How Local Musicians are Changing Their Tune Amid Coronavirus

Performing in front of a live audience has been a constant in multi-instrumentalist Jose Oro’s life since he was 16 – like many musicians, that abruptly came to a halt.

Last March, Nevada governor Steve Sisolak declared a state of emergency as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. In an attempt to flatten the curve and stop the spread of the virus, he implemented a state-wide lockdown, closing all non-essential business, and implementing stay-at-home orders.

As a result, any event that necessitates a large group of people to congregate in a small space has been cancelled, postponed, or rescheduled indefinitely,  for understandable reasons. 

It’s been five months since the original lockdown mandate, restrictions have slowly lifted for casinos, restaurants, gyms, and retail establishments, but it’s likely concerts, sporting events, and festivals will not reconvene anytime soon.

For many artists in the valley, they haven’t only lost a means of income, they also lost a part of their livelihood.

“I released my singles the day before the shutdown was ordered and all that promotion was lost,” said Oro. “I was going to start playing shows with a band and do everything to get the ball rolling, but that’s all been delayed.”

Before Oro started performing as a solo artist, he fronted the rock quintet We Are Pancakes between 2015-2018. During their tenure, they played at downtown’s Neon Reverb festival, opened for national touring acts such as Mild High Club and Grace Mitchell, and had a cover story in the Arts section of the Review Journal. 

Oro has kept busy continuing to create new music during quarantine. “I’ve been like Kanye, writing 5 beats a day for 3 summers,” he joked. Despite stocking up on new material, he does not have a clear plan on when it will be released. 

“The thing about this pandemic is that I don’t know how I can release anything that will be beneficial towards anyone,” said Oro. “I have a lot of good music I’ve been working on, but I’m scared to release any of it right now and don’t want it to get lost at the wayside.”

Performing live concerts and going on tour used to play an essential role for artists to get their name out there, promote new music, and build an audience. With music venues still closed, musicians have been finding creative ways to reach their audience. 

Like many local artists, he has played shows at several venues in the valley, including the Brooklyn Bowl, the Bunkhouse, Beauty Bar, the Griffin, Vinyl, Backstage Bars and Billiards, and Velveteen Rabbit – some of which face unknown futures.

“The live-stream game is quite important nowadays,” said Oro. “I’ve seen some people do desert shows as well.”

Live-streaming has become an indispensable tool for both mainstream and local musicians to stay connected with their audience. But it cannot be monetized as easily as playing a traditional concert, this has caused distress for some local musicians who depended on that additional income. 

Oro’s genre of “psychedelic space rock” does not lend itself to live-streaming. Much of his performance style is visual as much as it is phonic, and an audience is necessary to participate in the full immersive experience.

“I feel like I have to do more, because there is no audience,” said Oro. “You would think it would be liberating, but at the same time, there’s nothing for you to gauge if what you’re doing is good or not,” said Oro.

He is considering the possibility of producing an elevated live-stream experience in the near future. Complete with a full-band, enhanced visuals, and at a real venue like at the 11th Street Records studio downtown. “There’s a reason why there’s the mystique that the artists have in the 60’s and 70’s, because you didn’t know anything about them besides their music.”

One of the virtues of being a creative person is that you are flexible and adaptable. As the future of live music is still unclear, they always find a way. 

“When everything was open here in Vegas, a scene was born, people were going out of their way to make something happen that you never expected to be,” said Oro. 

“I can only imagine that once people feel safe, everything is going to be ok.”