Local musicians navigate life’s new rhythm during pandemic

Concerts live streamed from home are among new ways to uplift audiences.

Music has the power to bring people together.

Moorestown resident April Mae Iorio says when you’re performing live for a crowd, there’s an undeniable exchange of energy that happens between the band and audience.

But with the current stay-at-home orders and guidelines on social gatherings, it’s unclear when South Jersey’s musicians will again take the stage in a crowded room. So locals are finding new ways to connect through music.

Together with husband Dave “Catfish” Fecca and their upright bassist, Iorio is part of April Mae & The June Bugs, a roots band influenced by jump blues, swing and rockabilly. Like many other small businesses, the band had to cease operations and forego shows at venues. 

Since mid-March all of the group’s shows have been cancelled, as well as a New England tour that was scheduled for  April. The tour was rescheduled for September, but Iorio said cancellations are now coming in for June. 

Iorio admits the cancellations are stressful and have caused a growing  financial anxiety. Normally, she spends months projecting the band’s  budget based on tour revenues. When the cancellations started coming in, Iorio watched as her entire budget was erased. 

All in all though, Iorio understands that she and her husband are lucky to be safe at home as not among health care workers and other essential employees risking their lives on the front lines of the virus. 

“As musicians, we also facilitate and encourage people to gather at shows; I feel a personal responsibility to take things very slow and do our best to keep people safe,” Iorio said. “I don’t want to encourage people to gather until we [can] do so safely.”

So, what are professional performers to do in the meantime? Iorio said she  and many others in the musical community have turned to a virtual stage. Musicians livestream from home and some music presenters are producing livestreamed shows, scheduling musicians for interviews and performances on their podcasts as well. 

On April 13, Iorio and Fecca performed  a few songs on the Instagram show “Main Line Tonight,” with host Melissa Jacobs, in what was their first experience with livestreaming. On April 30, they performed their first virtual concert, streamed on their April Mae & The June Bugs Facebook page. 

Iorio said it’s an entirely new and unfamiliar medium for the band. When they perform in normal times, they have control over how the sound is mixed, but when performing virtually, she has to navigate how the device they’re streaming on interfaces with the sound. So, Iorio takes her time at home to learn more about streaming.

“We’ve received loving feedback from our last live streamed show, that it uplifted people’s mood, which was our intent, so we’re going to continue with it,” Iorio noted.

“My goal is to keep improving my use of the technological platforms and the sound quality in our shows, to bring the best simulation of a Iive concert that we can.”

Cherry Hill resident and musician Donovan Rice has worked in some form of production for nearly his entire career. When he graduated from college, he snagged a job at NFL Films, and from there, he worked on commercials and social media for Campbell Soup. After that wrapped, he started his own production company, and music was a bit of a fun side job.

Along with some friends, Rice formed a Beatles cover band and started doing small tours. The band’s gigs soon grew from a side job to a nice way to make a living. In March, that source of income came to a halt when Rice, like Iorio, was faced with a wave of performance cancellations. 

Rice performs with a Beatles cover band called The Newspaper Taxis, as well as a post-Beatles cover band called Beyond Abbey Road. Weddings, private parties and bar gigs are the bands’ bread and butter, but the current restrictions have put all those events and the accompanying income on hold for an unknown amount of time.  

“Losing that has been devastating,” Rice said.

He’s gotten back into a good mindset during the pandemic to create music. He wrote a song titled “Covert-19,” about COVID-19 causing cancellation of the Little League season. When he went down to the local ballfields and saw the closure signs everywhere, his heart was broken thinking about how kids are missing out. He said it felt like a microcosm of everything going on in Cherry Hill and the world right now. 

Rice took his 6-year-old son, Jett, around town to shoot the accompanying music video. He said while it’s been a difficult time, he’s enjoyed bonding with his son and showing him the ropes when it comes to creating a music video.

Rice is also engaged in discussions with his band about how they stay relevant during this time. While the goal would be to create new music, not everyone can record at home, and with no set timeline on when social distancing will end, it’s difficult to know what equipment to invest in. 

In the meantime, those with equipment — Rice and his drummer — are trying to put together enough material for a release, and what will be his first new introduction of music since 2012. 

“It’s the best way to make money in this industry that I know of right now,” Rice noted. “I’m really excited to post this stuff.” 

Iorio and her band are also working on new music. While the musicians typically record in a studio, she is reading up on how they can record from home. In the meantime, the focus is on performing songs that accentuate the positive and uplift people. 

“I feel like uplifting people’s spirits is so important right now,” Iorio said, “and music has a magical way of doing that.”

April Mae & The June Bugs’ next concert from home will be on Thursday, May 28, at 7:30 p.m., streamed live from their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AprilMAEandTheJuneBugs. To learn more about the group, visit https://aprilmaeandthejunebugs.com.  To learn more about Rice, visit www.DonovanRice.com