CLEVELAND, Ohio — In the span of one year, Cleveland’s 48 Hour Virtual Music Fest has put on more than 700 hours of programming, raised more than $20,000 for fundraisers and created an online community for an entertainment scene that was transformed during the pandemic.
The festival will celebrate its one-year anniversary this weekend, from 8:45 p.m. on Friday, March 26, until 11:45 p.m. on Sunday, March 28. The event is available to watch online through theand is free (with donations suggested).
Though live, in-person concerts and arts performances are once again on the horizon as coronavirus rates decrease and vaccinations are underway, festival founder Meganne Stepka hopes to keep the virtual event alive in the future. As the music scene shifts, she hopes to adapt 48 Hour Music Fest to stay connected with a community she developed through the internet.
“I am as excited as anyone else about live in-person shows. I can’t wait to be around other people,” Stepka said. “I think there’s still a good reason to gather, once a month, with these musicians from all over the world and continue to broadcast the Cleveland music scene to the rest of the world.”
About 80% of the performers at 48 Hour Virtual Music Fest events are from Northeast Ohio. But the remaining 20% comes from out of town. Stepka noted that past performers were based from Croatia, Italy and Germany, along with locations around the United States.
But when it started, 48 Hour Virtual Music Fest was all Cleveland.
In March 2020, Stepka welcomed friends and connections for one-hour performances — a mix of music, dance and arts shows, along with yoga tutorials and mindfulness sessions. All of the individual streams were shared directly to the 48 Hour Virtual Music Fest Facebook page.
The idea came after two of Stepka’s open mic nights were canceled due to the pandemic early last year. Stepka performs music under her own name, and with her band, Meg & The Magnetosphere.
“That was the first thing to get canceled right away. There was that feeling of loss of a sense of community — that’s what started the first one,” Stepka said of the 48 Hour Virtual Music Fest. “I didn’t know what I was getting into. I just thought, ’48 hours of music’ … It kept me busy, and I didn’t expect to be busy during the pandemic. It’s given me a purpose.”
Stepka asked a few friends to help moderate the festival, including fellow musicians Chris Peshek and Taylor Lamborn. Stepka took on overnight moderation stretches from 2 a.m. until 7 a.m., making sure that live streamed videos were shared to the 48 Hour Music Festival Facebook page and that performers’ streams ran off without a hitch. Other moderators took over during the daytime.
From the first month in March, 48 Hour Virtual Music Fest only picked up steam. Held the final weekend of every month, the fest welcomed in diverse performances, tutorials, discussions and more.
In July 2020, when protests against police brutality and the police killing of George Floyd swept across the nation, Stepka was inspired to introduce a fundraising aspect to her festival. Stepka encouraged viewers of the 48 Hour Virtual Music Fest to donate to various Black Lives Matter fundraisers. Locally, that included the Tamir Rice Foundation.
“We’re making music and that’s great, I’m all about it — but if we have 48 voices used for the same cause, focused on a weekend, maybe it’ll make an impact,” Stepka said.
Beyond the initial, loosely organized fundraising push, 48 Hour Virtual Music Fest emphasized fundraisers as a big part of its programming. After July 2020, the organization raised money for Breastfest, the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland, Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present and Future and more.
The March 2021 event will be the first time that 48 Hour Virtual Music Fest will raise funds for itself. Money donated during the festivities will go toward a website, sponsorships and compensation for moderators and performers.
Even though COVID-19 will hopefully subside this spring and summer, that doesn’t mean virtual events are going to go away. Stepka hopes to use the 48 Hour Virtual Music Fest to stream from live music venues, offering extra online reach for local artists, particularly while capacities are still limited inside venues.
“We’ll be hitting capacity limits at least over the summer, maybe a year from now. That still doesn’t mean we can’t have it streamed,” Stepka said. “Just like in the before-times, we can’t go to all the shows we want to. The ability to stream at least the last weekends of the month, a couple highlights from on-location venues in Cleveland, it’ll reach a global audience if not just the Northeast Ohio audience.”
This weekend will kick off at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 26, with a birthday show from Cleveland musician Alan Madej. Then, the 48 Hour Music Festival will feature performances from Duo Decibel System, Meg & The Magnetosphere, Mikey Silas, Liz Kelly, Fiercely Serene Fire Performance, Back to the Earth Yoga, and more. At 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, webinars will focus on the history of the festival and Stepka’s work to keep it going strong.
“It’s just going to be a celebration. It’s been a year, but thank God it’s almost over and we’re finally seeing the light in the distance. I think people are going to feel good about this. They’re happy we’ve all had this community and togetherness over the year, but they’re also happy the weather’s changing and we’re going back to in-person shows again,” Stepka said.
You can find more information about 48 Hour Virtual Music Fest at.
Get a jumpstart on the weekend andfor cleveland.com’s weekly “In the CLE” email newsletter, your essential guide to the top things to in Greater Cleveland. It will arrive in your inbox on Friday mornings – an exclusive to-do list, focusing on the best of the weekend fun. Restaurants, music, movies, performing arts, family fun and more. . All cleveland.com newsletters are free.