Perched on a stool surrounded by guitars, microphones and a djembe, an African hand drum, Edem Garro strums a rosewood ukulele and sings in a foreign language in a high register. A potted plant rests on top of one amp, and a dark tapestry is centered on the wall behind her, blending into her dark hair and clothing. She smiles and sways with the music, studio lights reflecting off her glasses. She appears blissful and happy to perform, even if it’s through a livestream.
The nonprofit Lincoln Calling, which usually hosts an annual music festival downtown, has created Lincoln Calling TV, a weekly livestream for viewers to connect with musicians and artists, as well as participate in civic discussions.
Lincoln Calling has hosted its annual arts and culture festival for 17 years in downtown Lincoln featuring local and regional musicians and artists of all kinds. According to Spencer Munson, Lincoln Calling’s executive director, the seven staff members wanted to expand to year-round creation.
“We really had a lot of success making the best out of a rough year last year by throwing a couple streaming events,” Munson said. “We learned a lot. We realized we could really have some cool engagement, not only with our fans, but also helping the bands that are struggling right now.”
Lincoln Calling TV premiered on March 4 via Maestro, a streaming service Munson described as Twitch for music.
“They were working with Pandora, Coachella and individual artists to create this video service where you can have multiple channels,” he said. “You can have multiple paywalls. It also allows you to have a lot of interactivity … Some of that interactivity is your typical chat and social media links, but in that sidebar we’re also able to plug in artist web links, media players, tipping options and, down the road, we hope to have watch parties too.”
Garro, who performs under the name Edem Soul Music, performed for the first Lincoln Calling TV livestream singing mostly in Ga, a dying language from Ghana she tries to preserve. She said Lincoln Calling TV’s performance space, Studio PH, made the experience feel more akin to a live performance than the virtual ones musicians have had to adapt to during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I thought it was really nice that they set out studio space so the individual performing is separate from everyone else,” Garro said. “I feel like before, when we talk about virtual performances, it’s from your home. This one isn’t at home. It’s at a studio, but it gives you a feel that you’re performing, because that’s what you do when you go to the studio, you’re performing.”
Garro also said the response to her performance was proof that Lincoln Calling TV has a bright future.
“During the performance, people gave tips. I think they commented,” she said. “From things I’d seen on Instagram, people were watching, they were tuning in. I thought that was really cool. As this garners more attention, I think more attention will be on it, and I think what artists could see will grow exponentially.”
Garro worked with Lincoln Calling in the past. She performed in the festival for many years and worked with the Lincoln Calling staff to perform at the 2020 naturalization ceremony, where immigrants are sworn in as citizens of the U.S. She said she’d be happy to work with Lincoln Calling in the future and believes other artists should support them.
“I think as an artist, it’s imperative to find a cause that you support,” she said. “If you’re an artist, and you’re here in the city and you’re working in the city, I think it would behoove you to at least affiliate yourself with something that supports the growth of your field in your city.”
During Lincoln Calling festivals, locals could financially support the nonprofit by buying tickets to the event. Lincoln Calling TV, however, is using Patreon to gain financial support. Munson estimated there are already over 30 Patrons who have subscribed at any of three levels, ranging from $3 to $20 per month.
“There’s no annoying ads,” he said. “We are able to do some sponsor integration. So there’s ways to monetize it without selling tickets … It gives us ways to pay our musicians and pay our staff.”
Munson believes this price point is cheap when compared to the price of going out to see live shows once a week.
“When you come in as a member at $10-20, you’re not only getting streams weekly, but you’re getting all this cool education content,” he said. “As you get to the upper Patreon tiers, you’re getting tickets to the festival, merch, access to MP3s of the music. We feel it’s a pretty good investment and pretty cheap to come invest in your local music scene.”
Lincoln Calling TV streams every Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for about an hour and a half. In the future, Munson hopes to start non-music programming and work with other nonprofits.
“We would love to create channels and create a platform that the whole Lincoln community would be able to use to reach their audience and to engage their audience,” he said. “I think the sky’s the limit as far as seeing where Lincoln Calling TV can go.”