Soul Ska Live Stream at the The Backyard Session, by Carolyn McCoy
Soul Ska livestream (photo: Carolyn McCoy)

Words by Carolyn McCoy

At this point in time, most of us are experiencing a bit of the Lockdown Blues. Even though it seems we are coming out of it, we are entering back into a world that has changed drastically.

It is sad to say that the music scene in the Bay Area is in a state of a significant overhaul, with massive shutdowns and closures of all music venues, bars, and clubs. Most of us have not gone to a live show since mid-March, and bands and musicians are struggling to find a place (and an income) in the new paradigm.

The future of our local scene is uncertain. Are small clubs and bars a thing of the past? Who knows? But the truth is, we still need live music in our brains, and we still need to rock and roll. so how do we do that when we can’t gather? Well, kids, welcome to the new age of the music industry, Livestream Shows via the Internet.

When the going gets wacky, the wacky people get creative and innovative. It seems that the new version of a “live music venue” is in our own backyards, literally. Backyard (or garage, or front porch, or front yard) livestreams are the new clubs. The lawn or patio is the latest idea of a stage, and countless viewers sitting at home with their computers are the modern audiences. Now that’s what I call making the best of a bad situation.

I have had the honor of being present during a couple of online streaming events. Being part of a “live audience” during such events is both exciting and really weird. On one hand, it’s my own personal concert...and on the other hand, the lack of crowd energy is greatly missed. Regardless, it’s live music, and I am thrilled to be a part of it again.

In Marin County’s San Anselmo, music lover John Olmsted has created an excellent venue in his backyard, gathering local bands to play for an hour or so to an online audience. Bay Area ska/funk crew Soul Ska put on a performance this last week that was buoyant and high energy as any show they’d ever done in a regular venue. The band has been on hiatus like everyone else, and playing together for the first time in months was both joyful with hints of grief, as we realized how different things are. “This whole pandemic has shown how quickly the things that we hold dear can be taken away, which reminds us to make the most of every moment of life,” states Soul Ska founder and keys player Jonathan Korty. “When Soul Ska played our last show at Elbo Room Oakland in February, we had no idea we wouldn’t see each other until June! So it was so nice to get back together and share the music that binds us.”

With a small handful of friends hanging out under the oaks in Olmsted’s yard, we were responsible for cheering on the band and acting as if we were live at the Fillmore. Even without the crowd vibe, Soul Ska produced a fantastic show. They are a polished, professional, and massively talented bunch of people. With horns a-flying (Aaron Saul, sax; Liz Larson, trombone; and Patrick Byers, sax), the bass a-bumping (Tommy O’Mahoney), drums a-kicking (Lex Raxon), searing guitar licks (Gardner Goetz), and a powerhouse vocal team (Jethro Jeremiah and Noelle Glory) that blows the lyrics to the moon, Soul Ska served up the live stream with upbeat songs such as “Rude Girl” and “Do Right.”  In addition, it was almost as if the band dug into their personal pandemic playlist with songs such as “Propaganda,” “Let It Play On,” and the Specials' eerily prophetic “Living In A Ghost Town”: “This town (town) is coming like a ghost town / All the clubs have been closed down / This place (town) is coming like a ghost town / Bands won't play no more.”

The band donated 25% of their livestream tip jar to blacklivesmatter.com, and they were vocal about the injustices going down in our world right now.

The show was widely enjoyed by almost 1,000 people who tuned in — not to mention the neighbors in the vicinity clapping, cheering, and peeking over the fence. “It’s a very different experience to play music and not know who or how many people are watching,” states Korty. “We are used to feeding off the crowd energy as we play, so it is obviously not the same, but until we can congregate again &mdah; this will have to do. We thank John Olmstead and The Backyard Sessions for making it possible and everyone who tuned in. We are going to make it a monthly thing — stay tuned and stay safe.”