Covers From Home: Music In A Time Of Quarantine





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.

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


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