• Mandolin Artists Share Their Pandemic Experience

    For now, gone are the crowds, the flights, the bus rides, the sound checks, nightly meet and greets with fans, appearances at mandolin camps, catching up with family and friends between travel and the next gig and more.

    We contacted a number of mandolin players that have made this work their calling and asked them to weigh in on how they're dealing with life during these unprecedented times. One, Andy Statman, is recovering along with his wife after both contracted the Coronavirus in late March.

    The experiences and changes vary widely, and serve as a reminder that the journey will be different for each of us.

    We thought it important to hear directly from the artists in their own words in a world where no one has been spared a major change. Next week we hope to do a similar report from a group of retailers and builders.

    This is their story.

    Andy Statman

    Andy Statman

    Both my wife and I had "mild" cases of the Coronavirus (NOTE: documented here). We are both thankful considering the horrors and devastation it can bring. We all have friends and neighbors who have been hospitalized.

    The two weeks of isolation allowed me to learn religious texts on the current Passover holiday. I was also able to reacquaint myself with music I have always wanted to learn, but never had the time. Now, with a bit more energy, I have been able to start learning both on the mandolin and clarinet.

    A new bluegrass CD I had recorded in Nashville in September was in the middle of mixing and put on hold. I hope to finish it as soon as it’s deemed safe to get back into the studio. In any case I find that the CDs that I make take on a life of their own with their own timeline.

    I have been working on refining musical phrases and ideas. Experimenting with how to get the most feeling between two notes (intervals). Also working on improvised projections and making that internal connection. Encouraged by my friends and colleagues, I have decided to start teaching online. I hope to have that up and working next week.

    All in all the time home has allowed me to work on myself spiritually, emotionally and musically. I look forward to the time when all this suffering is behind us and we can all appreciate that which we usually take for granted.

    Joe K. Walsh

    Joe K. Walsh

    Hello mandoliners, from my house to yours. Been spending an awful lot more time here, more time at home than I think I've ever had since I started gigging and traveling some fifteen or so years ago. More time with the mandolin, and more time with my wife than ever before. I'm seeing the positives, as much as possible.

    It's hard not to worry about what's in store for the music world, for our fellow musicians and for our musical communities. Will venues survive? Will people feel safe sitting shoulder to shoulder in concerts, standing in crowds at festivals? Big existential worries for musicians and the musical ecosystem, from sound engineers to agents and outward.

    That said I believe more deeply than ever in the power of music, in the role that music plays in our lives. The way it connects across divides, cultural and political, the way a few well-chosen notes can open our hearts. (like this Edgar Meyer tune). Maybe it's strange to be deepening a relationship with music now while music, the business, is such a question mark. Still I'm looking, daily, for the melodies that sound good on my mandolin, alone, for phrases that feel alive, for tunes that feel peaceful, for notes that sound out the feelings of this current moment. When I find them I'll try and share them.

    I'm staying busy with various things: planning out lessons for my Peghead courses, meeting with Skype students, writing music for an upcoming children's book. Working on mixes for a record with Greg Garrison, Alex Hargreaves, Grant Gordy and I. Can't wait to share that. And I'm writing a lot, peaceful hopeful melodies. I hope to record these soon. We'll see.

    Much love to all of you, my fellow mandoliners. Be safe!

    Nate Lee

    Nate, Chrisanthi and Cashew

    My last venture out into the world was a good one. I decided to crash Nashville Flatpick Camp to pick some tunes and ended up in a killer jam with Wyatt Rice and Kenny Smith. We played fiddle tunes and Dawg tunes, and Amanda Smith joined us to sing some songs. Kenny and Amanda sing so well together. That was a really fun night!

    A couple of days later social distancing began for me, my wife Chrisanthi, and our dog Cashew. We're being extra careful because we have a baby on the way. It's a boy, and he's due July 10! We've been staying isolated and are having groceries and other necessities delivered. We're very fortunate to be in a position where we can both work from home, which is not the case for everyone. We're grateful for essential workers who are keeping the world going.

    All of my gigs and music camps have all been cancelled for the near future, which is a bummer. My main gig is teaching online music lessons through my business, Play Nately, and lessons have stayed steady. There's a new instructional video out that people have been asking me to make for a while. It teaches my version of "Chinquapin Hunting." You can sign up for lessons and download my instructional videos at www.PlayNately.com.

    I cut a new album in January, and I've been super busy getting things ready for the release. The album is called Wings of a Jetliner and features Wyatt Rice, Todd Phillips, Ned Luberecki, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, Thomas Cassell, Daniel Salyer, and The Becky Buller Band. Professor Dan Boner (East Tennessee State University) produced the album, and I'm really proud of the music we made together. Keep an eye on my socials and web site for news about the release!

    Kym Warner

    Kym Warner

    The bluegrass/acoustic scene here in Austin, TX has been abundant this past year or so with an increasing number of "residencies" and talented players to share the stage with. There are Bluegrass Nights 7 days a week at various breweries and beer gardens around town.

    In addition to my touring commitments with Robert Earl Keen, I was getting all of the live playing my heart desired. Alas, the Coronavirus shutdown enters the fray.

    Keeping a constructive practice regime using a metronome and working up new pieces to perform live and potentially record has been key. I've performed my solo show "Acoustic World Tour" the past couple of years where in I play pieces from all regions far and wide on numerous acoustic instruments: mandolin, mandola, ukulele, bouzouki and octave mandolin has been challenging and extremely rewarding.

    Since isolating I've been able to use social media platforms to perform live shows with an audience on the other side of our computer screens. It's been a great learning experience and a way of staying in touch with music fans, and a way to supplement some income. It's been fun to watch and support other artists live streams and to help keep this musical journey we are all on ticking.

    I've done some remote recordings for other artists and I'm always working on my live rig and my sonic set up, trying to get the best tones and sounds I can, how best to utilize them and my input into the Robert Earl Keen live show. The addition of playing mandocaster in REK shows the past two years has been such a fun and challenging development.

    All in all, I'm staying positive through the joys of playing and listening to music but can't wait to experience playing with friends at a live venue again soon.

    Lady Moon - AKA Eva Trout

    I'm writing from the cozy window side of my family farm in Colorado, where a much needed 8 inches of spring snow is expected. The damp golden fields are spotted with tufts of new green grass, and the usual backdrop of blue mountains obscured by a thick fog tucked neatly behind the foothills. I've been watching two magpies fly back and forth from the slash pile to a large pinion west of the house where they're building a globe-shaped nest.

    It's been 30 days and I haven't tired of looking out my window or walking the mile to the canal and back to peep at the owl in the cottonwood. I haven't tired of listening to Penguin Eggs by Nick Jones while knitting, and I certainly haven't tired of spending time with my husband. Coming up on 3 years of marriage, we've spent the majority of the time we've known each other apart to accommodate touring.

    Casey is a very patient and supportive man, but he's also very perceptive. Behind the ambition and glitz of the road warrior, he saw the uprooted heart that had started the whole adventure some 10 years ago. It was withering and he knew undisturbed quiet was needed to restore it. But how?

    Quiet. Not just moments, but long spells of the stuff. Something I never dared grant myself because I was so focused on paying bills and accomplishing goals. But as it turns out, I couldn't have made a better unplanned investment in my career, not to mention my life and overall happiness. Since this great spell of quiet, I've written more, connected with my online audience in meaningful discussions about creativity, and found the joy in my process naturally restored.

    When I first got word that our spring and summer tour was canceled I panicked, but Case was looking ahead. "Eva, this is your chance. Don't miss it."

    Taking it looks like actively I'll remember amidst all the chaos, uncertainty, and even tragedy, I've been given the unimaginable gift of quiet.

    Daniel Patrick

    Daniel Patrick

    What a difference a month makes! In February my new band New Ghost Town (named before the pandemic!) was in the studio with Alan Bibey recording an album of 12 original tunes, I had been invited to come out to do live Mandolins and Beer podcasts at Merlefest, Delfest and The Charleston Bluegrass Festival, and I had a calendar filled with gigs.

    Poof... all gone. After two years in a row of doing 300+ gigs a year, I now find myself at a standstill. To be honest, the first few weeks were pretty great! I've read a bunch of books, binged a bunch of TV shows and caught up on sleep! I've still been doing my podcast (Thank you to all the listeners out there!) and I have been hanging out with my wife and my youngest daughter, a now at home professor and veterinary student, respectively.

    To keep myself busy, I've been working on my transcribing skills by working out solos on Tony Rice's "58957" and David Grisman's "Home is Where the Heart Is." I've also been tossing around ideas for an "If You Had 10 minutes a Day" E-book with some various exercises I've developed and put on my Patreon page.

    However, each day the walls seem to be getting a little closer. I am very grateful though. My family and friends have all remained healthy and I've been getting some great emails and messages from podcast guests and listeners. That said, I miss playing music with my friends. I miss playing music for people. I look forward to getting back out there and playing music again!

    Julien Martineau

    Times are tough for everyone right now. The cultural world is one of the most affected sectors with non-existent concert activity. Personally I have already lost a tour in China, a tour in Africa and 15 other concerts. And I await the decisions of the Summer festivals which have not yet been canceled. The objective is to try to postpone these dates as much as possible, and we feel a new solidarity between artists and organizers.

    In France, we can count a lot on France Musique, our main classical music media. France Musique supports musicians by publishing their homemade videos, allowing them to stay in touch with a large audience. My video of the final of the 2nd Prelude by Raffaele Calace has just been released giving me the impression my first concert since March 2. We must therefore be positive and take advantage of this confinement to prepare for the future. It's an opportunity to think, read books, stay with our family and work new pieces. I am studyng the 3rd Partita for violin by Bach, new concertos, and preparing new transcriptions with my friend, the guitarist Eric Franceries. I also chat a lot with Brian N. Dean, my luthier, about the evolution we want to experience on a mandolin that he is building for me. And with the time available, we can move much faster than usual.

    I would like to send my best wishes to the readers of Mandolin Cafe, to the mandolinists and to thank the listeners who support us by listening to our recordings. Take care!

    David Benedict

    David Benedict

    Until recently, I had been commuting to Mile Twelve gigs from Northern Ireland where my wife Tabitha is currently living and waiting for her Green Card. But things changed in March when I flew from Dublin to JFK for a tour, only to find upon landing that our shows were canceled due to the oncoming pandemic. I spent a long 24 hours in a smoky hotel room in Queens before re-boarding a transatlantic flight back to Northern Ireland just before these new travel restrictions were implemented.
    Cup O'Joe
    Gigs continue to be canceled, but thankfully we're staying safe and healthy and I'm actually enjoying the free time immensely. I've been traveling so much over the past couple years — it feels great be in one place with Tabitha for a while. Tabitha's family lives in the countryside of County Armagh where there are beautiful green hills, donkeys and goats, and lots of musical happenings.

    Tabitha plays music with her brothers in a band called Cup O'Joe, and since we're all stuck together under the same roof we've been doing live stream concerts weekly. Personally, I've been trying to learn some more Choro tunes, and, for a change of pace, I've been trying the banjo for the first time. Pretty humbling starting from the ground up again, but it feels good to be learning something new.

    The future looks uncertain for musicians, but I've been blown away by the support shown online. There's been a big increase in demand for digital lessons, online concerts and workshops, and now there are many grants and federal programs available to artists who have lost income. Incredibly thankful for my situation and my prayers are going out to all those who are sick and struggling. Hang in there! There will be many tunes to be had when all this is done.

    Simon Mayor and Hilary James

    Simon Mayor and Hilary James

    Apart from slowly taking in the enormity of what Covid-19 is doing to our species, Hilary and I are coping well.

    No surprise, our diary is virtually empty. There's now only a remote possibility we'll be able to fulfill a planned USA trip in June, which is a big disappointment. Luckily, the bulk of our income for the first half of this year happened with gigs and workshops before lock-down, so we entered the New World Order with a financial buffer.

    We've never gigged as intensely as some, and long periods in the studio have spawned a large catalogue of recordings and books. We're quite used to extended creative spells off the road. So, now is the time to tie up loose ends: finish compiling that new live album; digitally publish more mandolin music; practise the guitar, violin, maybe even the mandolin. It's definitely a time to phone friends, especially the older ones. We exercise daily, cycling round the nearby university campus and take in the cherry blossom and giant redwoods — yes, really, in England! On the way we pause to press our noses on the windowpane of a housebound elderly neighbour with an impish sense of humour, and delight in her giggles.

    We’ve had a long involvement in children’s music — visit us at https://childrensmusic.co.uk/ with five albums of original songs and lots of writing and presenting for the BBC in the past. We're bringing this off the back burner and have started to plan more books and record videos of our children's songs, with Hilary discovering how to animate her illustrations.

    We're safe and well fed. Oh, and we have a few nice mandolins kicking around the place for when we need something else to do.

    C.J. Lewandowski

    C.J. Lewandowski

    For the past 5 years or more, touring had been the heaviest it had ever been in my career. The last year or so, I found myself wanting to be home more or falling behind on projects around Hopeless Holler. I've always enjoyed tinkering with stuff and that's what most of my quarantine has been. I'm looking on the positive side of things as this was a much needed break to redo my bathroom, put in a garden, do some landscaping, etc. to catch up.

    A radio show I once hosted on WBCM-Radio Bristol (Grass Cuttin' Time) is returning to the air waves. I've been really diving into material with Ken Irwin for the next Rounder project. The mandolins have been out a lot just to try and keep my chops up. But, mostly it's been about home and realizing what is important. I also see it in a positive light for The Po' Ramblin' Boys. We miss playing music with one another, and this down time has made us love and appreciate what we get to do for a living even more. I think that energy and light will shine on stage.

    To keep the lights on, we have been doing a few live streams, I have also sold a few mandolins and cases (thanks to Mandolin Cafe), but really we are all doing fair. We have introduced new merchandise on our website as well. MusiCares has helped us quite a bit. We have weekly conversations with Rainmaker Management to discuss keeping our brand out to the public during this time. Everything really has changed with marketing approaches and reaching a fan base. Entertainment has changed quite a bit as well. I thought I was used to playing to small crowds until there was no crowd!

    Social media has become even more important to the music industry, but also more intimate. We want to stay close to our friends and family in the best ways possible and are continually working to keep our music alive and keep our loyal fans interested. All in all, I believe Bluegrass music will come out at the other end of the tunnel stronger than ever. It seems around my neck of the woods, the little man, the small business, the underdog is thriving. Everyone has come together to support their local communities and I love that! Bluegrass is kinda like the "mom and pop store" of the music industry and I can't wait to sit on the front porch of that store and visit with all our friends again.

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    Comments 20 Comments
    1. Steve-o's Avatar
      Steve-o -
      Superb idea and a great read! Nice to gain insight on how our musician friends are coping and spending their time in isolation. Thanks Scott. Looking forward to the next one.
    1. Mike Romkey's Avatar
      Mike Romkey -
      Thanks for this. It was a balm for the soul. Andy Statman's words -- what a treasure that man is. "All in all the time home has allowed me to work on myself spiritually, emotionally and musically. I look forward to the time when all this suffering is behind us and we can all appreciate that which we usually take for granted."
    1. Steve Larson's Avatar
      Steve Larson -
      Very much enjoyed this - really appreciate everyone's work on it! Thanks for sharing stories.
    1. JEStanek's Avatar
      JEStanek -
      Thanks for sharing these.

    1. Bob Clark's Avatar
      Bob Clark -
      This was a great read; exactly what I needed today. What a nice range of top-level musicians are represented, too. Some of my real favorites. Once again, Mandolin Cafe delivers just what is needed. Thanks to Scott and all these fine musicians.
    1. Brian Ebie's Avatar
      Brian Ebie -
      Great post. Thanks!
    1. Jim Bevan's Avatar
      Jim Bevan -
      Extreme lockdown here in Dubai (you need a permit to walk to the supermarket, you can only get one every three days, and you have to go alone).

      We're stuck in a 43rd-floor apartment – I'm envious of the scenery in the pictures!
    1. Jim Garber's Avatar
      Jim Garber -
      Wonderful hearing from these favorites players as well as some I am unfamiliar with. Thanks!
    1. John Soper's Avatar
      John Soper -
      Nice collection of reflections in this time of trouble and opportunity.
    1. Randi Gormley's Avatar
      Randi Gormley -
      Thanks for this -- music and musicians really do hold the world together!
    1. bbcee's Avatar
      bbcee -
      Very inspiring read. So glad Andy is on the mend, in such a positive way.

      Nate, i love your t-shirt!
    1. John Rosett's Avatar
      John Rosett -
      Andy's comments are deeply inspiring, as usual.
      Nate Lee wins the family portrait.
    1. BradKlein's Avatar
      BradKlein -
      Beautiful photos. Well done all around!
    1. Nate Lee's Avatar
      Nate Lee -
      Quote Originally Posted by bbcee View Post
      Very inspiring read. So glad Andy is on the mend, in such a positive way.

      Nate, i love your t-shirt!
      Thanks! Becky Buller had it made for me and it's one of a kind.
    1. Nate Lee's Avatar
      Nate Lee -
      Quote Originally Posted by John Rosett View Post
      Nate Lee wins the family portrait.
      lol, Cashew didn't like that someone was walking down the sidewalk. That's her sidewalk!
    1. Gunnar's Avatar
      Gunnar -
      Great article! Thanks for the read!
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Wow, a year already...
    1. journeybear's Avatar
      journeybear -
      Already? Hasn't exactly flown by. And please, let there not be a need for a two-year anniversary!

      But yes - great insights and anecdotes from some great people. Thanks for putting this together.
    1. journeybear's Avatar
      journeybear -
      Putting aside my typical tendency to try to use humor to deal with downturns (with mixed results) - that is, to be quite serious for a moment - I wonder whether an updated version of this project would be possible. These date from the first couple of months of the pandemic, and are full of plans and projections for the then-upcoming slowdown. Who knew then it would still be affecting so many so deeply and broadly a year hence? It would be interesting, and hopefully inspiring, to see how our mandolin mentors have been managing, and hopefully thriving through all this. Not necessarily these same correspondents, but whoever wishes to share their tales and thoughts with us.

      Thank you.
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Noting the anniversary of this feature.