And The Band Played On: How The COVID-19 Pandemic Is Reshaping Charlotte’s Music Scene

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte music scene was burgeoning before the coronavirus pandemic.  Now, local music venues face uncertain futures and artists are looking for new ways to create content and engage with fans.

Two years ago, my friend and coworker, Caryn, said she had an extra ticket for a Sofar Sounds show at the Southern Tiger Collective space in NoDa.

If you aren’t familiar, Sofar is short for Songs from a Room and the events are basically pop-up secret concerts.

Caryn and I met at the Southern Tiger and posted up toward the back of the space with our beers, since the room was already pretty full. The acts were all good, but I was specifically drawn to a singer and guitarist named Royce Lovett.

His energy was great and I thought his voice would be perfect for a song I had written called, “My Spirit” that I hoped to put on an EP I was working on entitled SHEESH.

After his set, I stopped Royce as he passed and told him I enjoyed his performance.  I told him about the song I had written and that I’d love for him to be featured on it. We exchanged numbers and said that we would connect to make it happen in the near future.

About six months and several emails and texts later, he said he would be coming to Charlotte for a performance at the Evening Muse and would have time to come into the studio to record his part for the song we had been discussing.

We recorded the song with my friend, and engineer, Scott Slagle at Asylum Digital Recording Studio, and it turned out great.

Little did I know, Royce would audition for The Voice on NBC, and be selected to compete in season 17, which aired in the fall of 2019.  Gwen Stefani chose Royce for her team and, although he didn’t win, he performed very well and was a fan-favorite on the show.

Everyone may not have a story about randomly meeting and making a song with an artist who would later be a contestant on a wildly popular reality television show; but most local music fans have a story about a great night watching a great artist at a cool venue in town.

Those experiences have been put on hold, as the global community attempts to extricate from the coronavirus pandemic that has engulfed our lives.

States and localities are reopening at different rates, and large in-person gatherings like concerts and festivals will be some of the last social activities in which we engage.

Local venues at the heart of the Charlotte music scene are hopeful that the shows will go on again, at some point, but acknowledge that bills still must be paid in the meantime.

The Neighborhood Theater has hosted bands from the Avett Borthers to the Black Crowes on their way to prominence, but now the venue says it is at risk due to a lack of revenue.

Neighborhood Theatre says it has joined the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which is a group of over 1,200 independent venues and promoters nationwide who are urging congress to help protect the live music industry by providing financial support. Click HERE to see how you can help save local music venues.

Other popular North Carolina venues like the Cat’s Cradle in Carborro and the Orange Peel in Asheville have echoed that sentiment.

The employees and artists, who give the venues life, are also struggling financially amidst the shutdown.

Artists have turned to social media and virtual shows to entertain and connect with fans.

Charlotte rapper DaBaby went from a regional act to one of the hottest artists in the world.   His music, videos and marketing savvy have skyrocketed him into the highest stratosphere of pop culture.

Dababy’s most recent album, Blame It on Baby was released on April 17th, 2020 and debuted at number one on the U.S, Billboard 200. He continues to churn out content via his Instagram page.  Whether it’s a trailer for a new music video, or a behind the scenes look at his daily activity, he keeps fans engaged on a level few artists can match.

Other Charlotte hip-hop artists like Deniro Farrar, Lute West, and Elevator Jay are maintaining a presence as well by staying active on social media and releasing new music and visual content.  The trio recently collaborated on a track for Farrar’s latest project, Sole Food.

Singer Anthony Hamilton, The Hamiltones, and the Harvey Cummings Project were a few of the Charlotte based performers who participated in the ‘Under One Roof’ virtual music festival, presented by The North Carolina Arts Council, Come Hear NC and CLTure, which raised $50,000 to benefit musicians and artists through the North Carolina Arts Foundation.

Prior to the pandemic, the Hamiltones released Watch The Ton3s: The B Sides, which paid homage to their Charlotte area roots with songs like the soulful, “Hwy 74”.

Hamilton has been very active during the pandemic and continues to be a proud ambassador of local music, even though he is an internationally acclaimed artist.

Josh Daniel lives in Charlotte and is known for his work with The New Familiars.  He also played local venues before the pandemic and has performed at several regional festivals.

Daniel told clture.org that the majority of his money comes from live shows, so he has had to adjust to support his family during the pandemic.  He started live-streaming his Daily Quarantine Sessions in March and has been able to maintain a consistent income through a tip jar and merchandise sales.

Health experts say it my take up to two years before fans can safely attend concerts in large numbers, so virtual performances may be the preferred method of expression to reach the masses for the foreseeable future.

On May 8th, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper eased some restrictions as the state enters phase one of reopening. Gatherings of ten or more are still prohibited at this time, but as we move toward more in-person experiences, maybe local artists will find a way to safely share their craft with small groups by playing outdoor spaces where social distancing is possible.

Local music enriches the greater community and often adds to the identity of cities around the world. Queen City artists were garnering the region more national and international attention before COVID-19 interrupted our lives.

Although the way they reach listeners may change, local musicians will continue to create art with the intention of sharing their work by any means available. Simultaneously, fans will continue to search for emergent vibes to weave a soundtrack into our new semi-virtual lives.