Within weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic hitting Athens, Athens musicians had to adapt to the closure of music venues, canceled festivals and increased financial hardships.
To support both local musicians and the broader Athens community, The Classic Center, Terrapin Beer Co. and the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Athens Area Community Foundation launched a virtual concert series called Band Together in early April.
Every Thursday at 7 p.m., a video of two bands performing sets as a part of the virtual concert series is posted to YouTube. Viewers of the show are encouraged to donate to the Athens Area Community Foundation in honor of the band that they support. The bands that raise the most money will have the opportunity to perform at an upcoming live event, such as the 2021 AthFest Music & Arts Festival or the 2020 AthHalf Half Marathon.
Money that is donated goes to the Athens Area Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Community Response Fund — a fund in partnership with United Way of Northeast Georgia that provides money to local nonprofit organizations responding to COVID-19 pandemic.
These local organizations are located within a 12-county region surrounding Athens, including Barrow, Jackson and Oconee, and are chosen by a grant committee of regional community members.
Band Together created its YouTube channel on April 2 and has since gained nearly 130 subscribers and more than 2,000 views across four one-hour-long concerts, two teasers and an encore presentation.
“People are loving it. People love the opportunity to do something positive,” AACF CEO Sarah McKinney said. “To hear from the rich cultural aspect that we have in our music here in our community—and all the bands are local. So what better does that get?”
The shows feature a mix of local artists from folk band Cicada Rhythm to indie electronica flutist Pip the Pansy. All bands are paid for their performance from sponsor Terrapin Beer Co.
As of April 15, the COVID-19 Community Response Fund raised $174,000 — well on its way to a goal of $250,000.
“I would love for the fund in its own to raise $250,000 and every bit of community support from initiatives like Band Together will make us realize that dream,” McKinney said.
The first dispersion of funds, $40,000, went to 18 local nonprofit organizations that provide food access and distribution, including the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia, Oglethorpe County Senior Center and Greene County Food Pantry, among others, according to an April 22 press release.
Marcus Vess, the drummer for seven-piece soul and funk group The Weekend Getaway Band, said the coronavirus has “shut things down” for the group. The Weekend Getaway Band virtually performed at Band Together’s third show released on April 23 and usually performs once or twice a month primarily at outdoor festivals or country clubs.
Vess said most of the band members have other jobs, such as working in information technology, teaching and tuning pianos or arranging orchestras at a church. However, Vess said the financial impact of the coronavirus “is definitely a hit” to lots of musicians.
“Bringing on the partners to this is really what made it possible being able to secure the bands, being able to pay the bands, which we thought was really important during this time,” The Classic Center Director of Arena & Ancillary Services Danny Bryant said. “We know they’re not necessarily getting the usual gigs they would have.”
Local musicians are now able to find at least one gig as a result of Band Together. Bryant said Band Together will continue to book musicians for the foreseeable future.
“Hopefully we don’t have to do this all summer long, but we’ll do this as long as we need and as long as we’re all stuck at home,” Bryant said.