The Year Live Music Wasn’t: A Seattle musician’s pandemic experience

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Seattle songwriter Caitlin Sherman released her first solo album at the worse possible time — a pandemic.

The pandemic year has been particularly devastating to people who rely on live music. People like Sherman.

Just before the pandemic hit, she released the first solo album titled Death to the Damsel. She was on her way to the South by Southwest Festival to perform for the first time.

Sherman told KUOW about her experience as a musician during the pandemic.

I had spent the last year working seven days a week between teaching music and bartending to try to save that money for a tour. Because at my level, even with having a label, and especially touring from Seattle, it’s very expensive and you don’t usually get a lot of tour support. But we knew that we were going to be showcased as artists at South by Southwest. So it was important just to make the big jump.

I gave up my apartment, put all of my things in storage, sold off as many things as I could. The whole year was supposed to be for touring, but we were only in Southern Oregon when I got the call that South by was actually canceled.

And then very quickly, things changed. it was that moment where like, OK, this is real, we really need to turn around. And of course, we’re racing back to Seattle, which at that point was the epicenter of the Covid cases in the U.S.

The last day, things were open, I went and bought a new guitar at Trading Musician, and a pair of running shoes, had a drink at Cafe Racer when they got the announcement that all the bars and restaurants were going to close, and then I just started to try to figure out what to do.

There was a panic of “if music is ever going to be important.” It started to feel nearly selfish when people are getting sick and dying. Then going through the process of thinking, “OK, well, maybe I should figure out something else to do. What can you do this pandemic proof? Oh, death and taxes. No, accounting sounds boring. I do come from a lineage of funeral home directors, maybe that can come back.” But instead, I stuck with being a musician, and have been teaching a lot.

You know, I’m able to be there for the kids, able to use music as therapy. It’s different, and it’s hard. The live thing will come back eventually. It’s just on hold for a while. There’s a strange psychology that I think a lot of artists have. Is this just innately a selfish thing that I’m doing? For me, especially music has been my therapy after having some very intense trauma and mental illness issues that run in my family. And so it was a necessary thing as well as something I love very much.

And if you look for history, I’m a history nerd, one thing that I found comforting was just looking at patterns in history where terrible things happen — plagues, wars, whatever it was. They went through periods of so many years, of darkness, and then they always kind of come back around to having art come out of it. And that art is incredibly important for people to process the feelings that they have. And people who aren’t artists want that.

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