It was Friday the 13th, and whether it would be filled with bad luck or filled with blessings was yet to be seen. The Flyin’ V’s Spring Break 2020 Florida tour was a massive success up till then and hadn’t been affected by the novel virus known as Covid-19. But that was all about to change. Peter and I had been on the road since Feb 29th playing shows from Georgia and throughout Florida. After spending five days off in Orlando, frolicking like kids at Disneyworld (thanks to our frans), and relaxing by the pool, we were rejuvenated, rested, and ready to rock out at the Bonita Blues Festival, which just happened to be on Friday the 13th.
By this time, news of the virus was just starting to spread, and precautions were taking place. A town meeting was planned at 10 am that morning to decide whether an ordinance would halt all major outdoor events in the Bonita Springs area. By that time, the Flyin’ V’s would already be halfway there. We woke up early with trepidation, awaiting word from the festival organizers. Typically on festival day, the mood is light and full of excitement. To perform live in front of thousands of music lovers on a massive stage with a killer sound company is every musician’s dream gig. Plus, the pay for a one hour set is more than most of us make all month from bar gigs. Not to mention the festival staff treats us like rockstars with a fully stocked green room complete with VIP access. The line of adoring fans ready to buy our latest records, get autographs, and take selfies also make us feel our hard work was worth the struggle to live our dreams. But instead of the usual buzz, we felt dread laced with some hope. It wasn’t apparent to us just yet or anyone, for that matter, the threat of this impending pandemic.
We got the fateful call at 11:10 am that the Bonita Blues Fest was, in fact, canceled. Up
until that point, there was still hope. There was still a possibility. There was still a chance. We continued on our route to await further instruction. My biggest fear was not getting paid. There wasn’t a global pandemic clause in our contract. This could potentially bankrupt me. Now, let me rewind for a moment. Earlier in the week, we took a huge blow with the news that the drummer and keys player hired months earlier to play Bonita backed out. I was devastated and
scrambled to find replacements last minute. Major festivals make or break bands, so not just any drummer would do.
After exhausting local contacts to no avail, I reached out to our trusty Flyin’ V drummer, Kevin Hanson, in North Carolina. Luckily he came to our rescue – booking a last-minute flight to Fort Myers without hesitation. $500 later…one disaster averted.
Now back to the 13th – Kevin’s early departure time had him arriving in Florida before we knew if there would be a festival to play or not, and canceling could mean returning the deposit PLUS the $500 for his flight. The tension was on the rise. I kept repeating lyrics to my song “Already Alright.” Things couldn’t get worse.
But, if they were shutting Florida down, what did that mean for the rest of our tour dates? The money we potentially could make from this tour had to hold us over until the next one in July. I couldn’t take another hit. Before the tour even started, I lost over $2000 from Ms. Newby’s in Panama City Beach, who had double booked and canceled us instead of the band they accidentally booked on top of us. That was supposed to be my big birthday celebration gig with a sweet condo on the beach. Even more bad news. This was turning out to be the kind of Friday the 13th nightmares are made of.
Kevin was checked into the hotel when we arrived along with some dear frans who flew
in the night before from my hometown for a “girls weekend.” It was supposed to be a fun-filled festival, but It was more like an episode of The Twilight Zone. We checked into our rooms and met up with Kevin and our friends for lunch. With news of the virus, we didn’t know how to act. Any information on staying safe from this virus was limited and confusing. We tried to carry on as usual, but I could feel everyone’s unsettled emotions as we caught up and shared much-needed laughs over lunch at the Perkin’s beside our hotel. We did our best to stay positive, making plans for a beach day to fill the time we would have been at the festival when I got a call from Scott Miller, one of the organizers of Bonita Blues Fest. All this time, Scott and the rest of the crew had been working tirelessly, devising a plan on how to salvage what was left of their festival.
I need to stop here and tell you about this fantastic group of humans. Festival founders and organizers, Kevin & Jennifer Barry and Scott & Judy Miller, are some of the finest folks around. Scott & Judy even opened their home to Peter and I a couple weeks earlier when we had some gigs in the area. These were are “our people,” and we had a blast. We met Scott & Judy when we played Canal Winchester Blues Fest in Ohio last July. They were front and center scouting for bands for their next festival. They met us with open arms immediately after our set and asked us to play for them in Bonita. I could feel the good vibes all around them, and we shook on it right then and there!
You can read more about that in one of my earlier articles here.
Not only is Bonita Blues Festival one of the top boutique festivals in the country, it’s also a non-profit that raises money for other charities. They’ve been serving the community with these festivals for FOURTEEN YEARS! So this wasn’t just a loss for them, the vendors, sponsors, and the musicians, it was an enormous loss for the community and the charities that they support. They weren’t going down without a fight. Every year, when the festival shuts down, they take the party to Maria’s, a local Mexican restaurant where bands play, and massive jams ensue until the wee hours of the morning. Scott called to let me know the after-party was still on, and they wanted us to come play both nights and that they would be paying us IN FULL!.
I was so overwhelmed by the good news, I burst into tears. I couldn’t thank Scott and crew enough for their efforts to fulfill this obligation even in the midst of possibly bankrupting their charity to do so. This, my friends, is what being a charitable organization is all about.
What’s more is the outpouring of support from the community as word of the festival cancelation spread on social media. Folks were refusing to take refunds for their tickets! They wanted to make sure the artists and charities got paid. Also, news of major sponsors not wanting refunds were coming in as well. In my opinion, this was an excellent example of humanity coming together in a crisis. I felt full of joy when just a few hours earlier; I was feeling extreme anxiety and fear. The past 24 hours had been a roller coaster of emotions.
We rolled up to Maria’s that night to see a parking lot full of happy but tired faces. They
had been on the same emotional roller coaster, and we were all ready to blow off some steam!
The lineup that night consisted of Ben Rice Band, Tennessee Redemption, and the Flyin’ V’s. It was rockin! Ben Rice was so gracious to share his after-party with us. The crowd was giving lots of hugs despite the warnings, and we didn’t care. A battle was fought, and we needed the love. Blues music filled the air, and the dance floor was packed with adoring frans. The small restaurant was at max capacity, and it was HOT!! We celebrated and made the best of a seemingly impossible situation and did it all over again the next night. We will be forever bound with each other by the memory of these beginning stages of what would become our first global pandemic. What a blessing!
We got to play one more show at the High Dive in Gainesville before the world completely shut down, and we went home to quarantine. They say timing is everything, and this was no exception. Had the tour been planned for later than March, none of it would have happened, and we would have little to no money to survive on. We were on the invisible line between normal and what is now our new normal. No more live music, sporting events, schools or churches, quarantine, social distancing, no hugging or touching, wearing gloves and face masks, and a future unknown to all of us would be our new norm.
For me, luck is when preparation meets opportunity. No one was prepared for this! And amid seemingly bad luck, I still feel extremely BLESSED.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for a lot of my fellow musicians. Most indie artists live gig to gig, and it’s a miracle to me how all the bills get paid even without a global pandemic going on. Despite it all, I’m grateful for this experience and the lessons I may learn from it. Music has always been my lifeline, and I’m not sure how to move forward, so I’ve been still when that’s usually not a good thing in the music biz.
To be honest, there’s relief in the stillness. It’s a nice break from booking, touring, and the usual business side of music, especially with ups and downs like some of the ones I’ve mentioned in this story. My life has been full of them. It’s easy to lose touch with why you started playing music in the first place when it’s no longer just a hobby or something fun to do in the garage on the weekends. When it’s a means of survival, the spark that started the fire can easily be snuffed out. Given recent events in my life and career, I was beginning to feel this way. The loss of it it just might be the thing that ignites this Hot Mess again! Just the other day, I wrote a song, and I haven’t written in almost a year! The song itself is a blessing written about bad luck.
I don’t know what the future holds for me, my fellow touring musicians, or the world in
general. These are strange and uncertain times for us all. Meanwhile, the powers that be are trying to “gaslight” us with stimulus checks, unemployment insurance and the daily onslaught of products and services to make us “feel better,” although the majority of us are still depressed, anxious, sad, or even angry. The mass media, both news and social, are filling us with misinformation that only seems to confuse us more. Our current reality is alarming. If you look back throughout history, the most inspiring and precious information during similar crises came to us in the form of music, poetry, and art. Now is a time we can look to musicians, writers, and creators again for inspiration. If we do that, maybe we can turn this never-ending Friday the 13th into a blessing.
I encourage you to seek out independent artists like myself, like your life depends on it,
because ours do. Donate if you have extra to give, share with your friends, buy CDs, band
merch and sign up for newsletters, follow us on social media and support our efforts in the new virtual frontier. You can find a lot of them right here on VW. It may even inspire you to write a song, learn to play an instrument, or write a poem, and together we can paint a new picture of what this uncertain future could hold for us. And you never know, you could turn some bad luck into a blessing just like we did that Friday the 13th in Bonita Springs.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my pandemic parable.
I wish you all love, health, and happiness, until we meet in person again.
Check out Pam Taylor’s amazing Lap Steel Solo at Maria’s in the video below.