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How Sonoma County musicians are sharing their performances during the coronavirus shutdown

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For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

The creative impulse cannot be denied. With no gigs to play, no museums open and all the theaters dark, our musicians, artists and actors go right on sharing their talents, simply because they must.

With the public ordered to shelter in place during the coronavirus crisis, artists of all kinds have turned to social media to find a stage for their performances.

The blues and bluegrass band Dirty Cello, an internationally-touring five-piece ensemble, plays more than a hundred shows a year. Now stuck at home, two Dirty Cello members — the husband-and-wife team of cellist and vocalist Rebecca Roudman and guitarist Jason Eckl — decided to create an online progressive concert.

“We’re midway through a Facebook Live stream with an interesting twist,” Roudman said. “We’re doing two songs a night for one week to create a 14-song concert which we’ll then make into a full concert YouTube video.”

You can follow their progress at Facebook.com/dirtycellomusic.

For Sonoma-based Royal Jelly Jive, canceled shows have inspired the eclectic band to perform online.

“Though our gigs are canceled, we still have work to do. In times of crisis, musicians have always been there to fill the chaotic air with melodies of relief,” said Lauren Bjelde, lead singer of Royal Jelly Jive.

“Like the marching band leading an army into war, or the string section playing as the Titanic sank to her demise, there is still a place for us on the frontline of catastrophe.

“We had to cancel a big Royal Jelly tour and now have no shows until further notice. With the current state of emergency, musicians are flooding social media platforms — for the good of the people and also for their own survival,” Bjelde added. “After playing big concerts like BottleRock, it’s very humbling to be playing for tips and donations as we virtually busk the digital street, much like we used to on Haight Street years ago. “We’re trying. It’s more true than ever for us that the show must go on.”

See and hear the band perform at https://bit.ly/3buhX2K

Online collaboration

Sebastian Saint James of Petaluma, leader of the Highway Poets band, has brought his music online, creating a new community in the process.

“Like everyone, I’ve found myself at home doing what I can to keep a good vibe going in my home, since my gigs have all been canceled or postponed through April and that is a serious part of my family’s income,” he said.

“I started to write lyrics/poetry through Facebook with followers and friends to help shine a little light in this darkening time,” he said.

He pairs lyrics he has adapted from poetry — written by people online in response to a request he posted — with chords and melody.

Then he posts those tracks online as raw material for other home studio musicians, encouraging them to combine it with their own performances and send their tracks back to Saint James.

The working title is “The Shelter in Place Project” at sebastiansaintjames.com.

Facebook Live

For his own online performance, guitarist Nate Lopez decided to act exactly as he would at a live show, dressed to the part.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

“I have one scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday on Facebook Live. I would normally be gigging at Ricardo’s in Santa Rosa. So instead, I wanted to not just go online and play, but shave, dress up, set up my gear and give an actual private concert in people’s living rooms.”

Here’s the link: https://bit.ly/3aonU10

Theater goes online

Musicians aren’t the only artistic folks scrambling to reach an audience now. With the local live theater companies compelled to close their doors, leaders are left to search for alternatives.

“We at the 6th Street Playhouse are looking into — as in getting all the pieces in place for — a live streaming of our recent production of ‘Sweeney Todd,’ which had to close after just one week of performances.

At this time, a few more hurdles have to be gotten over, but we are working on those,” said Jared Sakren, artistic director of the company, located in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square. Check 6thstreetplayhouse.com for updates.

In Sebastopol, Keith Baker of the Main Stage West company said April performances online may be down the road.

“We are speaking with some of our regular performers about putting on readings of Shakespeare and other plays in the public domain via Twitch during some weekends in April.

But this is all uncharted territory,” he said. You can check on those efforts at mainstagewest.com.

Art galleries

Even with museums and galleries closed, art lovers can still find what they want.

The Museum of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa is closed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see the newest exhibit there, of inspiring painting and photography celebrating nature, “Landscape: Awe to Activism.” Luckily for art lovers at home, the museum did some legwork before the doors closed.

“Finding creative ways to engage with our community online has been a new challenge, but we prepared by shooting video footage before the shelter-in-place order was implemented, to be sure we had enough content to work with while we are closed,” said Katie Azanza, marketing and visitor experience manager at the museum.

“We’re adding content on a daily basis.”

Take the Curator’s Tour of “Landscape: Awe to Activism,” led by Jeff Nathanson, the museum’s executive director. Another fun addition is the Virtual Escape Room, where participants use objects from the museum collection as clues to find a way out.

If you missed seeing the inspiring “From Suffrage to #MeToo” exhibit at the museum, you can take a virtual walkthrough tour led by one of the museum’s volunteers.

Then there are the creative outlets offered by the museum: the Sonoma County Coloring Book, featuring iconic local sites and fun historical facts, and a tutorial on paper flower making to celebrate the start of spring and the centennial of the 19th amendment. Museum registrar Megan Kane also hosts online collections spotlights. Go to museumsc.org.

Cartooning, trivia

Santa Rosa cartoonist Brian Fies — known for “A Fire Story,” his graphic novel memoir about losing his home in the 2017 wildfires — has taken to posting videos of his “60- Second Sticky Doodles.”

Viewers can watch and draw along with Fies as he demonstrates how to sketch hands, faces and his dog Riley. For a sample, try brianfies.blogspot.com.

“Watching somebody turn ink lines into a face and a character is like watching a magician do a magic trick,” Fies said.

“I look at each 60-second sticky doodle as a one-minute magic trick. If viewers learn a bit of art technique they want to use, great! But all I really want to do is give them a tiny break in their day.”

Santa Rosa promoter Jake Ward, producer of the popular local North Bay Cabaret shows, has packaged some alternative entertainment for the currently house-bound.

“I am working on creating interactive virtual events using the Zoom video conferencing platform, specifically Virtual Trivia Night and Virtual Bingo Night.

These virtual events are meant to replace the several weekly trivia/bingo nights that I produce for local venues,” he said, such as Bear Republic, Shady Oak Barrel House and Brewster’s Beer Garden.

There’s a $10 fee for the bingo but the trivia nights are free, Ward said.

All of the events will be announced and accessed via these social media accounts: Facebook.com/NorthBayTrivia; on Instagram, @NorthBayTrivia; Facebook.com/NorthBayBingo and on Instagram, @NorthBayBingo.

“I’m also working on Quarantine Cabaret, a live stream version of North Bay Cabaret’s local variety shows, but that’s forthcoming.

“I wanted to start with events that allowed for game-play and interaction versus just watching a show on your computer,” Ward said.

Poetry community

Like so many others, Maya Khosla, Sonoma County’s poet laureate, has had to adapt her plans and projects to the situation at hand.

“I’m getting ready to celebrate poetry month, April 2020, with recordings of community members and students reading their own poetry — all of them done over the phone from people’s homes,” she said.

“Hopefully they will air all on one or more radio shows. In any case, they will be available online.”

Over her two-year tenure as the county’s poet laureate, Khosla has focused on an ambitious educational outreach. But even though her tenure is nearing its end, just as schools have closed, she isn’t abandoning that aim. She’s just had to modify it.

“I had so many brilliant students and was getting ready to teach at several high schools and elementary schools as well,” Khosla said.

“Alas. But the teachers are energetic, and we are forging ahead with Zoom conferencing and and other avenues for remote readings and recordings.”

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts.

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