NEW PORT RICHEY — Porch song Sundays are a regular gig these days for original musicians Julie Black and David Eichenberger. Notes emanate from his guitar and her voice against a front-window backdrop framed by a hanging “Love” sign and a leaning broom.
Ruth Ferguson, a fan, watches from a safe distance on the lawn. Neighbors Linda and Don Blake unfold lawn chairs in their driveway cross the street to take in a set similar to one performed weeks ago at Sips Wine Bar in downtown New Port Richey or ZenfiniTea in Holiday.
The rest of the audience is tuning to the live-streamed performance from somewhere else. The duo offers video greetings and thanks to those checking in. Some contribute to a virtual tip jar via Venmo or Paypal.
“It’s certainly a lot different then when you are on a stage,” Eichenberger said. “The relationship between the audience and the performer has been set for hundreds of years, and we’re breaking that pattern.”
Even so, live-streaming is a way to keep the music going, and offer comfort to long-time fans and others tuning in for the first time. Other Pasco County musicians are doing similar performances.
“The idea is to continue to connect with people and create some relief, while at the same time practicing social distancing and being mindful of everyone’s health,” Black said.
It might help pay the bills, as well, at a time when musicians have been severely impacted.
Eichenberger teaches guitar lessons on the side, but live performance is the couple’s primary income. The shows also support members of Black’s larger blues band, a fixture at local joints like Blur Nightclub in Dunedin and blues festivals throughout the state.
That’s all gone for now as cancelled shows rack up. And as the state begins to loosen restrictions, there’s an expectation that crowds will be cautious about coming back, Black said.
Tampa Bay musician and songwriter J.T. Brown said he lost about $6,000 in cancelled performances for April and expects it’s going to be grim for a while.
“It’s been brutal,” said Brown, who also has been live-streaming where he can.
In early April, he played a hollowed room at Ordinance One, a trendy brew bar in downtown New Port Richey known for showcasing independent musicians.
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“To be honest, especially with live performances, you rely on the energy of the crowd," Brown said. “It was quiet. You get lost in the music in a different way. It’s much more personal”
“I did okay money-wise, considering,” he said. “The first couple of streams I was able to pay half my mortgage.”
For Brown and a couple of partners, producing live-stream shows also may be a source of revenue into the future. He recently live-streamed a show for Amberlin band members at Attic at Rock Brothers in Ybor City, he said, and “got over 80,000 views for that.”
Bryan Hackman, owner of Cotee River Brewing Company in New Port Richey has hosted six online concerts and has another four scheduled in the next two weeks, including a Mother’s Day concert with saxophonist John Hughes.
“We have supported live music in our venue since we opened, and when we realized the musicians were greatly impacted by losing their gigs, some losing all of their income, we thought we could help them out by offering our venue for them to live-stream their show,” Hackman said.
Donation fatigue might be setting in for some fans, but some might be willing to pay for a virtual ticket to a well-produced show they can watch from home.
“Over the first hour, we had over 1,000 views, and that’s something to look at,” Black said of her porch concerts.
Live-streaming also is a way to remind people of the places they will return to when things let up, said Brett Ciper, owner of Ordinance One.
He’s been keeping things going by offering take-out brew-specials, live-streaming musicians and hosting fundraising nights for staff. He’s also working on expanding outdoor seating to accommodate the anticipated restrictions on indoor capacity when the place can reopen.
“I do it so people see that we are still here,” he said, “I think it offers sense of normalcy for the people that came once a week, or even more, people that haven’t seen the inside of this place since March 17.”