Make Music Day 2021, and Ushering in a Rockin’ Summer

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

As I write this it’s around 3 p.m. on the last Tuesday in June, a month that’s kept me so busy that I’ve had little time to stop and reflect on life, music or motherhood — the pillars of my existence. On the plus side, I’ve been living the change I want to see for rockmommies — playing out, booking gigs, and creating new music. It doesn’t matter that I’m past my so-called youthful “prime.”

Rock n roll isn’t an age; it’s an attitude.

This week, I’m at the beach, enjoying some quality time with my sons, my spouse, and the sun, thinking about my recent performance on 6/21/21 for Make Music Day in New York City. I’m ecstatic I got to play in Tomkins Square Park with my band Trashing Violet, and several other friends’ bands on the makeshift Girls Rock & Girls Rule “stage” where the bandshell used to exist. Simply being New York for the first time since February 2020 meant the world to me.

Enjoying my ukulele in Montauk. It’s also the only instrument that will fit into the car when we go on a family vacation. Photo credit: Nathan Bloom (my son)

The MMNY show was meaningful for so many other reasons. Obviously, being able to play music in public without a mask is a reality I couldn’t fathom a year ago. I tend to be a bit “glass half empty” at times, and I really didn’t believe that vaccinations would work so well, or that I’d be able to stand side by side with my girlfriends, singing into the same shared microphone.

Seeing people enjoying our music as we played in the park reminded me of why I picked up a guitar and a microphone in the first place, and stirred up emotions I hadn’t felt in so long. The last time I played MMNY was in 2009, with my former band The Underage Hotties. I’d forgotten what it was like to play on the streets, to relative strangers or would-be friends.

My band Trashing Violet playing Tomkins Square Park for Make Music New York (6/21/21). Photo: Alan Rand

But the most epic thing about performing on the first official day of summer was being part of something bigger than myself.

Make Music Day actually began in 1982 in France, as “Fête de la Musique,” and crossed over the Atlantic to debut 12 years ago in New York City. Today, more than 5,000 New York-area musicians — amateurs and professionals, of all ages and musical persuasions — perform in more than 1,000 free, outdoor concerts on June 21st. And nearly 100 other U.S. cities officially mark “Make Music Day” through performances in public spaces.

I’m over 35, an age that many in the industry consider “ancient” — especially if you’re female. While times have changed, there’s still a pervasive attitude that if you haven’t already “made it” in your 30s, it’s better to give up and make room for the next generation. Put the guitar in the corner, or perhaps relegate performing for open mic nights every once in a while.

But on June 21, age, gender, and status don’t matter in idyllic parks or on sidewalks. Music can be made and played anywhere, and there is always someone who wants to listen. All you need is a power source.

Playing outdoors on the summer solstice, the longest and one of the hottest days of the year, felt so liberating. By the time my band finished an hour-long set, and lugged our gear to a restaurant’s makeshift outdoor seating area in a former parking space (pre-2020), my life felt so perfect and so complete. 

I hope that every musician reading this feels inspired to get back out there this summer. While we can’t predict what tomorrow will bring, there’s no time like the present to seize your instrument — and seize the day.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

Kicking Off Spring ’21 with Lots of Outdoor Gigs — and Hope for Indoor Ones, Too

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Every April, as greenery unfolds into cherry blossoms and daffodils burst from the cool ground, I start to get excited for summer. The weather will warm, and I’ll shed my 8,000 layers of fleece, ready for rock and roll gigging season to kick into high gear. Sadly, last spring’s excitement was tempered by COVID, while this year’s is tempered with a bit of cautious optimism. 

Is it right, to make like a Dionysian maenad, frolicking at a Beltaine-inspired musical gathering? Or do I have to pare back my dancing, even though I’m vaccinated? 

These questions rotated in my mind on April 24, when I ventured 20 miles north from my home with my friend Steph, and headed toward Woodbridge, Conn., a town just off the Merritt Parkway not far from New Haven. My destination: a space called 10Selden, where the outside concrete blacktop had been transformed into a socially distanced, DIY music enclave.

Of course, masks and social distancing were in order, as expected. But it was 100 percent worth it. As much as I love Facebook Live-streaming, nothing beats the real deal — pure rock n’ roll in the flesh. 

Shame Penguin kicked off the evening with an hour-long set of indie-punk/bluesy jams, saturated with atmospheric, delay-pedal guitar riffs, catchy bass lines, and poetic, powerful vocals which, at times, took me back to the late ’90s. As the daylight faded into sunset, Shame Penguin played its new single “Pretzel Time,” an ode to “the songbird,” as singer Dustin Sclafani (aka “EZ Bluez”) shared with me later on. If you haven’t streamed this track on Spotify, do it now

Shame Penguin rocks 10Selden (Photo credit: DeFilippo Foto)

[SEE RELATED: Shame Penguin’s ‘Fall of the Mountain King’ Mixes Catchy Riffs with Complex Daddy Issues]

Local band Fiction’s set kept the energy high with a sound I initially described as “a cross between Blink 182 and Blues Traveler” to my friends — fun and powerful. Fiction’s cover of Sublime’s “Garden Grove” was possibly the best one I’ve heard. For a full review of the show, check out AMP’s myampmusic.co) writeup here. 

Fiction rocks 10Selden (Photo: DeFilippo Foto)

My favorite takeaway from the night was the sense of community, the spirit of gratitude and happiness that radiated from every song — which is why I’ m so excited 10Selden’s series is extending into summer. 

My band Trashing Violet will be playing there on May 22nd with the local punk-pop trio Zombii.

It’s been forever since my band played together for people other than our spouses, kids, or close friends. Most of my solo shows were broadcast from my living room in ’20 — or, once, from our drummer Nick’s driveway — via Facebook Live. The upcoming show will be the first time my punk-pop/grunge band has gigged IRL since last February, before the carefree music-mom life I knew skidded to a halt.

Trashing Violet
Trashing Violet (2020)

This summer, we have gigs scheduled for 6/21 (for Make Music New York, in NYC’s Tomkins Square Park); 8/21, and 9/3 (so far). We’re also hoping to plan a safe, indoor live music show at a venue in our state. Admittedly, there are a lot of unknowns, such as how many music fans will get vaccinated, whether clubs in Connecticut will make like New York City with some version of the Excelsior pass, and how strong the new COVID variants are in triggering “breakthrough” cases. 

But while everyone will have to adjust to a “new normal” in live music this summer, the privilege of playing live music is no longer one I take for granted.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

Should I Stay or Should I Go (Out)?

After a year of being shuttered mostly indoors with my family, I’m feeling a mad kind of spring fever. I want to go out in a big way. Not outdoors, to the beach, or the fire pit, but out out — like I did in 2019. I want my band to play in a bar. I want to sip drinks idly, as I watch live music.

Who doesn’t want all the things?

The author, mulling whether to go out

The problem is, I’m not vaccinated. Not yet.

A few weeks ago, I was informed of a fun, relatively “safe” event — a lip-sync mask “battle” at the Cellar, a cool, indie music bar in Hamden, Connecticut. My fellow musician friend (and parent) Dustin posted a flier and invited everyone to compete safely. Masks are required (except when you’re eating). Performers will wear a clear one. Sanitizer and precautions will abound from every corner of the indoor space.

[RELATED: Is it safe to sing in front of an audience?]

I was “in” the moment I saw the announcement, and began crafting my burlesque-without-the-stripping lip-sync choreography for “Wrecking Ball” in earnest — it’s taking shape, and after weeks of rehearsal, it’s awesome. I’m stoked to perform it later. I’m stoked to be out, with creative people, doing creative things. I feel alive just thinking about it.

But the venue’s event is in its indoor space. My partner is not OK with that.

It’s an indoor bar, Marisa, he reminds me. People at their tables won’t be wearing masks. Once people start drinking, they’ll be mingling. If one person in that room has Covid, you’e f*cked.

coffeehouse vibes

See, as I’m writing this I’m sitting in an indoor space — Candlewood Market in Fairfield. It’s a beautiful, ample coffeehouse with an industrial warehouse vibe, succulents and weathered wooden signage. Photography and botany and sunshine. I love it here. I go once a week, while my sons are in ninja class next door (masked up, of course). The guy at the table next to mine isn’t wearing his mask, so I only pull mine down when I need a sip of coffee.

I always need coffee.

But anyways, it’s hard to be excited about a fun night that really isn’t any more risky than my time at this coffeehouse (sitting exactly six feet away from the unmasked patron, only because I moved my chair) when my partner thinks that I’m taking a gigantic risk.

Which brings me to the dilemma: I’m one week away from my first vaccine. I’ve spent a year working hard to avoid Covid. Is it really worth it for me to go out now and take any risk? Like The Clash sings in its infamous song, ‘if I go there will be trouble, but if I stay there will be double.” (Double, because I’ll regret not doing something really fun that I’ve been excited about, while disappointing my friends who want to come out with me).

Decisions, decisions! What would you do?

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

A Masked Singer Dilemma: Is it Fair to Expose Fans To Your Possible COVID?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Singing with a mask on isn’t fun. To keep from passing out, one must pace themselves, carefully planning each whisper, hum, or caterwaul. It’s natural for the mask to slip down under the nose. If the singer is playing another instrument, like a guitar, he or she must find the right split second between measures to yank it back up, without missing a beat.

Singing with a mask on isn’t attractive. This is a problem, because we singers don’t like to feel unattractive. We’re the front women and front men in our bands, the Mick Jaggers who wield charisma and high energy as we move our bodies to the beat.

Singing with a mask on also muffles the sound of the singer’s voice — which is the biggest issue that I have with them. 

I know all these things because I sing while wearing a cloth mask. So badly do I want to yank it off during outdoor band practice, inhale the crisp air through my nostrils, hear the even crisper sound of consonants captured by my microphone. I want to enjoy the freedom of breathing, unencumbered, and exhaling sound without feeling like I’m trapped in a sauna. 

But I don’t because of COVID. 

I’m the lead singer of Trashing Violet, a hard rock band based in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and over the summer my bandmates and I have been practicing in each others’ backyards, in front of each others’ kids. I sing with my mask on for up to 90 minutes, taking occasional breaks to take a sip of a drink. Wearing a mask makes my lead guitarist, bassist, and drummer more comfortable. It makes their spouses and kids more comfortable. It makes me feel better because I know I’m doing everything possible — outside of quitting my band — to prevent the spread of COVID. 

While I’m fairly certain I don’t have the coronavirus, asymptomatic transmission is a real thing. And with singing, the consequences are potentially deadly. 

An April study published by the CDC noted that the “act of singing” in a March Seattle-area choir practice had likely contributed to 53 of 61 attendees getting sick with COVID-19 — and two dying. As the LA Times noted in an article on singing and COVID-19, reports have surfaced of other outbreaks after choir performances, including one in Amsterdam that claimed four lives.

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Trashing Violet plays Cafe 9 in New Haven, Conn., in January 2020

Yet these articles mainly address communal singing, and are primarily focused on indoor settings, such as churches. They don’t address the safety of singing outdoors when the singer isn’t wearing a mask.

This raises questions for rock bands like mine, with just one lead singer: If I have COVID-19, what are the chances I could infect someone several feet away (like a bandmate)? Have there been any outbreaks of COVID triggered by an infected singer? Is there any reason patrons in a restaurant need to worry about the outdoor live entertainment?

There are no definitive answers to these questions. We’re still learning more about COVID everyday. As one July study published in the peer-reviewed voice medicine publication J Voice noted, “there is a paucity of data about both how SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted by singing and how to bring communities of singers back together safely.”

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At band practice with Trashing Violet in June, wearing my cloth mask, ready to sing.

Fortunately, we know a few things. 

We know that outdoors is safer than indoors. In Connecticut, where I live, this is why we’re still in Phase 2 with reopening, which limits live entertainment to outdoor settings, and requires that entertainers stand 12 feet away from their audience — and each other. We also know with a pretty high degree of certainty that masks, coupled with social distancing, can help reduce the likelihood of virus transmission.

Meanwhile, in the two months since the NYC tristate area has reopened restaurants, singers and bands are playing everywhere they can. While a handful of musicians are wearing masks when they perform, many are not. When I was in visiting Narragansett last weekend, I saw a singer on the outdoor porch of a restaurant by the peer belting out rock covers, standing possibly less than 12 feet away from the nearest group of patrons. Sights like these are not uncommon. 

I can’t help but wonder how many of these singers have children or live with older relatives. Just the thought of passing on the coronavirus to a dependent gives me the shivers. 

I understand why some singers might not even entertain the thought of singing while wearing a mask. They can feel suffocating, and may distort the vocal output. Working musicians are paid for the quality of their work, and if they can’t execute properly, it calls their professionalism into question.

I also understand that life isn’t fair. Working singers — those who need the $500 they make from a gig like a wedding to pay rent — are accustomed to playing in intimate settings, where the distance between the entertainer and patron is closer. 

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At least my eye makeup is awesome, right?

Unfortunately, the safest and best live opportunities for performers in the coronavirus era are inaccessible to most everyday working musicians: I’m talking mainly about the “drive in” outdoor music shows that are happening now, where an entertainer performs on a stage at least 20 feet away from the audience. In settings like these, which feature well-known, original music acts, the big concern isn’t whether the singer is wearing masks so much as the lack of social distance among concert-goers (just ask Chase Rice or the Chainsmokers).

To be fair, I must admit I am not a working singer who relies on $500 gigs to live. Though I make a little cash from playing out with my band and as a solo artist, my main sources of income come from writing and teaching guitar (which, right now, is 100 percent masked and social distanced in backyards).

Yet while I am sympathetic to the plight of all musicians — whether they are reliant on performance income or not — the fact remains no working singer can guarantee that he or she doesn’t have COVID-19 unless he or she is tested. 

While outdoors is safer than indoors, restaurants may want to consider requiring singers to wear masks in all settings when at least 12 feet of distance between performers and audiences cannot be guaranteed. If and when we move into Phase 3, which allows indoor live entertainment, I probably won’t go to a concert where masks aren’t required (unless, of course, we have a decent COVID-19 vaccine). 

And while I am sympathetic to musicians, I’m so sick of the whining about masks or face shields. Singing while wearing a mask is hard, it isn’t impossible. And as performers, it is our obligation to ensure our audience can safely enjoy themselves. 

One bright piece of news came across my radar recently is the patent-pending mask that singers can wear so they can more safely sing in groups. I am about to pre-order mine. I have to admit, it looks about as “natural” as condoms probably did in the 1970s, and there’s no doubt we’ll have complainers among us. But this is life. We must adapt to our circumstances (and as we learned in the sexually liberated ’60s and ’70s, asymptomatic individuals can transmit STDS).

Until we know more about COVID, we need to remember that our personal freedoms are less important than the collective good. If we have been gifted with beautiful voices and the opportunity to play outdoor shows, we need to be grateful to our audiences — and committed to protecting them. When I play my only outdoor gig this summer on August 7, I will most likely be wearing a mask or using a face shield/microphone shield.

Like all musicians, I cannot wait until the day when we can experience live music like it’s 2019, when drawing a large-enough audience for a Tuesday night show was my biggest concern. Until then, I will do whatever I need to do to play music and bring joy to others through playing music — even if the sound of my voice is a little more muffled.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.