Usually, this time of summer is filled with an array of outdoor events, many of which are accompanied by the joyful sound of live music.
That has not been the case this year as Kitsap County has turned into a ghost town where no events are occurring with mass amounts of people congregating to one place. Instead, folks, have had to find alternative ways to occupy their time in the warm weather with independent and family activities such as hiking and golfing.
One industry that has taken a big hit from the COVID-19 pandemic is the live music scene. Aspiring local artists need to be creative and flexible to get their music heard, uploading videos to YouTube and other online streaming platforms in efforts to find some cash flow, one that is usually filled by performing at summer concerts that typically take place every week.
On Bainbridge Island, music-enthusiast Alan Simcoe, who is a luthier and runs a music business out of his home, Village Music, on High School Loop. The shop focuses on string instruments – offering repairs, lessons, rentals, accessories and sales.
Village Music opened in 2003 at Lynwood Center and stayed there for 14 years until recently moving to the comforts of home about two-and-a-half years ago, citing the building lease was up.
“Here we are,” Simcoe said, gazing around his property. “It’s odd. I like the commute. A lot of people do know we’re here, I’m happy about that. We do an OK retail business but what we really have is service. We are just coming out of kind of licking our wounds from the storefront financially. We’re going to reinvest in some inventory. I don’t have any desire to jump out and lease a storefront again.”
Simcoe was raised in Orange County, CA, and said he first started playing guitar early in his teens. “I knew I was going to be the Beatles, that didn’t work out. I just kept on going,” he said.
After hopping around the West Coast to earn a college degree in classical guitar performance and teaching at a couple of music institutions in Oregon, Simcoe decided to start fresh and moved to Bainbridge Island in 1991. Before you know it he was knee-deep in his passion for string guitars and within a couple of years, had bought enough materials to build his first guitar.
“I started doing repairs out of music stores because I was handy,” he said. “There was a book out about building a classical guitar, and I read that thing for 20 years, cover to cover, memorized all the pictures. Finally, I went OK, I think there’s something going on here.”
Around that same time, Simcoe was also trying to gain traction with performing, doing some gigs in Seattle and making the commute back to the island before having a wake-up call, citing he “realized I was going to go broke really fast.”
Simcoe stated his love for string instruments started when he realized he wasn’t meant to play the classic rock style of electric guitars.
“I would try and play like that and I couldn’t do it very well,” he said. “However, I’d been listening to Simon and Garfunkel and that nice Travis picking style. It was a more tactile and personal sound. I knew players where electric guitars and amps were their natural idioms to be in. I was always mildly uncomfortable with it. It didn’t feel like I had enough control over what was going on. I gravitated towards finger-pickers.”
In terms of getting back on the performance stage once the pandemic passes, Simcoe said he just wants to keep jamming by himself or with a couple of friends.
“It’s been really weird for me in this pause. I’m past the age where I think I’m going to make any impact,” he said after a long and thoughtful pause. “I have to put those creative things in perspective. I was not a natural-born road warrior I guess. I’m kind of on the other end of it. I expect that I’ll be playing. Now I’m playing stuff that I like. I don’t have to play music that I don’t want to play. When you’re in a band you have to do that.”
Simcoe pondered where the local music industry is headed if this prolonged pandemic stretches out even longer. He mentioned he’s seen many artists create YouTube channels in efforts to get subscriptions, among other similar virtual outlets.
“Just kind of spinning our wheels,” he said about the current live music climate. “You got to continue to play to keep your chops up as a practical matter. Part of everyone’s edginess is lack of music I think. If music were as worthless as we’re led to understand, we would have gotten rid of that one 10,000 years ago. It’s feeding something wonderful in us, and when it’s not there, people can get edgy. Playing live hopefully alleviates that.”
Simcoe also said that musicians need to be more open to opportunities with the uncertainty of live music in the near future.
“The whole (COVID-19) thing can make everything different and wonderfully so,” he said. “Things are going to change whether we like it or not, and I think the people who can wrap their head around being open to changing what they do and how they think about things, how they interact. I just don’t think things are going to go back to the way things were, and if they do, I suppose that was fine. From my perspective as a teacher, I’d like to see some more home music. There’s an opportunity there for that.”