Although all of its major events were cancelled through April 16 due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Lied Center for Performing Arts is still bringing the arts to Lincolnites through Lied Live Online, a series of live performances streamed on the center’s Facebook page. The series kicked off Friday night with a concert from Lincoln-based singer Emily Bass.
Bass, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln pre-law student double majoring in philosophy and English and a transcriber for the Nebraska State Legislature, has been performing in Lincoln for around 10 years. Every Monday night, she usually has a show at the Zoo Bar. Around five years ago, she formed The Near Miracle, an eight-piece band which performs about two gigs a month.
Bass said she was approached by Bill Stephan, executive director and chief artistic officer of the Lied Center, to see if she would be interested in participating in the Lied Live Online Series. After running a few technical tests with the Lied Center team, she streamed the show from her home on Friday.
Bass performed with a simple setup, sitting on a bench with a keyboard and microphone in front of her. Throughout the hour-long concert, she played a mix of rhythm and blues, gospel and soul. She also read poetry submitted to her by various members of the Lincoln community such as OmniArts Nebraska co-founder Daniel Kubert and a few UNL students. The show received a steady audience of around 200 viewers.
For Bass and many other performers, the last few weeks have been a very uncertain time, as many gigs have been cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. During her show, Bass took time to acknowledge the difficulties that the virus has caused for the local community while bringing levity to her viewers through her music.
After her concert, Bass spoke with The Daily Nebraskan over the phone about the show, the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the performing arts community and her experience with virtual performance.
The Daily Nebraskan: How was your prep for this concert different than for your typical shows, and what was your mindset going into the show?
Emily Bass: The biggest factor is the lack of audience. You're there playing a song and it's just dead. So [it’s] extra difficult in that way. I think a lot of performers feed off the energy that comes from the audience. And so if there's no feedback, you generate that yourself. The nice aspect of this show was that there were a lot of Facebook comments and things kind of cropping up as I went. So I knew people were engaged even if I couldn't hear them. It was hard to sing without my band or the usual accoutrements.
My living room is not really set up for concerts, so we got to gear out and we did the best we could. That was really fun. It was almost a guerilla style of concerting. I struggled with the material. I didn't know what to plan and if people wanted to hear sad songs or things that expressed deeper emotion or what, so it took me a little while creatively to decide what I would feel comfortable with putting out there, but other than that, it was fun. I've been missing people and it was a great way to connect.
DN: Have you ever performed in any way that resembled this before? Anything else that compares to this experience?
Bass: My large band has done a few streamed concerts at things, so there's some of that, but it's never been with the caveat that you have to just not be around other people. I think things that we take for granted even in that process, like the energy and the cohesiveness of the performance are really hard to do when you're trying not to touch anybody else. So we have done a few things [like this], and that was really great, but that's as close as it's come and that's nothing like what I did tonight. You know, it really feels like you have no clothes on. It's naked and a little nerve-racking.
DN: What has it been like for you and other artists that you know in the last few weeks?
Bass: Well I think the biggest word is fear. Everybody's scared. Everybody's uncertain. It's not like this business comes with guaranteed security anyway, and so when you kind of find a way to make your way and you're doing that and the rug gets pulled out from under you, it's just uncertain. It's terrifying. Personally, I play a show every week at the Zoo Bar so that's been canceled. So my connection to the other musicians I play with as well as my direct connection to the audience is just not there, you know? It just feels empty. We had three or four gigs scheduled within the next month that have all been postponed, but nobody knows. So there's just this looming sense of uncertainty that's really scary. And I guess for a lot of musicians I know ... we don't make a lot of money doing it anyway. For us, it's fulfilling intrinsically. So the thing that I miss the most is the ability to express and have that live feeling with other people expressing the same things at the same time as me. I'm not making my living doing music. So for me, I just, excuse my language, but I f***ing miss everybody. But I know for musicians it's incredibly hard, and there are a ton of musicians in town who rely solely on gigs for their income. I'm really blessed to have another job, but it's not that way for everybody. And I know people are hurting and it's not just musicians. It's service, it's anything that's people reliant. People are just uncertain. They're scared. They don't know what's gonna happen.
DN: How can people continue to support the performing artist community while venues remain closed?
Bass: Watch these shows, comment, show up, donate money when people are performing live. That's huge. They can share, you know, if you're watching something [where] you know an artist, you can help them broaden their audience by liking and sharing and commenting. Obviously, the way social media works is that things are like a web. So just helping performers get their name out there. If you've got extra money to donate, donate to them. [It's] not even donating. They're playing live for you online. Do your best when things get back up and running to go out and see those people play. They're going to be working really hard when this all comes back online. So do your best to support them, tell them you like their stuff, buy their albums, download their streams, do all that stuff that they've been asking you to do kind of ad nauseam for years and years and years. It really matters now. So keep watching their shows, keep liking, keep sharing. Help[ing] people build that community that they need to sustain themselves is going to be one great way to really do that.
DN: What do you feel is the importance of the arts in a time like this?
Bass: They bind us. They're the way that all the difficult emotions get expressed and get dealt with. People are turning to the arts. It's everything from the person who spends the day bingeing Netflix to the person who watches live feeds all day on Facebook. People are turning to creators, expressors, people that share things just to connect. And the arts have always been that way as long as history has been recorded. It's a way to connect and to say things that we all are thinking. People, especially right now, since we can't be together, need that energetic togetherness and the arts bind that way.
DN: What do you hope this show and future Lied Live Online shows bring to the community?
Bass: Well, without sounding tropey or trite, a sense of community, a way to be together when we can't physically be together. Maybe on the other side of this when we see each other now we're going to know people's names, we're gonna have a little bit more familiarity. What do I hope to see? I just hope our community survives, I mean, emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially, all of that, and I think the Lied Center is doing their part to make sure that happens. Our survival and flourishing on a grand scale, but on a small scale, just keeping us connected, keeping us above water.