All entries filed under Zoom concert

This YANJ has been on the calendar for months and I’ve had lingering concerns about it, since it was booked as a virtual “Zoom” concert for about 500 kids and teachers. I have had very, very few of these over the last two years and my confidence was somewhat lacking. I also distrust the technology platforms, and the school wanted a new one for this one: Google Meet.

I did several stabs at learning the platform this weekend, and it seemed similar to Zoom, et al, so I plunged ahead, set things up in my kitchen on Tuesday with camera, computer, lighting, banjo, mandolin and guitar. The sound check was set for 9 am today with the principal and it went well. We decided that I would use a vocal mike to help the situation and that was a good move.

We had told the teachers to expect the kids to get up and dance across the separate classrooms. This is a big school so there were about 400 K – 4th graders going to be in the “audience”.

A 9:30 show-time rolled around, the individual classes started showing up, and the teachers were encouraged to show the classrooms on the grid. That turned out to be a great feature for me, and I had some visual feedback on how the kids were reacting. They were all responding and gave me a boost.

I rolled through I Like Peanut Butter, The New Cat Came Back (with acknowledgement of racist beginnings), Down By The Bay (mandolin), A Place In The Choir (banjo, with “All The World’s Critters” thrown in), and Giant, We Gave Names to the Animals and All Around The Kitchen as a dance fest at the end. It was a crisp 45 minute set.

The principal said that it was the best assembly they’ve had and hoped that the school will bring me in for a live assembly next year.

It was a taxing effort on my part, and I pulled it off well, with no errors (surprise, surprise, with such a lay-off), and I used all of my virtual performance skills in engaging the kids, acknowledging them, encouraging them, hamming it up, all through that little white light in the camera. It’s not easy.

I find myself exhausted, even eight hours later, but feeling good that I nailed this opportunity to reach hundreds of kids and teachers without having to put in three hours of driving to and from NJ. It should be a healthy paycheck as well. A good day on the planet.

I had replace my car battery later though, and my hands show the wear and tear of physical labor.

It was an honor to be asked to be part of this monthly Zoom concert. I have a few connections with the songwriters in the NY scene, namely Rod MacDonald and Christine Lavin, but I also thought that they were running out of songwriters to feature. I still feel like an outlier with this songwriter niche, in spite of my rather extensive relationship with it as a radio and folk club promoter. But, I’ll take it.

I was particularly please to see that Reggie Harris and John McCutcheon were going to be part of it, and I had some familiarity with a few others on the bill. Christine Lavin introduced me and Ron Orlesko chatted with me at the end. I was glad that they mentioned my 365 pandemic project, my kids’ work and my radio shows. Ron and Christine were welcome connections in introducing me to this group.

I was slated third, and I was fine with that. I could do my set early and then take in the rest of the evening. I did have several sound checks with Brian, the techie, and we went back and forth with what used to be fairly straight forward. We monkeyed around with the camera sound, my amp sound, positioning of the guitar, etc. and, somehow, it seemed to be not up to snuff. Perhaps I should have used the Focusrite box set up that I had given up on months ago. Zoom is never a sure thing.

I did Don’t Call Me Early, Giants and Lessons from Pete, and pretty much nailed them (if the sound was good…). It seemed that the folks in the Zoom Room enjoyed the set, and I surprised some of the folks unfamiliar with me. I got some nice compliments from John (“Solid set, as usual”) and Reggie (“You belong here”) as well as from Ron and a few others. The smiles from the Zoom grid was quite welcome.

Reggie, Roy Zimmerman, Zoe Mulford and, of course, John McCutcheon did outstanding sets with powerful original songs, often connecting directly with the 4th of July. I was in some powerful company. John is particularly brilliant.

Still, I was the only one doing some non-original music, though I think I held down an important part of the evening – a strong performance on a folk stage. I guess that’s where I felt I added to the evening. I’ll take it.


I had my second virtual assembly program on Thursday morning through Young Audiences of NJ. This was for Valley View ES in Califon, NJ, a school I believe I’ve played live with RockRoots in the past. It was slated for 300 in-school kids (K-4) and assorted children tuning in remotely.

This was my first using the OSB studio and posting to Vimeo for the school. It’s been a steep learning curve that started last October with YANJ and, finally, I was putting my boots on the ground here in April. I was lucky to have a session with Chris, the tech guy at YA earlier in the week, so I was fairly confident that things were in order – but ya never know…. It does occupy my mind.

The OBS system sets up scenes for each song, so I can put a graphics, lyrics, etc. up for the kids. I also developed three videos for guitar, banjo and mandolin that came off nicely and was able to play those in the flow of the show. My camera and the built-in mike work well and I’m glad I got a good one awhile ago. I decided to skip the green screen for now. Perhaps I’ll work that back in later on.

I wasn’t sure if everyone would be remote, but I found out the day before that most of the kids were physically in school. The school wanted a “chat” available and I looked forward to working with that aspect. As it turns out, with only a few kids online at home, the chat was pretty much limited to the teachers, the librarian and a few kids at home. They were chirping along until the librarian texted that those kids should treat their comments like talking during a performance. Such is the state of these sessions. Still, it was interesting.

As I finished out the show, one home-schooler kept texting, ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’. He wanted more, so I texted him that I was glad he had a good time. He texted back, “Okay.’ So that was cool.

The school enjoyed the show: “I just wanted to reach out personally and let you know how thrilled our staff and students were with both Cello Fury and Dave Fry!  I was apprehensive about the virtual setting but it has been awesome!” It’s a good thing when it works out.

It was a lot of work to put together the tech, but I don’t mind the details; I realized that once I was in performance, I was in my element, doing what I do best – interacting with the ether and the little white dot on the camera. A leap of faith, but it’s in my wheelhouse.

I found that I was exhausted the rest of the afternoon, though. Even though there’s no travel, it remains an intense performing session. It’s good to have this one under my belt.

I had my first April gig today, part of a Chamber of Commerce Zoom conference. I was asked to lead a break-out session of music so I called it a hootenanny, a term that the corporate folks didn’t quite recognize when I brought it up. There ya go.

Fred from Working Dog Press hired me (he really is a wonderful supporter of me, Godfrey’s and the LV arts community at large) to work my magic and lead a sing-along. I appreciate his trust. These folks are community leaders working in various civic organizations, and this was an opportunity to bring my creative arts to them. I was among a chef, a golf instructor, a painter and a physical therapist.

I actually did something for this organization several years ago with a break-out songwriting session up at Zoellner Center, so I felt comfortable in working with these professionals.

I led off with Take Me Out to the Ball Game and followed with I Like Peanut Butter. I said that even if the sound was turned off on Zoom, I wanted to see them singing, the next best thing. I also wanted to see them move. I was able to sprinkle in my Pete Seeger observations about the power of singing together. I followed with My Girl, breaking the response into the three parts, and, again, insisting on Motown movements. It worked well.

I experimented with Skip To My Lou. I gave them a prompt early in the session to put a minor peeve about the pandemic. I linked my verses about insects (Ants in my pants are making me dance) and wanted to show how the song could be able for us the shake some negativity off from the past year and put it in the song. So I did some simple verses about missing family, coffee with friends and lack of hugs. It was fun.

I finished with Simple Gifts, stating that sometimes we just have to sing for ourselves. I share the lyrics on the screen and we sang it several times together, with the last verse on their own. As it turns out, it was a good song to finish the session. Time was up and we returned to the larger group.

I had planned on finishing with A Little Help From My Friends but ran out of time. I was able, though, to bring in up in my short recap. I think it really hit home for the larger group. “What would you say if I sang out of tune, would you get up and walk out on me?” I thanked the group for not getting up and walking out on me. The facilitator took that as a perfect way to bring the larger session to a close. Sometimes things just work out like that.

It was an intense half-hour session but I did my job well. Still, I’m a little rusty from the lay-off.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to get paid for my skills.

It’s been a long time since I’ve made a journal entry, basically because I haven’t had many gigs to talk about. There were a few farmers’ markets in the fall but no school gigs for a year. Finally, I had my first Zoom assemblies on Friday with a new school in Allentown – Anna May Hayes ES, a combination of two older inner city schools, including Cleveland ES, a school I’ve played for over 30 years. My friend John Christie taught there some 18 years ago and some of the teachers remember me from back then.

I was sponsored by Community in Schools, an umbrella organization for art/education for all the elementary Allentown schools. The process was long and tedious (and expensive) since this organization insists on background checks on several levels (even for Zoom). I rounded up my paperwork and sent it in, only to find out that they were all outdated. So, I embarked on my PA Child Abuse, FBI Criminal Record and fingerprinting (seems my prints go out f date, too.) So, I spent a bunch of money to keep the gig. So it goes these days.

I was part of a Rewards Friday program for the kids, all of whom are still at home, working on Zoom with their teachers. The school itself is now complete and sitting empty, apparently a beautiful building waiting to open. I was scheduled for two half-hour sessions, with 3 – 5 students and then K – 2 next. I must say that this has been hanging over my head for weeks and I was eager to get it done. I lose sleep over these things.

Green screen studio in kitchen

I did a lot of prep for this, having done quite a few Teaching Artists sessions over the last 10 months on Zoom technology and audience techniques. I finally got to use my green screen and external camera and that was fun. I also decided to use a video I worked up with John Christie on Giants and used it in the first session with the older kids. I decided not to use it for the second group; it seemed to distract from the “liveness” of the show. I’m sure some of the teachers in attendance would have enjoyed seeing their old comrade, but so it goes.

The green screen allowed me to change scenery for each song, something I figured would help retain eyes on the screen. I believe it served that purpose. I used peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Mars landscape, beach, assembly kids, a sine wave, etc. I had things in order so the transitions were fairly smooth.

I did I Like Peanut Butter, Tutti Tah, Cat Came Back, I Wanna Be a Dog, Giants (video), and Tropical Vacation. I emphasized movement and dance, as well as singing, and that proved really effective, even surprising several of the teachers unfamiliar with how I work.

Unfortunately, I was unable to watch the kids on the grid to watch and record their interactions. I was on the school’s Zoom account. I really wanted to be able to connect with individual students and also get some visual feedback from the show. I hope to learn from this for future Zooms.

Quotes from teachers:

“He has a love for music, children and entertaining and well… that just clicks.”

“Fun, making faces with the kids!”

“The children were dancing, smiling and engaged! Dave has a gift for connecting with children. You can’t ask for more in a performance. Highly recommended.”

I found myself physically and mentally exhausted afterwards and missed the closure of getting the $$ check afterwards. I was extremely glad to  complete the task that was weighing on me for months, and proud that it seemed to go well. It’s not the same, by any means, as performing for 500 kids in an auditorium, but rewarding unto itself.