Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic seven months ago, many performance venues have had to completely change their business strategy. Our own Performing Arts Studio, The Linda, is no exception. But Monday nights are becoming a bright spot again.
Inside The Linda, in downtown Albany across the street from WAMC’s main studios, the vaulted ceilings throw echoes. Floor to ceiling heavy velvet curtains recall an old theatre, although this building used to be a bank. A 24 by 12 foot stage sits in the cavernous room, impatiently waiting for its next performers.
But the performers only come on Monday nights now, for the “Open For Take-Out Virtual Concert Series” streamed on YouTube — a shaky middle ground after the months of total concert blackouts across the Northeast.
General Manager Carl Blackwood says COVID preparations for live-streamed, audience-free concerts include contact tracing log-in sheets, stocking hand sanitizer, and providing masks and other PPE.
“We’re trying to bring arts to the community and in the time of COVID it’s not that easy,” Blackwood said. “We have a big empty room that we’d love to fill with people like we used to.”
Blackwood has been with WAMC almost six years. He says when he first started, they were doing 70 shows a year, last year they did 140. But that upward trajectory has been disrupted by the virus.
“We’re way lower on that list now. We’re at 40 this year so far,” Blackwood said. “So COVID hit us pretty hard.”
Now the Linda airs a concert just once a week, every Monday at 8 p.m. Blackwood says they’re not out to make a profit, just hoping to keep the lights on and help out some local bands.
“We really just try and cover our bases on paying for our production costs with this,” Blackwood said. “And then trying to get the band some money so we usually end up giving the band a guarantee -- a small stipend up front -- and then we breakout the back end. Usually 70-80% goes to the band. The rest goes to us if we make profit.”
The Linda partners with Chromoscope Pictures for the video streams. There are three cameras in place to offer quick cuts, close-ups, and give the show that overall professional looking quality.
And to provide that professional sound, enter The Linda’s technical director and sound engineer Matthew Plummer.
Plummer has been working there almost four years now and he records all of the live concerts. He says one of the biggest changes since COVID hit – besides not being able to have an audience— is the amount of distance he tries to keep from the performers. He sets up all the microphones, cables, and whatever else they might need before they arrive in order to limit possible exposure.
But during performances, Plummer is in the sound booth upstairs overlooking the entire venue, including the stage and performers.
“The control room,” Plummer said. “The eye in the sky looking down over everything.”
Plummer says people often assume that a band just plays and it automatically sounds good and that’s what you hear while watching them online. But he says a ton of work is going into audio adjustments behind the scenes as the concert unfolds.
“So I want to make sure for example that the bass isn’t too low or too loud or that a vocal isn’t buried or that a guitar isn’t overbearing or anything like that,” Plummer said.
Plummer says they’ve been doing this for months now and each band has its own unique quirks, but that’s part of the fun. No matter the genre or the instrument the Linda wants to make the sound as rich as possible for listeners at home.
Blackwood says their mission is simple right now.
“To provide a space, a safe space for our local and regional musicians to play on a stage. And have an audience where nobody will get sick,” Blackwood said.
On a recent Monday night, it was The Nellies’ turn. Peggy Lecuyer plays mandolin and sings.
“It was great,” Lecuyer said. “The sound people were absolutely fantastic. We are heavy vocal harmonies. We can be very particular. They did everything great. We were just getting off stage and we were all just going, ‘the sound was great, wasn’t too loud, I could hear myself, I could hear everybody,’ so yeah!”
Mike McMann plays guitar.
“We’ve been looking forward to this for months because there’s nothing else to look forward to,” McMann said. “There’s nothing else going on. There’s nothing to do.”
The Linda is booked until mid-December, but Blackwood and Plummer think there’s enough demand -- and enough precautions in place – that they might be able to host more than one concert a week. But they’re proceeding with caution.
“Hopefully we could open up and have shows on the weekends again where we could have a real crowd in here but we think it’ll be a little bit of time before that happens,” Blackwood said.
Plummer says at the Linda they just feel lucky that they have a budget to pay musicians right now.
“Some artists – this is their lifeline and they’re really hurting right now,” Plummer said. “We had an artist who opened up and said ‘this is a plea if you can help me out in any way’ It’s just hard. It’s really hard to see people in this scenario.”
For more information on the Linda Performing Arts Studio’s upcoming live stream events, go to TheLinda.org.