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Jacksonville’s Music Scene Adapts To Life With The Coronavirus

Smokestack streaming live from Nightflower Music in Jacksonville.
Patrick Shoemaker
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Smokestack streaming live from Nightflower Music in Jacksonville.

The “Safer at Home” order in Florida is set to expire on May 4, with some types of businesses soon allowed to have foot traffic again - though under new guidelines, like capacity limits. But for musicians who make their living performing live, it’s not clear when they’ll be able to get back in front of a microphone to play for an in-person crowd.

Taylor Roberts has been a full-time musician for 15 years. He’s a regular at Ocean 60 in Atlantic Beach and the Amelia Island Ritz Carlton, but he plays at other venues too. At least he used to.

“Well, my last gig was on March 13th,” he said.

Like many musicians, Roberts has turned to live streamed performances. He goes live on Facebook almost every day, usually around 2 or 3 in the afternoon.

“And what I do is I go on for at least an hour and I take requests and I post links to give me virtual tips like PayPal and Venmo and that kind of thing,” Roberts explained.

So far, he says virtual performances have been working out pretty well. Friends and fans have been generous with checks in the mail, Venmo transfers, and the occasional roll of toilet paper being left on his doorstep.

Despite that generosity, Roberts is struggling financially.

“I've had to get extensions on things like my car note and credit card bills and that kind of stuff,” he explained. “While I can't put a dollar number on it necessarily, I've definitely taken a noticeable hit. And I haven't really been spending any money other than groceries and the bills that I can pay.”

Roberts has started exploring ways to expand his audience, like “Songs From Another Room,” a songwriter showcase being put on by Blue Jay Listening Room in Jacksonville Beach.

Blue Jay Listening Room
Blue Jay Listening Room

Under normal circumstances, owner Cara Burky goes for an intimate, MTV Unplugged kind of vibe at the venue. But, like everyone else in the live music industry, she’s trying something new.

“Since we are unable to be together at Blue Jay, I'm having artists from all over the country log into Blue Jay’s Facebook and then live stream directly from Blue Jay’s Facebook,” she said.

Burky’s been streaming performances throughout April and she has May lined up too.

“I know that we are all kind of in the same boat for the most part and so if you just need some feel good music to watch at home you can just log in and not give any money,” she said. “But if you are able, it is extremely helpful right now.”

Half of all donations go to the artist and the other half go to Blue Jay. And so far, Burky says fans have been pretty generous. But she’s worried about another month or two of being closed or or reduced capacity.

“Hopefully this won’t last for too much longer. The whole problem is just not knowing,” she said.

If you’ve watched any of these live stream performances, you’ve probably seen a few that look and sound like they were done using someone’s smartphone.

“A solo acoustic artist might be able to get away with it, but a full band doesn’t sound so good,” said Patrick Shoemaker.

For musicians who want their stream to look and sound professional but don’t have the gear or know how to do it themselves, people like Shoemaker are stepping in.

He’s a live sound engineer who recently founded his own live production business, Shoemaker Sound Company, and he used to run sound at Blue Jay.

“My last gig was on the 15th of March. Within two days of that I bought a video capture device,” he said.

Now he’s mixing live streamed performances, like one the Jacksonville band Smokestack recently did for JME - The Jacksonville Music Experience from WJCT, which was spearheaded by Station Manager David Luckin.

“We partnered with the Florida Theatre to bring groups that may not command a 2,000 seat auditorium like the Florida Theatre, but would be perfect here for our 400 seats,” Luckin said. “And that, of course, has been put on hold. So we've created a lot of virtual concerts now for a week or two with local musicians.”

Luckin said the Jacksonville Music Experience also includes the VOIDCAST podcast and three HD radio stations - two of which have brand new formats: Anthology on 89.9 FM HD3 and Electro Lounge Radio on 89.9 FM HD4. They join  Classical 24 on 89.9 FM HD2. All three of the channels are also streamed at  and available in the WJCT app.

The project also extends to WJCT TV 7.1 for Music Thursdays and to the Studio 5 Sessions, which are occasional video recordings of live performances by artists during First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.

In person soundstage performances are also part of the project. But they are on hold until in-person gatherings are deemed safe.  

For now, shows are streamed in the JME - Jacksonville Music Experience Facebook group.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.

Special Projects Producer Brendan Rivers joined WJCT News in August of 2018 after several years as a reporter and then News Director at Southern Stone Communications, which owns and operates several radio stations in the Daytona Beach area.