Jazz In June takes on a new form this year as musicians come together to perform via Facebook Live, illustrating how the arts community around Nebraska is adapting to COVID-19 restrictions.
Jazz in June concerts typically take place every Tuesday throughout the month of June in the sculpture garden of the Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln and feature an array of national and international artists. Concerns over COVID-19 raised questions regarding the venue and the musicians’ ability to travel for the 2020 season. Audience safety was also a priority. While the challenges presented setbacks for the event’s coordinators, Jazz in June Director Spencer Munson saw it as an opportunity to focus on local artists.
“My goal as event organizer is to constantly be lifting up our local community and our local music community,” Munson said.
Munson worked with a local group of musicians and engineers called the Basement Creators Network to implement a new way to reach audiences. The network already had a system and technology in place for facilitating interactive livestream concerts while enabling audience interaction and contribution.
The Storm Cellar, a bar and venue located in Lincoln, became the collaboration space for Jazz in June’s recorded concerts by providing an opportunity for artists to socially distance themselves while they performed. The Basement Creators Network set up their equipment and musicians gathered in small groups on the Storm Cellar stage every week.
“It just took a little bit of adapting to get used to. Like, I don’t really have an audience for what I’m doing right here. You have to kind of like imagine how they’re reacting to it,” said Andrew Janak, adjunct instructor of saxophone at Doane University and one of Jazz in June’s featured artists.
Although many in the community are disappointed that there is no in-person event, Munson said most are grateful that a portion of Jazz in June is still accessible. The first livestream on June 9 received around 4,000 viewers throughout the course of an hour, with 150-300 viewers watching the stream at any given time. For reference, in-person Jazz in June performances brought in audiences of 5,000 each week in 2019.
Audience feedback has been largely positive. During the stream, viewers comment on how they are listening with their families, enjoying the music at home, and sending support to the artists.
Munson said around 50-20% of Jazz in June’s budget comes from tips and fundraising, so one concern of his was reaching the year’s donation goal. Despite the number of changes this year, steady contributions from viewers have surpassed the event’s fundraising goal within the first four concerts.
The Jazz in June team adapted once again when it rescheduled the first livestream (intended for June 2) to July 7 in response to the Black Lives Matter protests taking place in Lincoln and the city-wide curfew that had been issued.
“We wanted to make sure that those artists were safe. You know, jazz is a quintessential original American music, but it is quintessentially black and African American as well, so we have to recognize that,” Munson said.
Janak said that artists will continue to find ways to collaborate and work as they wait for venues to reopen and in-person concerts to resume.
“In the meantime, we just need to be creative and still find ways to bring music to people,” Janak said.
Looking ahead, Munson said he’s hopeful for what’s in store for the Nebraska arts community. Continuing to adapt to new guidelines will be key in maintaining platforms that elevate local musicians.
“Jazz in June is COVID relief in itself. You know, we must still be here to help support our artists who are out of work, and we must be here to provide some joy and some community when people are feeling isolated,” Munson said.