Sharisse Germain was putting together her new band, Topaz Riot. Yam Haus was revving up for its first national tour. Tommy Bentz was preparing a new album.

But as the outbreak of the new coronavirus spread, gatherings were banned and shows were cancelled.

Local artists, though, are still finding ways to connect with fans, while following required social distancing. guidelines

Germain, a Somerset singer, was working on solo tunes while also playing with Topaz Riot, a soul funk fusion band producing original music. The band was booking shows every weekend, sometimes a couple in a weekend, in the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin.

“All of a sudden now it’s just completely dropped off,” Germain said of the band's gigs.

They played a show on March 13 in downtown Minneapolis. It should have been a busy show. The crowd numbered zero.

The band also has not been rehearsing in the interest of social distancing.

Germain has been holding a “Java Jive” on Facebook live Tuesday and Thursday mornings on her artist page, Jermaine Germain.

She said her goal is to spread positivity and hope, as well as music, during this time of pandemic. She sits down with her piano to play mainly cover songs, as well as takes requests. She also takes time to talk about uplifting news headlines.

“I’ve found that smiling and singing and dancing can really help kind of press forward, especially if you’re stuck in the house and kind of going crazy,” she said.

Staying positive

Yam Haus members and roommates Seth Blum and Lars Pruitt are isolating together.  They and other band members Zach Beinlich and Jake Felstow are staying connected with fans on social media. Submitted photo
Yam Haus members and roommates Seth Blum and Lars Pruitt are isolating together. They and other band members Zach Beinlich and Jake Felstow are staying connected with fans on social media. Submitted photo

The Hudson-based band Yam Haus was ready to go full steam ahead this year, with plans for a national tour, its biggest headline show to date and finalizing an EP.

“This was shaping up to be a pretty important year for us in terms of just some momentum starting to build,” frontman Lars Pruitt said.

That changed in a matter of days. Their gigs are cancelled through April, and they’re preparing for more cancellations in May and June.

The band already had a regular presence on social media, and has turned to it to stay connected with fans.

“One of the only major ways you can connect with more people than who you live with is social media,” Pruitt said.

They’re doing live streams, cooking shows, Zumba classes, Q&As, weekly BINGO games and taking requests.

“It’s important for our fans to be reminded of as much normal, positive things as possible,” Pruitt said. “I think it’s good for people’s mental health to have things to look forward to should they want to do them.”

Members of the band — Pruitt, Seth Blum, Zach Beinlich and Jake Felstow — have been physically separated by social distancing and safer-at-home orders.

“It’s weird,” Blum said. “The last three years, almost every day we’d spend together.”

Connecting with fans

As an independent musician, Tommy Bentz of River Falls said the focus is on booking gigs on a regular basis, always trying to get more high-profile gigs.

“Now we’re kind of having to make a gig,” he said.

This time of year is light on shows for him, but he was working on releasing a new album, which has now been pushed back.

His last in-person show was March 14.

“Then by the next week it started falling like dominoes,” he said.

Bentz has started hosting weekly live shows on his Facebook page, Sundays from 1-2 p.m.

“I just thought it would be a good idea to play and connect with fans,” he said. “It’s actually gone over pretty well.”

He said he hopes all the live shows, not just his own, show viewers the value of music.

“I’ve gotten so many post comments from people like ‘Oh, this is the best hour of my day’ or 'thank you for making hits happen, I’ve looked forward to this all week,’” Bentz said.

Interest in the band has shot up, and he’s seeing camaraderie from other artists as well.

How to support

Germain said people often look to music in times of adversity for hope, inspiration and a reminder of beauty in the world.

Bentz said many people have commented that they need music to get them through.

"It not only lifts people’s spirits but allows them to connect with another human being,” he said.

Music can transport you, Pruitt said, whether it’s old favorites or new songs.

“It suddenly makes me forget about a lot of the tough realities right now,” he said. “It’s a nice break from the head space we can be in.”

Germain practices music part time and has a day job, but said she has friends that are financially devastated right now.

“A lot of them rely on people going to bars and clubs and theaters and seeing them perform in order for them to just be able to eat and be able to put gas in their cars,” she said.

Most artists have digital tip jars that people can donate to, on websites or social media. People can also follow artist pages, buy merchandise or book artists for future dates with prepayments. Watching and commenting on those live shows makes a difference too, Bentz said.

“It’s a big thing that really makes people feel like they’re doing something of importance,” he said.

Bentz said he’s not sure how people are going to feel about going to shows, even if it’s safe to leave home again.

“I hope that when we can go out and see each other in person that translates to people actually doing so and supporting hits,” he said.

Pruitt said people should be as informed as they can about their favorite bands and businesses.

“Take a look at your community and look around at the things you want to have be around when this is all over,” he said. “Once you’ve identified those things, throw whatever you can at it.

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