During a normal performance at the Chameleon Club, Stonewall Vessels frontman Darrion Washington would probably ask the crowd to put their hands in the air at some point.
Last Friday night during the band's first performance in months, Washington had to resort to asking fans to add the “raising hands” emoji into the chat window of a livestream. Consider it Sign #3,847 that COVID-19 has changed many of the formerly-quaint ways that life was lived prior to March.
The Stonewall Vessels were self-described “guinea pigs” for a new livestream initiative from the Chameleon Club, which has Lancaster bands play a full gig at the venerable stage with no audience members physically in attendance.
“It’s funny, the first couple times we played [at the Chameleon Club], it was very, very low attendance,” says Luke Krizner, Stonewall Vessels guitarist, over the phone. “The last time we played, we sold something like 150 tickets, and now to go out there and play to no one again was really strange.”
On May 20, Chameleon talent booker Brandon Gepfer posted a status asking if any bands were interested in the livestream idea as a way to help promote the venue’s recently launched GoFundMe campaign. Within two days, the members of Stonewall Vessels agreed to play and practiced for the first time in weeks and played an hour long set.
The livestream itself has all the hallmarks of a main stage show at the Chameleon Club, with the benefit of two cameras – flashing lights, fog and full sound production from the venue’s usual front of house staff.
“Hello all you livestreamers, it’s really weird – I’m talking to nobody right now, but I know I’m talking to somebody right now,” declared Washington after the band finished its first song on Friday night.
The band performed its set without wearing masks, but Krizner says the limited staff on hand at the venue followed all CDC guidelines in terms of show set up. Band members and staff wore masks for instrument and gear load-in, and the band was required to all use one door to enter and exit the venue. After instruments were set up, staff sanitized equipment that is owned by the Chameleon Club, which includes mics and mic stands.
“I would never want to do a concert and put any of our fans at risk, because health is super important,” Krizner says. “We're going to ride this out as long as we have to before we can go back to real live shows.”
The band’s performance led directly to more donations to the Chameleon Club’s GoFundMe campaign.
“The majority of my friends from my teenage years that I'm still friends with, I met at the Chameleon Club,” says Krizner. “I think it's such an important thing to have a place where musicians can come together and meet.”
This Friday at 8 p.m., the livestream experiment continues with psychedelic rock band Phase Materia, which has played shows with the Stonewall Vessels in the past. In fact, Phase Materia’s last public show, which took place in February at Zoetropolis Cinema Stillhouse, was opening for last week’s livestream stars.
“It's definitely going to be different,” says Phase Materia frontman Connor Smith, over the phone. “We like to create environments that people can join in when they come see us. Certainly no crowd surfing this time.”
The band released its debut album, “Between the Folds,” last November and had a handful of shows scheduled over the past two months that have since been canceled. Smith says that the band had already been planning some sort of livestreaming experience before they saw Gepfer’s call for bands.
“It's been kind of a nice in-between state to be in,” Smith says. “There's almost not as much pressure to go out and play shows because you physically can't, so it's a good time to really focus on infrastructure and recording.”
For those who pine for every major hallmark of the live music experience and bemoan all that is lost transferring from “live” to “livestream,” fear not – at the end of the Stonewall Vessels’ set, the band left the stage to absolute silence, with no calls for an encore.
Though the band had already played well over its allotted time slot, the members were given the thumbs’ up to play one last song by Chameleon staff, leading the band to triumphantly take the stage once more.
“It felt really great to be out there again playing,” Krizner says. “If you're a musician, you almost feel obligated to do it, you feel like it's something that you have to do in your heart.”