NEWBURYPORT — As shockwaves from the coronavirus pandemic cost scores of people their jobs and put a halt on months of upcoming public events around the globe, many area musicians and entertainers are facing an unforeseen inability to continue performing, stripping away their livelihood and forcing many to adapt to a new climate of social isolation.
Michael Bernier, a Newburyport-based musician and emcee who books gigs for numerous musicians through his company Evolvement Music, just wrapped up a successful tour of the Virgin Islands, but it became clear when he stepped off his flight back to Boston that things were not the same at home as he had left them.
For Bernier, who said the past year has been the strongest and most successful of his career so far, news of the coronavirus pandemic’s growing severity hit like a whirlwind, and he soon found himself canceling months of gigs, both his own and those slated for all of the artists he represents.
So far, he has had to pull the plug on 150 performances that were scheduled for venues across Greater Boston through mid-April; he expects the cancellations and postponements to keep rolling in.
“I make my entire way in this life through large gatherings and they have all been shut down — every performance, every speaking engagement has been canceled,” Bernier said. “I’m 20-plus years into building this career, and in the course of two weeks, it’s gone. It can come back around when the world is ready, but the physical performances where I thrive have been taken from me … nothing has ever had an impact like this.”
Bernier emphasized the financial strife the situation is causing, both for himself and for entertainers and performance venues that rely on ticket sales for income.
“It takes me from being up top down to zero immediately, and you know what it costs to live around here,” Bernier said. “Many people could have several months with no income. We’re already seeing places closing their doors … . You can’t prepare for this.”
Also feeling the brunt of forced social distancing is Liz Frame, a Newburyport musician whose band, Liz Frame and the Kickers, has spent the past 10 years as one of Greater Newburyport’s top acts.
Frame, who also works full time for a local digital marketing company, said she will miss the extra income from her band’s gigs, which usually happen at least a few times per month.
But in her case, she said, the biggest impact comes from the emotional toll and creative frustration of being separated from the stage and from her bandmates for an extended period of time.
“The extra income was certainly helpful, but beyond that my band and I have been doing this for over 10 years, and to not be able to do it now is really disheartening, and to not know when we can resume is frustrating,” Frame said.
As Frame explained, The Kickers were gearing up to release a new album and spend the summer touring to promote it, all of which is now being pushed back indefinitely.
And while she simply hopes to eventually reschedule her tour and finish recording her album, Frame said she recognizes that many other local musicians without day jobs will be in a much tougher spot in the coming months.
“We had everything in place, and now everything is on hold. It’s a struggle for small, touring musicians like myself,” Frame said. “There are lots of musicians in this area. We all love to go out and gig, and a lot of us need the extra money. I think it’s really frustrating for anyone in the arts, especially musicians who are used to playing live.”
Over the past week, many musicians and entertainers have begun to shift their gaze to the online performance world, streaming digital concerts and events that are much harder to monetize than in-person performances.
As Bernier put it, it’s now up to viewers to decide how much they want to support local struggling artists.
“It’s not like there’s a venue that can offer a portion of compensation from their income of food and beverage sales,” Bernier said. “We’re looking for people to show with money or tips that they feel for the entertainer with money that they enjoy it. You can watch and offer nothing.”
But now with his usually busy travel schedule wiped clean for the foreseeable future, Bernier said he is enjoying time at home with his family while focusing his creativity on new avenues that will keep his career rolling.
“I could sit here and feel like my world is ending, but instead I find myself thinking of ways to overcome these new challenges and generate new income for the family,” Bernier said, highlighting his hopes to focus on creating new music and video content while also shifting focus toward his clothing brand, Enjoy Your Life.
“I don’t feel myself being sad,” he said. “There’s more of an excitement about figuring out ways to overcome this.”
Reflecting the usual optimism that has been a trademark of his public persona, Bernier said he is hopeful that people will come together to support artists during the pandemic.
“We’re all in this together,” he said. “We need people more than ever to love each other and express that love, and support those who are in need.”
Frame said she plans to take the isolation as an opportunity to focus on her songwriting craft, hoping to eventually re-enter the performance world with a new, refreshed batch of creative work.
“It sort of forces me to do what I love to do the most, which is write songs,” Frame said. “Maybe, I’ll sit back and do that.”