Social Distancing: When Your Home Is Your Stage
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a Charlotte musician has been supporting his family and trying to uplift his fans through daily Facebook concerts.
Back in March when social distancing and stay-at-home orders were just starting to be the new normal, Charlotte singer-songwriter Josh Daniel was trying to figure out how he could continue to do what he loves while paying the bills. That was a new challenge for the full-time musician since all of his gigs were canceled for the foreseeable future.
"My wife was like, ‘Why don’t you put your speakers outside and play outside — I think our neighbors will like that,’" Daniel said.
So he did just that. And it turns out the neighbors were instant fans.
"Everybody came out on their porches and started hanging out and they were like asking, ‘Are you going to do this again tomorrow?’ And I was like, ‘Ah, yeah, I guess so,'" Daniel said. "That was the genesis of it, deciding that, 'Well, I’m going to play music either way. If I can’t play it in a venue, I’m going to make the venue my house."
But the biggest crowd watching Daniel’s daily 5 p.m. concerts — or Quarantine Sessions as he calls them — are the ones tuning in virtually. Daniel live streams the concerts on Facebook — something he used to do during non-pandemic times when he played live music in venues.
His sets last a couple of hours and he plays a mix of jam band and oldies covers and original songs.
No two concerts are exactly the same. He credits the variety in his playlists and the consistency of the daily shows with the large online crowd he pulls — averaging 700 viewers, and that’s just on Facebook. He also streams the shows on his website. Viewers are from all over — California, Washington state and Texas. And then there are the super far-flung fans who watch in Ireland, Germany and Hawaii.
Daniel is offering something so many need right now: good music and consistency. His show is something people can rely on. People know they can count on him to be the 5 o'clock entertainment they crave, and his family is feeling that gratitude. Between virtual tips fans send during shows and the merchandise he’s selling online, Daniel is continuing to support his family without having to leave his front porch.
"I think I’ve sold 500 shirts and a couple hundred CDs," Daniel said. "I have a Christmas CD and someone is buying it, so clearly people want to support me — they are buying a Christmas CD in the middle of May, and I appreciate the hell out of it too. It’s really nice of them. All those things are helping me pay my bills while we can’t really work out in public."
Daniel plays on average about 250 gigs a year. That's a lot of time on the road away from his wife Kellie and their two kids, 4-year-old Maddie and 2-year-old Sonny. You can often see them on the front porch while Daniel plays. These daily concerts have been the ultimate family bonding experience.
Daniel’s family isn’t just enjoying the time together -- they also needed it. Before the pandemic hit, Daniel’s son, Sonny, was scheduled to have a major operation on his skull. Sonny was born with a genetic disorder called Apert syndrome which causes skull fusions and can delay brain development.
So on March 30, which also happened to be Daniel’s 41st birthday, the family came together for Sonny’s surgery.
"We were definitely nervous about the virus and everything, but he was at Levine Children’s and no one was getting in there with COVID," he said. "This is a surgery that allows his brain to grow, so his doctor has been watching him for months and months and he said we have to do this now."
Sonny spent about a week in the NICU recovering. Daniel and his wife took turns going back and forth to the hospital and spending time at home with their daughter, Maddie. In an odd way, the stay-at-home order gave the family the thing it needed most: time.
And Daniel continued to play.
"It gives me an escape, and it gives everyone an escape: At 5 o'clock, bam — here we are," Daniel said. "The power of music is going to get our minds off of what’s going on in the world."
Sonny’s surgery was a success, and he’s recovering well.
And while family and close friends were aware of what was going on, Daniel was at first hesitant to let in his hundreds of viewers in on what the family had been going through. Sharing music was one thing; sharing such a personal story was another.
"I just played every day, and I was out on the porch, and on the day that he came home, our neighbors made a sign that said 'Welcome Home Sonny,'" Daniel said. "It was hanging on our front door, and you can see the front door on the stream."
That day — the day Sonny came home — felt like the right time to share with his fans.
There was an outpouring of support after that, and Daniel is giving back.
He’s auctioned off memorabilia and even a chance to win a personal concert in your front yard with him. The money raised is going to an organization created by Sonny’s surgeon, Dr. David Matthews. The Craniofacial Children Foundation teaches and provides surgeries like the one Sonny had in developing countries. Daniel raised about $5,000 for the foundation.
When Daniel thinks about what he misses about playing live music on stage in front of a crowd, there’s plenty to miss, like the comradery of playing with fellow musicians in person, that’s just not the same through a screen.
But mostly, he’s trying to enjoy his time with the best audience and stage he could ever ask for: his family and home. And he’s finding gratitude for the hundreds who appreciate him sharing not only his music but his family’s story during a time when most mics are off and most stages are dark.
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