Archive for March 2020


Covers From Home: Music In A Time Of Quarantine

March 21st, 2020 — 3:02pm




It started last Thursday, with a short set from Kris Delmhorst’s living room; her concert at Club Passim that night had been cancelled at the very last minute, in reaction to concerns about contagion in close quarters, and so she turned to the airwaves for an online set, to benefit herself, the club, and the staff that would have worked there that night.

The results were a harbinger, and a blessing: a crowd much, much larger than Passim itself can hold, and an outpouring of donations – enough to support all involved, and enough to seed what is now, just one week later, a virtual “festival” of home YouTube recordings from dozens of artists, all in support of The Passim Emergency Artist Relief Fund – aka the PEAR fund, a model that has fast become a template for a holy host of new media attempts to keep the music flowing, and support artists, in a rapidly changing world of isolation and interconnectivity.

It’s ironic, in its way: we’re all alone, and forcibly so, and yet music is everywhere, if by “everywhere” we mean Facebook, Twitch, SoundIt, YouTube, and the rest of the virtual social spaces we share desperately as we take our bodily selves out of the picture. And the silver linings are huge, for those invested in the world of folk: an outpouring of unsurprisingly sparse recordings and live events, typified by intimate settings and small home-bound performance spaces, are rapidly reshaping what is usually a much more diverse range of genre in the world at large, revealing a sound that is stripped down by necessity: bands separated from their bandmates; singer-songwriters quietly talking and singing so as not to wake their kids or roommates; performers without soundboards or speakers, save the small amplifiers of their own home recording studios, phones, and laptops.

Artists keep making art, albeit sometimes in their pajamas, or yesterday’s clothes, and it’s being shaped by something new: the distance, and the home. They have to: they’ve got time on their hands, now that they’re not on the road; the creative urge remains in the air around them, pressured by the times; many suddenly have no other way to pay the bills, unless we open our wallets from afar. And we’re here, too, lonely and eager to share and be part of something bigger, with time on our own hands to listen, and celebrate the ways that folk music can bring us together.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we need these connections between us, and need the artists that need us so much, too. And so something new is born, like a diamond emerging from the detritus of being underground.

Is the model sustainable? Will the feast – this virtual folk fest, with its multiple stages throughout the day – last as long as we are apart? It’s hard to know. To some extent, the answer must be “yes”: artist tours are cancelled everywhere; the soonest I’ve heard of anyone making new plans for touring is December, and that’s a long, cold, penniless wait for the average singer-songwriter or band member looking towards spring touring and the summer festival season to feed and clothe themselves and their families, and make enough to keep the music flowing. The initial firehose effect should fade into something more manageable, I’d expect, but I’d love to pronounce that this sudden, unexpected outpouring of music – one which has left us with some difficult choices in the last few days, as some of us try to stream as many as three or four shows at once – will continue forever, and that audiences will continue to pour forth their support, making it possible for us all to get through this challenging time together. I hope it does.

But “likely” is all we get for anything right now. As Andrew Sullivan notes, “The one thing we know about epidemics is that at some point they will end. The one thing we don’t know is who we will be then.”

Welcome to the new normal, where nothing is sure.

Today, then, let us celebrate what we have, in the here and now, with a first week’s worth of coverfolk of hope, longing, and social isolation, played out loud and mostly live online since the cancellations began: three solid sets, featuring live online coverfolk concerts, a short set of Bandcamp tributes and covers collections whose release dates were pushed forward to take advantage of yesterday’s one-time offer to give 100% of the proceeds directly to artists, to help them stabilize their finances for the long quarantine ahead, and a short spate of live single-shot covers performed via stream and then archived for our viewing pleasure.

What’s happening now is history; someday, I tell my students, you will be telling these stories to your children, and your grandchildren. Here’s a soundtrack you might consider, when you do.


Set 1: Coverfolk Concerts

I’ve been meaning to write about young wunderkind siblings Chase and Sierra Eagleson for weeks; those who haven’t discovered them should absolutely head over later to their YouTube pages to check out more coverage of the likes of Bon Iver, Brandi Carlile, Fleetwood Mac, Gregory Alan Isakov, James Taylor, The Milk Carton Kids, Billie Eilish, Bruce Springsteen, Hozier Ben Howard, and Coldplay than even this 3 hour concert has to offer. Joyfully, live in session – just as in their increasingly vital collection of previous covers, pre-recorded both separately and together – the Ohio-based duo are comfortable and sweet, grateful for the company, and utterly stunning in performance of a HUGE set of cover songs, from Childish Gambino to Elvis, with truly etherial harmonies and sensitive, soft acoustic arrangements that hold us close.




Most other concerts we’ve been watching aren’t directly shareable here; Facebook, while a great medium for fast and intimate connection and recording, is inflexible about passing content off to other platforms. The good news: you can just click through. Check out, then, the first half hour or so of Ellis Paul and Laurie MacAllister’s Tiny Living Room Concert – Covers Show #1, and the growing archive of Chris from Parsonsfield’s daily 4:00 EDT live shows from his living room, which trend heavily towards coverage; each from each is a gem, and worth the visit.


Set 2: Bandcamp Coverfolk Releases (3/20/2020)

It’s hard to fault Bandcamp for only choosing to give back profits to artists for a single day: Bandcamp is a company; their staff has bills to pay, too. But a few artists took advantage of the moment to bring some wonderful tribute albums and covers collections to light earlier than intended, to take advantage of the sales boost. We’re thrilled to share the fruits of their labor, too: a wonderfully sparse and utterly sublime live set from Bluegrass kings Steep Canyon Rangers, originally performed at Merlefest last year, in tribute to North Carolina artists Doc Watson, Elizabeth Cotten, Ola Belle Reed, James Taylor, Thelonious Monk and more, a delightfully twee short set that sounds like it was recorded yesterday from stripped-down covers goddess Lauren O’Connell, and a gorgeous three-fer tribute to the Ink Spots from Cover Lay Down local fave Paola Bennett: sultry, sweet, and just what the heart needed today.









Set 3: Single Shot Coverfolk

Many of the one-shot covers recorded and released from artists in the past few days have come from Facebook, which seems to offer an especially easy way for folks to share and spread in this time of trouble; those who dwell there regularly, and follow us there as well, have by now heard a dozen samples of choice coverfolk in the past few days, most it resonant with topical angst and longing for connection.

Here’s a few of our favorites – a starter set, including the masterful Gillian Welch cover from Chris Thile, performed in his in-law’s closet, that has since kicked off a huge set of artist-to-artist challenges under the tongue-in-cheek tag #livefromhome as popular NPR music show Live From Here remains dark, a pair of the many, many wonderful videos that have followed from the prompt to Thile’s peers, a singleton from Swedish Americana duo Good Harvest, and a two-part sampler from that ever-growing list of PEARfest goodies, featuring coverage from initiator Kris Delmhorst herself, and from CLD fave (and Best Covers EP of 2019 honoree) Rachel Sumner. Head over to the Cover lay Down Facebook page for a fuller set than here, though, including Facebook-only acoustic delights from Teddy Thompson’s growing series of Beatles covers, a wonderful tradfolk tune from new faves Sound an Echo (featuring singer-songwriter Rachael Kilgour and fiddler Sara Pajunen), whose recent debut EP is well worth the Bandcamp download, a ZZ Top cover from electric-acoustic duo Larkin Poe, the first of what is by now a growing collection of daily covers from Dayna Manning, and a surprisingly spare solo couch session from Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 covering (ironically) a Crowded House favorite; we’ll keep sharing ’em there as the days go on and the music keeps coming.















Always ad-free and artist-centered, Cover Lay Down has been on the web since 2007, thanks to kind support from artists, promoters, and YOU.

So do your part: listen, and then follow links back to the sources we provide, to share your love with those who make this all happen. And though it should go without saying, as always, when you find what you love, please be a patron, too: buy the music, or the t-shirt; donate to newly-formed artist support funds, join Patreons and Kickstarters, and follow Venmo, Paypal, and Patreon links to give back if you can, the better to keep the music flowing in these troubling times.

Comment » | Aoife O'Donovan, Chris Thile, Parsonsfield, Steep Canyon Rangers, Tributes and Cover Compilations

Isolation Coverfolk: A Social Distancing Playlist

March 14th, 2020 — 11:17am




Looks like we’ll be home for a few weeks, thanks to late-game honest-to-goodness State of Emergency declarations at every scale of government. We’ll have time, now, for that backlog of sound. And we’re looking forward to sharing. Because we’re all going to need some good strategies to fight the loneliness, in the days to come.

For a few hours, there, we were out in it: sharing fears as we wound up teacher planning sessions for putting schoolwork online “if it happens”; chatting lovingly and too long in the parking lot with friends and neighbors stocking up on nicotine and beer at the local package store. Now it’s morning, and the truth hits hard: for the first time in weeks, we’ve got nothing to do. And we shouldn’t go out: for the first time in a lifetime, most of the world is off-limits, anyway.

Being holed up with the spouse and children isn’t a bad thing: the house desperately needs cleaning, and we need the practice at sharing close quarters after a few growing pains years. They’re high schoolers now, the elderchild and the wee one stumbling through adolescence, and the shared time together will be among our last: this, and a pending trip for one more school vacation in the Outer Banks, by the sound; the summer that follows, and then – maybe – college, and the world apart.

It’s scary, out here. But we’re blessed: we have each other. And for us, more broadly, the virtual world we’ve maintained provides endless options for staying close, if we embrace it. The more we act to fill the spaces between us, the more held we will feel, as the weeks follow.

And it’s happening. Churches are going virtual. House concerts aren’t being cancelled; they’re going online. Thursday night I joined a Facebook watchparty for Kris Delmhorst’s live living room stream, in which she raised enough money to pay herself, the venue, and all the staff who would have been working that night if her scheduled show at Club Passim had gone on as planned, and enough left over to seed a fund to support more artists and venue staff as the closures take hold. Monday, my students will hear my voice, in a short video I plan to film tomorrow introducing them to their virtual packet analyzing Martin Luther King Jr’s message of hope and responsibility as they hole up in their apartments and urban homes.

There are hundreds of ways to stay close, in spirit and in voice – to support the lonely, and the out of work and sorts. All it takes is us, to come, and be welcome, and present with each other, even here, in our screens and distances, as we work to save the world.

May our homes be havens and safe houses, not prisons. May our isolation be brief, and brave. And may these electric waves between us sustain us, in the hours and days to come.


CLD Presents: An Isolation Coverfolk Mix [zip!]



Forever ad-free and artist-focused, Cover Lay Down thrives at the intersection coversong and the folkways thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU.

So do your part. Listen, deeply. Comment and spread the word. Follow the threads of discovery. Purchase the music you love, to support the arts and the artists in their struggle to thrive and survive.

Connect. And stay safe, as always. The world is counting on us.

3 comments » | Mixtapes

Don’t Let Us Get Sick
(Coversongs for a growing pandemic)

March 8th, 2020 — 2:05pm




There’s so much to share: a new favorite YouTube sibling duo; still-unfeatured covers albums and singles from Karine Powalt and Ruston Kelly, Rachel Kilgour and Tracy Grammer; our afternoon at the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, where The Lonesome Ace Stringband rekindled our appreciation for the clawhammer and fiddle trio and young bluegrass quintet The Tinder Sweethearts wowed the crowd with a Billy Joel cover and a Billie Eilish mash-up; the way fat, lazy snowflakes tease us outside our March windows before the temperature soars once again past 40, triggering the nagging climate brainbuzz.

But there’s something urgent on the radar, crowding out the rest of the world. It’s everywhere, and everpresent, and we have skin in the game aplenty. Misinformation on social media is painful; misunderstandings hit hard.


And so, in the interests of contagion, we’re going in.

Read on for a short personal prayer, followed by a small half-set of songs of hope and longing in the darkness, that we may remember our most compassionate selves as sickness and fear wash over the world once again.




Saturdays at the assisted living facility have never been so deserted. My father blames the news – people are scared of the Coronavirus, he thinks, and staying in their small apartments, avoiding social contact. It’s hard to argue otherwise. The parking lot is much emptier than usual, as is the dining room at lunch. The halls are somber and quiet, the few residents we pass on our way to my father’s floor and back again wary and alone, unaccompanied by the families and children whose voices usually fill these spaces on weekends.

Life goes on, of course. I’m writing lesson plans today for a week in the classroom; the girls are at church today, singing in the choir. The social need is too great, too much a part of who we are, and what we have to do; so far, at least, we have not changed our trajectories, even as we study which songs to sing while we wash our hands.

But even here, the anxiety cannot fully fade. My social media feed buzzes as the politicized gives way to something more urgent and global. Artists and collaborative spirits saddened by the cancellation of their favorite music festivals and congregations chat on Facebook, debating their losses, trying to come to terms with the trade-offs of community, economic necessity, and civic commitment. Friends whose children were sent home from viral hotspots send warning emails, their terms abroad interrupted into home quarantine. Coworkers offer elbows instead of fist-bumps in greeting. Friday, two kids in my last period class came in wearing masks. Midway through the block, a custodian I’d never seen before slipped in, wiped the door handles down with something pink and caustic-looking, and then slipped out, leaving my students and I silent and thoughtful in the midst of learning.

At night my immunocompromised daughters sleep as restfully as they can in their lifetime of pain, not yet caught in the additional web of worry as a pandemic slowly spreads around us. I think of how fragile we are, and how much of our best it takes to manage the pressure of undefined crisis before us as the world keeps turning. I think about how hard it is to teach my students to care – to think critically, analytically, rationally, and empathetically – in a way that our civic body desperately needs, both in times like these and always. I think of how pain makes us stronger, and how desperately I want to believe that this is true of society as much as it is true of the individual spirit. I wonder if it’s time to stop visiting my father for a while, and try not to cry.

May we be kind, and spread ideas carefully after considering them carefully. May we not ply our fears, or our biases, but our understanding and wisdom, and act accordingly. And may we practice grace, and humility, and mindfulness – those most elusive things – in helping hold our society, and hold it together, as the world ever continues its encroachment into our communities and our lives.


Forever ad-free and artist-focused, Cover Lay Down thrives at the intersection coversong and the folkways thanks to the support of artists, labels, promoters, and YOU.

So do your part. Listen, deeply. Comment and spread the word. Follow the threads of discovery to three wonderful Warren Zevon tribute albums, and more. Purchase the music you love, to support the arts and the artists in their struggle to thrive and survive.

And if, in the end, you’ve got goodwill to spare, and want to help keep the coverfolk flowing? Please, consider a contribution to Cover Lay Down. All gifts go directly to bandwidth and server costs; all donors receive undying praise, and a special blogger-curated gift mixtape of well-loved but otherwise unshared covers from 2018.

1 comment » | Mixtapes, Tribute Albums, Warren Zevon

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