Thanks to the pandemic, concerts haven't been the most reliable attraction of 2020.
Aside from most of them being canceled, the few in-person events happening aren't exactly packed with screaming fans — even if they're thrilled to experience the rush of live music. Nobody's moshing. Sweat isn't flying. People are seated. Performers have to distance themselves from their audience.
Musicians at indoor shows sometimes feel like they're playing background music for a snoozy cocktail party. At least that's how Sean Wayne and Jordan Haywood, members of the Denver electronic duo Projects Ossia, describe it.
Before the pandemic hit, Projects Ossia had shows booked for three months straight at the Broadway Roxy. For a still-emerging band formed in 2018, this meant that Wayne and Haywood were finally getting real exposure and stepping into the spotlight with their music.
COVID-19 had other plans, of course. In mid-March, the state shut down and a stay-at-home order went into effect. Concerts as we knew them were indefinitely postponed.
Wayne and Haywood assumed they wouldn't be playing shows for weeks, maybe months. Then the Roxy called to see if they were still interested in performing.
The pair agreed on a June date and finally played for an audience again. But the experience wasn't exactly what they'd been missing. Not that it's the venue's fault: Rules for live music have been strict and ever-shifting. At different points throughout the summer, singers were required to wear masks, and audience members had to sit 25 feet from the stage and six feet from each other. And then there's the ever-present concern about catching or spreading the virus.
All of the above has made performing awkward and alienating for many.
"No one can get up and come say hi," notes Wayne, the duo's sound engineer and songwriter. "The first couple of shows, [Haywood] had to wear a mask while singing. They put up this big plexiglass piece in front of the stage, so we’re boxed in, and everyone is looking in at us."
What was originally going to be a great lineup of live concerts that would allow Projects Ossia to establish its fan base turned into what felt like playing from inside a fish bowl. With the audience separated from the musicians by the plexiglass and everybody drinking, eating and chatting, Wayne and Haywood struggled to connect with their fans.
"There seems to be more conversation at the table," Wayne observes. "In between songs, usually when people would start clapping, people just started talking. We’re basically background music."
The venue only has a handful of tables spaced out, allowing up to ten people per party. Haywood says they use texts to interact with fans. "You can’t talk to people between tables, so we have to text the people that came to see us that we appreciate them. We filled up the place to the maximum. There were maybe six tables in there."
While the musicians appreciate what venues have to go through for the safety and health of everyone while offering artists a chance to perform, it's still a disappointing time to be an up-and-coming act.
Wayne and Haywood met three years ago while working at the same sandwich shop. They began playing songs together, then started getting coffee shop gigs before graduating to larger stages. Now Haywood teaches piano lessons while going to school for music and psychology at Metro State University, and Wayne is trying to make a living off of music. "I try my best to do music stuff: mixing, mastering, producing, hip-hop — stuff like that," he says.
Projects Ossia released an album in May called Dandelion Seeds. Despite their rocky and untimely breakthrough into the world of live performing, the two are happy to be creating, using their time at home to produce new music.
There's no cover for their shows at the Broadway Roxy. Reservations are encouraged, but there's also limited availability for walk-ins. Wayne says they're okay with the free shows because they bring in people who are new to Projects Ossia. As Haywood explains, they want to offer a place for people to "come and chill out and not worry about the end of the world."
Meanwhile, the duo is looking forward to its upcoming Halloween show at the South Broadway spot. "We're going to do a costume-party-type thing," Haywood says. "Or at least try."
Projects Ossia will celebrate Halloween at the Broadway Roxy, 554 South Broadway, on Saturday, October 31 at 7 p.m.; call 720-456-7041 for reservations.