OP/ED: Music is essential, but the lives of the artists are even more so

By May 1, 2020 2 Comments
COVID-19, Pittsburgh, Music

Phat Man Dee performing last year in San Francisco (Photo: Skot Kuiper)

By Phat Man Dee
Special to the Pittsburgh Current

Music is Essential! 

Though, according to the promoter of an upcoming ill-conceived event, apparently, the people who actually create it, and those who like to listen to it, maybe not so much?

On April 29, a dear friend of mine brought to my attention an event put together by local music coordinator Jessica Rosario. Once associated with the Deutschtown Music Festival, she has been removed from her role and is no longer associated with them. 

Her new event scheduled for May 2 is called “Music is Essential: March (& Dance!) for Global Freedom.” It’s unclear where exactly this event is to take place. The location on the event page was listed as “City-County Buildings, Parks & Town Halls.” Potential attendees are encouraged to “organize friends and family and just show up and SHOW them that we will not live in fear.” Musicians were encouraged to bring our “gear, our art, and PLAY!” and “through togetherness, we could build strength, immunity, and peace.” 

Nowhere in the event did it mention social distancing, masks, or any plans in place to protect the artists or attendees. 

As a musician, community organizer, producer, and promoter of events, I strive with every production to put on an amazing experience for the audience. However, in the words of the great Stan Lee, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We must not only consider our grand artistic visions, but we who produce and promote have the added responsibility of caring for the safety of both our fellow artists and our audience.

We are truly one community of people, and music is such an intimate art form, and we must care for each other. I made the extremely difficult decision to cancel the 25th Annual Ides of March March because I know so many Pittsburgh artists just don’t have health insurance. And even if you do have insurance, there are not enough tests and thereʼs no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19. If we just wantonly spread this in our community, it would devastate us. Friends of mine are already gone forever: vibrant, healthy, beautiful community leaders. Members of our community have recovered, but who knows what complications will hurt them as they grow older? So many of us have worked so long to build and support this vibrant, but still fragile community of artists and I refuse to stay silent because Ms. Rosario and those who agree with her canʼt be bothered to understand and accept facts. 

This pandemic has had devastating effects on so many of us — lost gigs, lost income, mental health — but the most terrible cost of all has been the human cost. If we gather in public like Ms. Rosario beckons us to, then weʼll be paying that price longer and it will be higher than we ever imagined. We have already lost great artists. Lions like Ellis Marsalis, John Prine, and younger, but no less beloved artists, like Adam Schlesinger, Fred the Godson, and locally we lost Steph Chatman, DJ, and creator of the Soul Show which still airs today on WYEP under the creative direction of his successor Michael Canton. 

This virus isnʼt a joke, itʼs not a hoax, and itʼs not something the power of good vibes and magical thinking can just wish away. It wonʼt, as “45” says, “just disappear.” Scientists and medical professionals are so much smarter than us. They have studied more, and they have explained it to us every which way that we need to stop spreading this virus so they have a chance to study it and create a vaccine. All we need to do is stay the hell at home and let them do their jobs. 

Music hasnʼt died. Weʼre still making music and creating community. I just took my monthly jam session “Tune It! Tuesday” online last week. With the technical help of Alone Together Pittsburgh, an impromptu talk show produced by Pete Spynda of Pandemic Dance Party, Patrick Jordan of Barebones Productions, and Dave Mansueto, I was able to bring on some of my usual guests who come in person to the Black Forge Coffee Shop for my monthly session. Some came on as live guests, some sent in pre-recorded videos. Everything was done from home. We got thousands of views and audience members were really generous to my artists. Digital tip jars work, folks! 

Music isnʼt over, it just changed venues. I love the music scene, itʼs my whole life. And it needs, we need, to stay the fuck home. I donʼt pretend that itʼs the same experience, it really isnʼt. But we will work through the technical kinks and evolve, and we will engage our fans more than ever before. When this is over, we will be able to go out. And there will be so many fans who truly appreciate that we were there for them when they were at their lowest. If you are an artist, you need to buy a decent mic, pay for some decent internet, and join the digital wave of musicians and artists engaging their fans like never before on the worldʼs newest venue, Al Goreʼs Information Superhighway. 

Love means doing whatʼs best for those you love, not whatʼs best for you. I love our scene with every cell in my body, and I want to sing to you in person so much. I miss my band. Like, I dream about them. I miss my fans. I miss hugging you, but I take my role very seriously and I will do my very best to never lead those who trust me down dangerous and life-threatening paths. Until I can sing to you in person, you can catch me live and pre-record on the internet, and I hope to see you there too. I post to my Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube accounts, plus there are all the links on my website, If I see you live online, I promise to share it. We are one and we must care for each other. And the best way to do that right now is to just stay home. 


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