LarryvilleLife: Lawrence musicians discuss getting back onstage after a year away (Column)

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It’s hard to imagine Lawrence, Kansas without live music but, sadly, there wasn’t a lot to be found during this past pandemic year, aside from some very low-key patio shows, a few drive-in style performances, and a little strumming in yards and on porches. 

Luckily, things promise to look a lot more normal this summer as long-standing traditions like the weekly city band concerts are returning along with more frequent bookings of outdoor/patio performances at numerous local venues. 

For this piece, I reached out to six friends in local bands to see how they are feeling about returning to the stage this summer. A few of them have recent shows under their belts and a few are poised to re-emerge in the coming weeks and months. Here’s what they had to say.

LarryvilleLife:  What are you most excited about in terms of playing shows again after a long absence? 

Scott Splawn (from The Mad Kings): It was definitely strange but being in front of an audience again [at Kaw Valley Public House] was the best feeling of the last 15 months. The reaction you get from a live audience just cannot be replaced. We are a live band and usually play 50-60 shows in the span of 15 months.

Doug Byers (Kaw Tikis, Old Fangled, etc.): Probably like a lot of musicians that didn’t play at all during the pandemic, after returning to live shows I experienced a brief feeling of awkwardness followed by feelings of relief and exuberance. It didn’t take long to fall back into the natural swing of things, performance-wise. I felt very comfortable. It really helped that we (Kaw Tikis) had a lot to celebrate and that many people were ready to celebrate with us. It was just so great to see so many friendly faces [at the Gaslight]! It feels normal to be booking gigs, making show fliers, rehearsing, and lugging gear around again.

Nick Carswell (from Carswell and Hope): It’s kind of obvious, but the first thing is the connection to a live audience, and the chemistry that can only happen in person, with the shared experience of making and enjoying live music. I’m also curious as to what might change in my own performance and whether the energy will feel different, and how that might manifest. The idea that live music was yet another thing we might have taken for granted before the pandemic might make us all approach each performance differently, and I’m curious to see where that energy and that feeling might lead. 

Katlyn Conroy (from La Guerre and the new project Cheery): Feeling the energy of the audience for sure. That’s what I have missed the most! And getting to have a face-to-face catchup with my friends.

Christopher Luxem (performing as CS Luxem): Just being able to see people in person and the energy that’s given off during live performances. Also I’ve written new songs and wanna know if people like them! 

Cain Robberson (from Half Tiger Half Bear): The thing that excites me most is seeing my friends back on stage again. Watching them shine in all of their glory. I can’t wait. 

LarryvilleLife: What’s making you anxious about being back out in the world again after this past year?  

Nick Carswell: The concern is always the same — that people don’t take the health concerns seriously and act irresponsibly. I also think there is the phenomenon of people feeling a little comfortable and at ease in the familiar and forgetting everything we know about how we should act with respect to this dangerous virus. This of course can be exacerbated when alcohol is involved. I think about people I know who are nowhere close to entertaining the idea of attending in-person events, for a variety of reasons. I just hope things can move at a safe and steady pace.

Doug Byers: Personally, I had no feelings of uneasiness as the numbers of COVID-19 cases in the county have become more manageable. I felt confident that most people were being responsible by getting vaccinated or practicing social distancing if necessary. As a group, though, we were concerned that the recent Kaw Tikis show might become uncomfortably crowded if held in the normal patio area at Gaslight Gardens. That might have scared some people away from attending. That’s where expanding out into the parking lot really helped. People could spread out if they wanted to. Plus, once we began playing, we felt comfortably distanced from the crowd.

Katlyn Conroy: I just hope everyone is being responsible as far as honesty about wearing masks. I can personally see myself wearing masks in most cases for a while even though I’m fully vaccinated. I just want everyone to stay healthy.

Scott Splawn: The week leading up to our gig was nerve-racking. Worrying about logistics and band members as well as my own performance led to quite a few anxious moments of quiet panic. And just simply worrying about if I/we still had it after such a long hiatus. I haven’t had a 15-month break from shows in almost 20 years. But all in all it was completely fantastic to be in front of a receptive audience again. It’s the best drug I know!

LarryvilleLife: What did you miss most about playing for live audiences during the time away? 

Cain Robberson: The thing I missed most about this last year of no-shows is the sanity that art and music brings to my artistic friends. Most of these people are constantly on the precipice of disaster and the only thing that keeps them from falling is not just creating art but sharing it.

Nick Carswell: I’ve very much missed the collaborative nature of performing with my friends and bandmates. For me, live music is about creating a bigger experience than just myself. The best gigs are when the band is locked together, not just technically, but also in terms of the dynamics and emotions of the music. The VERY best gigs are when that shared understanding also extends to the audience, and they too are completely plugged in to what a song or a piece of music is trying to convey. The idea that all this can happen at any – or every – performance is what I miss most.

Doug Byers:  Looking back on it, what I think I missed most was witnessing the ongoing support from the community for live shows. I missed the camaraderie of the locals going to shows, tipping the bands, showing patronage to the wonderful venues, and making the Lawrence music scene the wonderful thing that it is/was. I’m thrilled to see it return and can’t wait to see how the community responds!

LarryvilleLife: Do you have upcoming shows you’d like to promote? 

Christopher Luxem: Yes! At 9 p.m. Friday, June 4, at the Jazzhaus with Harper K and Giovanni Ventello. Also July 3 at Replay with Cheery and The Creepy Jingles. 

Katlyn Conroy: Yes! My new project Cheery (Instagram: @cheeryband) is playing our first full band show at 10 p.m. Saturday, July 3 at the Replay with CS Luxem and the Creepy Jingles. I’m incredibly pumped!

Cain Robberson: Half Tiger Half Bear is playing a patio matinee show with The Roseline at the Replay at 5 p.m. on the Fourth of July. 

Scott Splawn: We have a matinee gig from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, July 16 at the Replay, and as of right now, that’s all we have on the books. 

Doug Byers: Other than some festival gigs for Old Fangled (bluegrass band) and some bar shows for Jubilee Mystics (folk band), I don’t have a lot on my calendar – except for rehearsals! Look for more activity by the end of summer or the beginning of fall. 

Nick Carswell: We are taking our time and continuing with mostly smaller, private events for the moment. KC Irish Fest is one of the highlights of our year, so we’re looking forward to being able to have that return this year over Labor Day weekend. 

— LarryvilleLife is the name of a semi-anonymous long-running local cultural commentary Twitter account managed by a lapsed KU academic currently dabbling in social media and freelance work. You probably know him in real life. Follow @larryvillelife on Twitter. Read more of LarryvilleLife’s work for the Times here.

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