Local Current Blog

Virtual tours, bedroom compilations, and livestreamed concerts: How Minnesota’s musicians are sustaining community in quarantine

Nur-D and his bandmates performing at First Avenue's Best New Bands concert in January 2020.

On Wednesday, March 25, Gov. Tim Walz called Minnesotans to “stay at home” to slow the spread of COVID-19. The executive order, which began on Friday night, requires us all to stay indoors, except to access essential needs and services. Although we are physically distant from one another, Minnesota’s musicians are finding creative ways to rebuild community.

Already, musicians have turned to the Internet to recreate the physical connections that are lost due to social distancing. Livestreams have helped recoup the costs of cancelled concerts. Tweets and comments are facilitating the spread of ideas despite physical distance.

“Our music scene has always been one of community,” said Matt Allen, better known by his moniker Nur-D. “Even more so than I think we realized until this moment. It really is a collective of artists working side-by-side. All different genres, all different types — but at the end of the day, we’re all Minnesota music artists.”

Here are just a few examples of how musicians from across Minnesota are supporting the arts and staying connected while at home.

The Livestream Cover Challenge

Thousands of musicians have turned to Facebook to share live music and spread positivity. Within just two weeks, the Facebook group Livestream Cover Challenge! already has over 20,000 members. The group was organized by Minneapolis musician Joe Scarpellino, who plays in a number of local bands including Dead Larry and IronStar.

Anyone can join the public Facebook group, and the rules of participating are simple. If someone challenges you to participate, you have 24 hours to learn a cover song, before livestreaming yourself performing it. Musicians can leave their Venmo usernames or include other ways to donate in the descriptions of the videos, encouraging viewers to pitch in.

The rules are loose,” Scarpellino writes in the group’s description. “This is all about having fun, learning new music, playing for your friends, and helping pass the time during the coronavirus pandemic. The #1 goal here is to make sure we’re all smiling and having fun.”

Some recent uploads include a harp cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” a rendition of the Minnesota classic “Funky Town,” and even an Internet-favorite — Smash Mouth’s “All Star,” performed entirely with melons.

Smokin' Joe – John Lennon – Imagine Challenge

Finally getting around to doing my own challenge :) here's "Imagine" by John Lennon. I have lots more songs to do – kinda too many – but I'll keep chipping away at them! Thank you all again for your love and participation. I may have created this thing – but y'all make it great!!tip jar:venmo: @joseph-scarpellino paypal: scarp.joe@gmail.com#imaginechallenge

Posted by Joe Scarpellino on Friday, March 20, 2020

“Creating this, I didn’t realize it would be 4,000 people in two days,” Scarpellino tells the camera before performing his cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” “I am taken aback, but I’m happy to be here.”

Brace Cove Records: Quarantine Comp

Minneapolis’ Brace Cove Records has already felt the impact of cancelled tours and delayed releases. The majority of the indie label’s artists are from Minnesota, and all have been forced to put a hold on concerts and live events. “There were also bands where we were going to release their first thing ever, and we’re excited to have these shows, and all these great plans, which were all foiled,” said Brace Cove co-founder John Waters.

With plans cancelled and time on their hands, many musicians are turning to Twitter, already a popular watering hole for DIY and indie musicians. Waters was scrolling through his feed when he saw a Tweet from Double Grave guitarist Jeremy Warden (who also runs another independent cassette tape label, Heavy Meadow Records) pointing out one “silver lining” of quarantining: “In like ten months there’s gonna be hundreds of very cool, highly produced, home made lo-fi Quarantine EPs from everybody.” Within less than an hour, Waters shared the Tweet to Brace Cove’s account, sounding the call for a quarantine compilation.

The label has now amassed over two dozen submissions for the Brace Cove Records: Quarantine Comp. Quickly, musicians began adding their names to the Twitter thread, offering up original songs and covers. “Everyone submitted something that didn’t previously exist — that hadn’t been released,” said Waters. “Some things are B-sides off of someone’s record, some people covered stuff.” 

At the end of the day, I think the main goal was just [to] give a small amount of direction — to offer an activity, essentially. I think everyone is just so bored,” Waters continued. “I think some people had things that were just sitting around with no destination, other people wrote a song on their guitar. To be honest, it’s given me something to do. And it’s been a surprising amount of work.

All of the songs will be released digitally through Brace Cove. The label is also planning on releasing a number of the songs on cassette tape. The compilation represents an eclectic mix of genres, which will include everything from acoustic to electric to “super hardcore” songs. The artwork was created by Chicago artist PJ Rork, who also contributed a song to the compilation. The project has connected Brace Cove with artists they have never worked with before. It’s extended the community — even past Minneapolis — past our circle,” said Waters.

Waters says that the main goal of the compilation was to raise money for a local cause. All proceeds from the Quarantine Comp will benefit the St. Paul non-profit Keystone Community Services. Keystone is continuing a number of their essential programs during the stay-at-home order, including delivering meals and keeping their food shelf open.

Brace Cove typically sells their cassette tapes for $6, which Waters said already felt like a steep increase from the typical selling rate of $5. But for this release, Brace Cove will be asking for a higher price, to raise as many funds as possible for Keystone.

To me, at the end of the day, the charity part of this is the biggest deal,” said Waters. We’re just trying to show up in whatever way we can.

Nur-D’s Quarantined World Tour

In January, local hip-hop artist Nur-D was singing and rapping in front of a hyped-up audience at First Avenue’s Best New Bands Concert. He was coming off of a successful 2019, which involved being crowned the Twin Cities’ best new artist and performing in The Current’s studio. He had a steady stream of shows lined up for the spring — which all came to a halt mid-March.

On March 15, Minnesota United cancelled the opening game at Allianz Field, which Nur-D was set to perform at. “We were like, ‘Oh snap, that’s pretty bad, but as long as they don’t cancel anything else it should be fine,’” said Matt Allen, the voice behind Nur-D. “And then literally from Sunday March 15 to Thursday the 19th, almost every single thing I had had for the foreseeable future was cancelled.”

Allen said he knew he “need[ed] to do something.” “Even though I’m struggling and I’m freaking out and I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do, I know I’m not the only one,” he said. “There are a lot of artists that are also feeling this strain towards [events] being cancelled. When I started thinking about that, I started thinking, ‘Well we have all these technologies. I have all this stuff on my phone. I could do a show that way.’”

Originally, his idea was to perform a one-off livestreamed concert. But soon, other artists became involved, and the event turned into a full-blown virtual tour. On March 15, Nur-D hosted the first livestreamed concert in the “Nur-D Quarantined World Tour” on Instagram Live with fellow local hip-hop artists including MPLS Drew, Christopher Michael Jensen, and Mic Dos.

The livestreams were broadcast from a variety of social media platforms, including Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, to recreate the feel of stopping at different cities on a tour. “We’ve had people tune in from California, New York, Louisiana,” said Allen. “One of our ones we advertised a little bit more robustly — with Student 1 and Lazenlow — we had people tuning in from other countries. It really was a world tour.

The Quarantined World Tour is an opportunity for artists to continue to share music despite social distancing, but importantly, it is also an opportunity for them to recoup some of the money they’ve lost due to cancelled events and loss of other part-time jobs like food service or retail. Allen created the Venmo account @MNArtistRelief to raise money for artists affected by COVID-19. Already, the Venmo account has raised over $3,500.

Allen says that the money is going towards musicians’ immediate financial needs. “Putting gas in cars, getting people food, maybe a clean pair of socks — some toilet paper, if you can raid the world and find it. It makes us feel good that we’re helping in a tangible way.”

According to Allen, most of the donations have been small — $5 or $10, but those individual donations add up to a lot. “Our ultimate goal is I want to be able to pay somebody’s rent. I want to be able to be like, ‘Here you go, don’t worry about it.’ To be able to make sure that artists feel like they can continue making art. Because it is important. Especially in this time, where everybody is looking for — something — for hope, entertainment, or just camaraderie in this moment.”

Some of the money from the @MNArtistRelief Venmo has also gone towards creating the MN Artist Relief Shop. The online storefront sells merchandise from local artists who don’t have the means to sell their merch on their own. The website is run by a team of volunteers, including Allen, his bandmate DJ Ryan Hayes, and artist Just Wulf.

Allen said that the support he received early on in his career inspired him to do his part to lift up other musicians. “When I came into the [scene] to do hip-hop, the music community here in Minnesota embraced me so fervently and so quickly,” he said. “It has not gone unnoticed how many people have been there for me and took a chance on me and gave me opportunities that others might have never gotten. In this time I want to be able to give back because I got so much, even in that small amount of time.”

He says that “Spider-Man'”s Uncle Ben put it best: “With great power comes great responsibility. “While my power might not be super great or anything, I do have a platform,” said Allen. “I do have people who want to hear from me. And if I can use that power that I do have, I feel like I have a responsibility to make sure that other people are doing well.”

If you want to support, you can donate to the Venmo @MNArtistRelief or buy merch from the MN Artist Relief Shop. Allen says that his team is remaining respectful of the stay-at-home order, and are planning more quarantine-friendly livestreams for the coming weeks. Follow The Current’s events calendar for an ongoing guide to online concerts.

Colleen Cowie runs the blog Pass The Mic