In these uncertain days, live Internet performances by talented musicians are a source of entertainment, unity and comfort. Monica LaBonte, a stalwart of the Front Range singer-songwriter scene for the past decade, has been playing original tunes and covers over Facebook Live since April, in a weekly concert dubbed "Coffee and Tunes With Monica Marie."
LaBonte was one of the lead singers of the Monocle Band, a Boulder-based Americana/folk group that played its last-ever gig at the Fox Theatre on January 18. LaBonte’s son, Cadence, was born almost a year ago, and she’s currently focused on raising him with her husband and readying her solo debut. The Colorado Springs native has been playing her Facebook Live gigs most Fridays, in the late morning, while Cadence naps in the next room. We spoke with her last week while her husband watched the baby.
Westword: You’ve been doing your weekly Coffee and Tunes With Monica Marie for a while now. How do you decide when to schedule it and what to play?
Monica LaBonte: I’m kind of a slave to Cadence’s nap schedule, and those nighttime hours — those prime hours when other musicians were doing their live streams, in the early or mid-evenings — that’s not, honestly, a good time for us anyway, because of dinner and bath and bottle. It just felt nice to have a late-morning thing. Deciding on what to play, at first I started with just the songs that I was playing before the quarantine and when I was gigging before I had my baby. Then I realized that I could work on a song or two a week and trickle in new tunes — either ones that I wrote or ones that I wanted to cover. It’s helped me focus on music that felt really inspiring and was super fun to play.
Right after John Prine passed away, you covered one of his songs. Do you have other examples of how what was happening in the world affected what you chose to play during these sessions?
Yeah, I covered my friend John Statz’s song “What Would You Call That?” — and it's actually very relevant to what’s going on in the news right now. But I covered it because I saw him play online, and I loved that tune. It’s been a little goal of mine to learn local musicians’ songs; I thought it would be fun to start doing that. And there was one Friday when I did old Monocle tunes — old songs that I’ve never done just by myself — just because I woke up that morning and felt like I wanted to pay homage to Monocle, because that was such an important band for me and my journey. It was fun, and I think it has the most views out of all [the online shows].
What’s happening with your debut solo album?
I recorded last February. I was pregnant, and the short story of a long story is that I was with Monocle for a long time, and I started getting inspired to submit to songwriting competitions. I got into Folks Fest 2018, and just standing on the stage by myself and submitting songs that I’d written all by myself sparked something in me. It created this new energy that felt really good and made me feel like, “That’s the direction I wanna go.” I got pregnant later that year, and that following winter I decided that my life was going to change drastically. I wanted to get my foot in the door as a solo artist, and I decided to make an album so that after becoming a mom, I would still have something to offer that was already created. I had all these songs ready, so it was the perfect time to make it all happen. I’m starting the process of doing all the back-end stuff now to release, hopefully, this summer.
How has it felt to play these live-to-the-Internet shows?
I’m gonna say it’s a mixed bag. It’s a blessing to have the time and the ability to offer these live streams, but it wasn’t without a lot of trial and error, sound-wise. I live in the mountains, in between Lyons and Estes Park; the weather, the wind — all these things contribute to poor connections. I finally have a little setup; I’ve got a good microphone, and I’ve got an iRig, which connects to my phone. It’s fucking awesome. It saved my sound, pretty much. So it was kind of awkward at first, interacting and feeling relaxed in that performance space, but now that the sound is dialed in and I have people who come every week, I’m really enjoying it.
Do you think the attention from these online shows will translate to more fans and better gigs when things get back to normal?
I think there’s something grassroots about it. I do make tips every week, and I do think they’re from people who, when things open up, will come out and see the artists who are doing these live streams. The potential for new fans is there.
How has the virus affected your family?
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I also teach music, and I did lose some students, but I think overall we have been fortunate that the bulk of the work that puts food on the table for my family was able to be moved online. I lost a good chunk of income, but because of my husband’s job, we’ve been fine. I certainly have a big set of bills that has to be met, and the donations [during the live streams] definitely have helped. Because I’m not in dire straits, I take some portion of the tips and give to organizations and local businesses.
When will you feel okay playing music in front of people, in person?
I’m comfortable as soon as people open up and say that they’re ready. At some point we have to, right? If I have to sing with a mask on, I think I’d probably just opt out, but if people keep their distance, are respectful, and the band is far enough away from the audience…maybe that’s, like, stage one in the process of getting back.
Coffee and Tunes with Monica Marie, most Fridays at 10:30 a.m. via Facebook.com/MonicaMariesMusic.