Song & Stage

Gene Casey on Finding Inspiration and Community in Virtual Concerts

"The opportunity to remind each other of good days and better days to come was a downright celebration."

In these harrowing times, it’s especially important that we don’t take moments of inspiration and joy for granted. We asked our readers and local icons to share recent personal stories that left them feeling inspired, so that we could spread those positive feelings and uplift our fellow East Enders. Below, you’ll find a touching tale of how Gene Casey, frontman of the band Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks, overcame his doubts to put on his first virtual concert, reconnecting him with his community and reigniting his passion for creating new music.

The arrival of the pandemic came at a time of much activity for me, and for the band. Winter 2019–2020 was unusually busy for us, the flurry of holiday gigs continuing into the new year, hurrying to finish putting together a new CD—actually a compilation of older material plus three new tracks—in time for a May 1 wedding wherein the client had pre-ordered 200 copies. Where typically the post–New Year’s lull would allow perhaps a mini-vacation, much-needed time off, this winter was all business. And there was a summer season of shows to book, confirm, alert musicians to. It was to culminate in a concert at Bay Street in Sag Harbor on March 28. Tickets were moving, I had booked time on local radio shows to promote the concert, the usual effort we make to ensure a good turnout.

And then…nothing.

Call it willful ignorance, denial. How can one plan for such a thing? Our last show was March 1, in Manhattan, a particularly spirited affair, with much hugging and hand-shaking going on. I remember thinking, “Hmmm, maybe this is not all that advisable…”

Within a week or two, the concert was cancelled, the recording sessions suddenly impossible and the wedding on May 1 postponed to 2021.

Since then it has been one day at a time—trying to not get overwhelmed by scenarios that seem worse each day, with predictions more dire and disheartening. The 2020 date book full of names and numbers scribbled in ink now seems like something frozen in time. The guys in the band and I text updates, jokes, song ideas—none of us knowing when we will be in the same room, tuning up and hoping to find that groove again.

What to do? Is making music even valid now? Is strapping on a guitar and crooning at a time like this possibly an insult to those who are suffering greatly?

Even the idea of online concerts left me overwhelmed. Who wants to see just me in my house, plucking and yowling away? That is not gonna happen.

But then Dawn Manwaring from the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Library called with the proposal that I do just that—a live, online show from my house, broadcast on Facebook, sponsored by as many East End libraries as she could convince. How does that grab you?

Faced with a challenge and sensing Dawn’s enthusiasm, I said yes. At least it will force me to get into musical shape again—as you know, the ‘chops’ wither away immediately upon neglect and disuse. My devoted wife, Heather, agreed to take on the lion’s share of technical support, as I have proven monumentally inept in that department.

Our first attempt was a colossal failure! Twenty minutes before showtime, we somehow lost internet connection. Dread and depression set in. I was inconsolable, unreachable, with a belly full of self-pity. You see? These online shows are worthless!

We agreed, however, to try it again the following week. The libraries now numbered 15—from Montauk to Deer Park—all signed on as co-hosts of the show, generously sponsoring our little endeavor. Friday came, and this time the gremlins were gone. We broadcasted from my little office, with a navy-blue curtain behind me, a couple of stage lights and just me and the guitar, all nervous as hell.

What then happened is something I had not anticipated. My ignorance of how these things work and my preoccupation with my own selfish concerns—I am, after all, a bit of rockabilly diva—left me unaware that the folks watching the show online were able to type messages on-screen, to me, to each other. Dozens of them! Comments, hellos, we miss you’s, requests for this song, for that song, etc. During the hour-long performance, I was not able to really respond—squinting at a little monitor to my right. But afterward, Heather and I re-watched the show, and it was a hugely emotional experience.

Mixed with the sheer relief that the ordeal was over, and that I managed to not make a total ass of myself, was the realization of how I was just a small part of something bigger than my grumpy ego. It was really about how much the fans missed this part of their lives, how important it was for people to reconnect, to share the music again—friends and fans with so much in common. A community. “How are you doing?” “We’re OK, we miss you!” “Can’t wait to dance again!” “We are dancing here in the living room now!” “We love you!” Some 2,000 people watched at least a portion of the show, with a steady 250 to 300 watching throughout. Now, that ain’t Springsteen or Billy Joel numbers, but for us, this bond we’ve built for 30 years is rather significant, and at a time when there are virtually no happy headlines, the opportunity to remind each other of good days and better days to come was a downright celebration.

I was left humbled, grateful and happy.

And now, I am inspired. Inspired to write new songs, to figure out a way to record them, to get the full band involved in a presentation. I signed up to do four more online shows this month, and I am excited to do new material and old favorites, because my friends, fans, my family, my town, reminded me that music is essential to the community and to the human spirit, and that somehow, someday we’ll do more celebrating soon.

Gene Casey continues to perform virtual shows, with two Monday Morning Mini Concerts scheduled to be livestreamed on Hampton Library’s YouTube channel on May 25 and June 1 at 10 a.m. Visit genecasey.com for more info.

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