their setlists.

Paul Sheehan, lead singer of Muddy Cadillac, wrote, “In lieu of playing live, I’d like to use the time to rehearse, learn some new material and especially to break in our newest member, Nate Yingling, who just joined the band. Can’t wait until people hear this 19-year-old wunderkind play the keys. Well, I guess we all may have to wait.”

Northern Whiskey lost a high-profile gig playing ShamRock the Block in downtown Youngstown on St. Patrick’s Day, but bass player Garry Palcisco said the band plans to use the downtime productively.

“We’ve talked about writing some stuff and also trying to revamp our whole show,” he said. “Once this slows down and things ease up, people will want to get out. They’re going to want entertainment and, of course, we’re itching to get back on stage. We’re going to keep rehearsing, keep pushing forward and when the gates open, we’ll be ready.”


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