Hanging on my refrigerator is one of those little fortune cookie zen magnets that reads "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone". If there isn't a perfect explanation of life during the age of COVID, I imagine this is about as close as one can get.
As artists and presenters and community members, the roots community has long embraced our comfort. For clarity's sake, I am calling out myself on this behavior far more directly than anyone else. I understand the marketing plan and the method of making a church coffeehouse work, I am very comfortable with the knowledge that I will be able to connect intimately with a house show audience. Oddly enough I've even grown pretty comfortable on larger stages in front of hundreds if not thousands of people. I've spent twelve years doing all of that part-time. Today is different. We are a year into this pandemic that has changed the way we present ourselves, the way we connect - hell, the way we collect - our audiences.
This is uncomfortable.
This is awkward.
This is (at times) awful.
Remembering not to point our webcams up our nostrils is an (unflattering) learning experience. But the truth is for those of us who stopped fighting that awkward, uncomfortable, messy experience, there are remarkable life-affirming moments. The 60-year-old artist all of a sudden has found a way to connect with 20-year-old audiences because they started meeting that audience where they were. The musician who has spent 30 years on the road playing 100 shows or more who has built a Patreon community and for the first time in their life is living with the reality of having a salary. The younger artist whose five-year quest to get noticed by their favorite booker who all of a sudden has become the go-to resource for that booker because they managed to figure out this online thing and how to navigate it.
COVID has been an unmistakable storm cloud over the world for the last year. I have lost friends. We have lost family. Because of the bizarre drive to turn a pandemic into an optional reality based on our political beliefs, many of us lost even more friends and family.
But there are linings to the cloud. There are astounding moments of connection happening all around us. Maybe, embracing this awful, awkward, uncomfortable experience may end up affirming the lives that this pandemic has so rudely interrupted.