From The Side of the Road… what we’ll miss when COVID is through

We’re all well aware at this point of all we’ve been missing—in some cases starving for—during the year-long and counting COVID-19 pandemic. We miss bluegrass festivals, needless to say. Professional touring musicians miss at least some aspects of the road, playing music with bandmates, jamming with other musicians, singing Ruby Are You Mad without a mask on, and the list goes on.

Something we think about less often, and in some cases may not want to admit to ourselves, is that when we’ve finally put this period in history behind us, there are a few things about the pandemic lifestyle we’re going to miss:

Not being on the road

For musicians for whom being on the road was mostly a chore, a means to an end, this will be especially true. It will also be true, though, for some more experienced road musicians who had started to get a little fussy about their travel conditions: “If I can’t sleep in my own bed, and be in my own environment, I want to be in a 4-star hotel, transported by limo from the airport, and served a high-quality meal before the show.” Or in more extreme cases (most often found outside of bluegrass music): “If I can’t sleep in my own bed, I need to be in a 5-star hotel, served a gourmet meal of healthy, sustainable, locally and ethically-sourced organic food, plus some non-sustainable but outrageously expensive booze, and I need to be transported on a cloud. Also, no one may speak to me or look at me without my permission.” You get the idea. For these people, every inconvenience of the road—and there are many, granted—has become just a little more bothersome with each passing year, so when it’s time to go back out there and experience this again, there’s going to be some serious longing for the days when we were all just hanging around the home place eating (a lot of) whatever we wanted and operating a TV remote we actually understood.

Related to the above:

Being with family

This was a revelation to many road musicians, but it turns out that many of us are married to fairly nice and attractive people, and who knew our kids were this interesting? Or that we had so many of them? Getting to know them has been an unexpected bonus of the pandemic. 

Wearing the same clothes

. . . day after day after day. Are we ready for a world in which you have to change your pants periodically, or even wear pants at all? It seems like such an ordeal. Those who have done livestream concerts have at least had to come up with a different shirt for the event, but many had stopped trying in that department, too. Shoes are also worn in the outside world, so that too will be an imposition on our pandemic lifestyle of convenience. Our society was already skewing towards comfort over appearance, but the COVID era has determined the hands-down winner of that contest. The first bluegrass band to play a festival’s nighttime headliner slot wearing pajamas and slippers will be setting a trend that may take years to break.

Being able to avoid all in-person activities

Here’s where the introverted and extroverted among us part company, but there’s a sizeable chunk of people, who may have even been performers in their past lives, who are just not that thrilled about leaving the house and going out in the world again. Especially when this means going through checkout lines, going through security lines, trying on clothes in a change room, or just interacting with human beings face-to-unmasked face. For some, it’s all so unclean, awkward, and icky.

Not lugging heavy instruments around

When musicians have to once again lug upright basses or banjos in flight cases (which weigh approximately 400 pounds) from the parking lot to a faraway stage, there’s going to be some wistful nostalgia for the COVID era. We’ll reminisce about the days when all you had to do was reach for an instrument sitting on a stand. If it was just out of reach it was always possible to convince a family member to pick it up and hand it to you, avoiding the necessity of getting out of your chair.

Having too much time on our hands

Remember when our problem was running out of things to binge-watch? Some even had to resort to home renovation and songwriting. Somehow the time vacuum always fills up, even when unemployed, but when we’re out there operating like our former over-scheduled selves again, we might just miss that peaceful feeling of being bored.

Being bitterly divided

Whether it was complaining about pandemic restrictions or complaining about other people’s unwillingness to follow those restrictions, whining about the government’s action or its inaction, the pandemic has been a golden era for divisive argument, righteous anger, and self-proclaimed expertise. And this isn’t counting the effects of the fiercely contested 2020 election at the same time. In what other period of our history have people walked up to perfect strangers in a public place and taken them to task for what they were wearing or not wearing as the case may be? Sometimes there were even physical altercations that could then be recorded with people’s phones and posted to social media for an additional level of online disagreement and mutual hostility. It’s all been a huge adrenaline rush for some people, and it’s not so easy to let that go. What will we have to keep the indignation and division going? I might suggest one or more of the following topics to fight over: Scruggs or Monroe? Who really started this music, and what is bluegrass anyway? Is it okay to still call a resonator guitar a “dobro,” and is it really a bluegrass instrument? Was the moon landing real? Is rhubarb a fruit or a vegetable? Spam: yes or no? (the meat product, not your junk email). These won’t inspire the same level of adrenaline-producing vitriol, but maybe they’ll help us gradually ween from it so we won’t have to go cold turkey.