The lost year in Columbus music

Joel Oliphint

It's a strange thing looking back at music pieces written in January, February and early March. We had no idea the mess we were about to enter, and how devastating it would be for musicians, venues, bartenders, sound engineers and all the other workers directly and indirectly affected by the coronavirus shutdowns.

For example, in late February we learned that Metallica would no longer be a part of Sonic Temple. Little did we know that, in fact, no one would perform at Sonic Temple this year. The previous month, we made a list of our most anticipated concerts of 2020, most of which never happened (Melted, Sturgill Simpson, Vampire Weekend, Algiers).

We kicked off the year with Alive's annual Bands to Watch concert at Ace of Cups, featuring Mery Steel, Joey Aich, Son of Dribble, Nothin' and Sam Rothstein. Rob Hardin's photos from the evening capture a beautiful night of live music that feels like a different lifetime, a different world. Needless to say, we won't be hosting a Bands to Watch concert in 2021. In fact, we're just hoping Ace of Cups and other venues will still be here in 2021.

Pre-pandemic, Ace also hosted Andy Shauf, who released one of the year's most charming records about a night out on the town, as well as Hello Emerson, who snagged Alive's consensuspick for local record of the year. Whitney snuck in a show at the Newport, Trippie Redd hit Express Live and local treasure Jacoti Sommes celebrated a new release at the Summit. Previous Band to Watch Kashis Keyz took a leap forward with album Rookie Year, and Blanket Boys found comfort amid the wreckage with its debut full-length.

Then in mid-March, things fell apart. We started keeping track of concert cancellations, but soon all shows disappeared. As musicians and venues wondered what came next, Andy and I began asking similar questions about Alive's music coverage. Typically, we interview musicians in advance of relevant events, usually an album release show for local musicians and Columbus gigs for touring musicians. With all of that halted due to Gov. DeWine's stay-at-home orders, what would we write about? What should we write about?

In a matter of days, musicians adapted, and so did we. Linda Trip pivoted to a livestream performance, and Van Dale launched a "Stay at Home and Chill" virtual tour. We talked to local artists and organizers and listed ways to help local musicians during the COVID-19 crisis. Instead of a weekly concert calendar, we began noting concerts to stream from home. And with the sudden pivot to virtual shows, we asked Secret Studio's Keith Hanlon how to livestream concerts without looking like crap and sounding like garbage.

Over time, we all began to settle into the new abnormal. Bands like Cherry Chrome, Hidden Places and RJD2 released albums without release shows. Brad Keefe spoke to local musicians for a "Columbus performers talk virtual performing" series. Like all online phenomena, scammers tried to ruin a good thing.

Cory Hajde spoke about navigating the uncertain concert landscape with BravoArtist. In late May, we took a peek behind the curtain to reveal how Natalie's in Grandview dipped its toe into the water for a tentative, socially distant return to live music, and in June we checked in with 14 talent buyers and  independent venue owners around town to see how they were holding up and what the future might hold. 

With no local gigs and no tours, some musicians used the unexpected downtime to make new music. Moviola's Ted Hattemer released a quarantine album, followed by shutdown-initiated releases from Mery Steel, Good Reverend, Mark Sims and others. Many other bands used the time to put finishing touches on long-in-the-works releases.

Organizer Chris Till opted to throw a new kind of pandemic music festival — one that happens on the moon, in your imagination.

In the end, there were plenty of music-related stories to cover. Lydia Loveless released a new recordWe named Micah Schnabel the Best Musician in Columbus. Wally Mitchel turned 80. Ebri Yahloe and Carly Fratianne rediscovered their voices. Ace of Cups plotted its hopeful return. The world kept turning. Musicians continued writing and recording. The pandemic may have turned things upside down — and we are absolutely still pining for the day loud, sweaty concerts can safely return to local independent venues — but amid all the struggles, music remained a constant in 2020. And it'll be here next year, too.

An empty local stage