On Air

Local Music and COVID-19

By Bob Bennett

Long Island has an active and vibrant local music scene. Many local artists are trying to make a living from their music, and a large part of their income comes from performing live in the many music venues that are scattered around the island. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the ensuing lockdown and stay-at-home orders have eliminated the ability of these artists to have that source of income, as well as get out and share their music with the public, both of which are essential things for a musician. This has forced local musicians to get creative and take advantage of the live stream capabilities on Facebook and other platforms to bring their music to the people, and perhaps pick up a few tips from the virtual tip jar in the process.

As a consumer of local music, on any given night prior to the pandemic I would have to choose between several live events spread out across the Island, now I have to choose between several live streams that may be happening simultaneously. As always, the rich and varied music scene of Long Island has no shortage of choices. Here is a sample of some of the online events that have been happening on Long Island since the lockdown started.

Don Audio’s “Playin’ it Safe” Series

Don Audio is a concert production company based in Holtsville, NY, run by local sound engineer Don Nostrand. They have a studio in Holtsville that’s well equipped to provide quality sound and video. Don’s arranged a variety of local musicians to come up and perform hour long live streams as part of the “Playin’ it Safe” series. Artists who have performed include Jesse Pagano, Jack Licitra, Travis McKeveny, Bryan Gallo, WUSB’s own Buddy Merriam, and many more. The events happen at 7PM and go for an hour. All shows include a virtual tip cup link so you can show your appreciation by making a venmo payment to the artist. All the shows are posted on YouTube afterwards. Check out the full schedule!

Ladybeast Collective Concert Series

The Ladybeast Collective is a concert series started by Rorie Kelly to celebrate the music of women and nonbinary people. The aim of the series is to be a listening space where original music from female and nonbinary artists can be heard and appreciated in all of its glory. Rorie is a long time supporter of female and nonbinary Long Island artists, and started Ladybeast Collective long before the pandemic, featuring live shows and open mics that featured a variety of artists. Recently, she has presented a series of “Siren Saturdays” minifest events, where five women - Rorie Kelly, Nico Padden, Christine Sweeney, Karen Bella, and Laurie Anne Creus, each perform a live set from their own home studios. These are fantastic musicians whose charismatic original performances really provide a much needed wave of positivity in these uncertain times. They’ve even captured the attention of Newsday, which featured this event on the cover of Part 2 a couple weeks ago. Check out their Facebook page for information about future events and video of past events.

Socially Distant Collaborations

The Stay-at-home order is not only problematic for artists and bands who need to play in front of people, it’s also making it difficult for bands whose members are physically distant to meet, play, and practice together. There are two Long Island bands who are using technology to solve these problems and bring live performances to audiences despite their physical separation.

The band Aquarii has produced a series of youtube videos called “Aquariisolation”. The video shows the different band members in split screen performing in their own personal spaces, with different musicians appearing as their feature parts come up. The videos are really well done and worth checking out. Check out their Facebook page at for links to the videos and a bunch of other good stuff.

Another Long Island band, The New Students, has been extraordinarily busy during this time. Shortly after the stay-at-home order began, I started receiving an email every day from them with news of a new “Quarantune” they had produced. The email contains a link to a youtube video that shows the band performing together in what looks like a ZOOM gallery view. It’s created using a software app called “Acapella”. The videos include a variety of Bluegrass songs, some classics, some New Students originals, and some covers of popular songs performed in Bluegrass style, including the Toto classic “Africa” and Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls”. They’ve produced over sixty of these videos since they started, and they can all be seen in this YouTube playlist.

“Music is the Cure” events

Nikki Silva is the lead vocalist of the local band The Big Happy, as well as an actor, writer, director, playwright, teacher, and all around awesome person. Before the virus hit, she organized a music series called the “Collab Party”, where she would bring a collection of local musicians together at a venue to perform together. It was just getting ramped up when the lockdown dampened her plans, so she decided to do something different to try to bring local musicians together. Thus started the “Music is the Cure” event. Her idea was for as many people as possible to learn the same uplifting song and step out of their home on Sunday at 12 noon, and perform the song publicly, and if possible capture the event on video. It started on March 22nd with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, and every week since she’s done a different song - “Here Comes the Sun”, “Don’t Worry About a Thing”, “Amazing Grace”, “Lean on Me”, “Joy to the World”, “Come On, Get Happy”, and “Put Your Records On”. Follow the Collab Party Facebook page for more events.

Top Local Music Album Pick - Karen Bella

Karen Bella released her debut EP with a release party at Rockwood Music Hall, on the eve of the COVID-19 lockdown, and this record is just what we needed to take us through these strange times. Karen’s voice is simultaneously soothing and invigorating, and right out of the gate she grabs our attention in “Fly”, the opening track, and continues to enthrall us with “Indio”, into the uplifting and inspirational “Needle in the Hay”. “Good Morning” paints a beautiful picture of love and intimacy, then Karen brings out the big guns for the next track “Jack Honey”, a captivating tune made perfect by Karen’s sultry vocals. She then takes us out easy with “San Andreas”.

This is an EP that you will find yourself listening to over and over again. The tunes are captivating, the production is exceptional, and the vocal performance is amazing. You’ll want to see Karen perform live, either via live stream or eventually in person when possible. She’s doing a lot of live stream performances now, so check out her facebook page for her schedule and archives of previous live streams.

To connect with Karen Bella’s music: