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Creativity Rises to the
Challenge of COVID

December 11, 2020

Micah Mabey
Staff Writer

Photo by Harpe Star

Zack Brooks recording at Studio Anatomy for the new Little Graves album.

I’ve dedicated the last ten years to pursuing artistic passions and meeting people who run in these crowds, and I’ve discovered how artists and art careers are changing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve been asking questions like “what’s going on?” and “who are you?” and certainly “do you know what the word “virus” means?” People have been giving me great answers, so I thought it was only right to share them with you; so that you can have thoughts like “gosh, I sure am glad that I’m not alone in feeling scared,” or “wow, art really is subjective, isn’t it.”

My first interview was on a particularly sunny day for it already feeling like winter. I had my notebook bundled in my arms as I spoke with Brighid Driscoll, a local and rival journalist. We talked about how it feels for her to be writing what she described as “feel-good news stories.”

“It’s hard to write feel-good stories when you don’t feel good,” Driscoll said.

Much like many of the people she speaks to, Driscoll is having trouble with the holidays this year, too. “I’m not going home for the holidays, and I live alone,” she said. “In my head I already skipped over it.”

One of these “feel-good stories” that Driscol wrote about was local musician Zack Brooks. Brooks is the not-so-former former punk kid with the wiry frame that you can see slinging coffee downtown, even through the pandemic. His brown hair, dyed at the bottom, is visually striking, especially when paired with his long, skinny beard. Put that on top of his snarky and quick sense of humor, he’s hard to forget. Over the summer, Zack and his band Little Graves spent some time in Traverse City’s Studio Anatomy, recording a new album.

“By the time COVID became an inescapable reality where we couldn’t pretend it wasn’t happening, the record was essentially done being written,” Brooks said of their next studio release. They’d written the songs in clusters, two or three at a time, since he’d joined the band in the summer of 2019. “We anticipated 2020 being our busiest year, and all we’ve done is make this record. We’re still doing things, we just had to change our goals’ timeline.”  

Brooks hopes that the album will come out in the next few months. Until then, he’ll keep working with not enough hours at his two coffee shop jobs and hope that he can get on underemployment again. Art may be beautiful, but it ain’t glamorous.

Nick Walsh, an artist in town who mostly chooses paint as his medium, understands that well. As the mind behind the Basement Art Shows that take place at Studio Anatomy, where Brooks has recorded and performed, Walsh has seen the effects of COVID. “Nobody was coming into the studio, there were no live shows, everything had to stop.”

He noticed what we all noticed: the livestreams popping up all around the world. People discovering how they can put on plays, concerts, or art shows, all from the safety of their own bubble. “The quality [of the livestreams] wasn’t the same as an edited version of whatever that thing was,” Walsh said. “So we just wanted to do a small setup, shot like a live performance, or at least as close to a live performance as possible.” The outcome was the 20/20 Live Performance Series. A beautiful capturing of live music not only from Northern Michigan, but all across the state, done safely.

“From a marketing standpoint, the strangers weren’t as connected as I would have hoped,” Walsh explained. He’s still working on how he can get his Basement Art Shows, now turned digital, as well as the concert series with Studio Anatomy, into more hands and in front of more eyes. “A lot of my close friends were engaged with it more so than the public.”

One group he could take a look at for inspiration is Mash-Up Rock & Roll Musical, a local theatre troupe that puts on original parody musicals, who is just starting work on releasing parody web content, all written by its founders, Lesley Tye and Tony Bero.

Through the pandemic, Bero and Tye were able to write and produce a unique live outdoor theatre/scavenger hunt experience, called “Scooby Doo-Wop,” where the attendees wouldn’t have to leave their cars; it sold out before the first show even went up in October.

“The hardest part was the uncertainty of whether or not it would work,” Tye said. “It was so different from anything else we did; the technical aspect, the weather, it was just so many variables.

With Bero having to compose and record some tracks within a tight time-frame, he found struggle with the confines of COVID. “Having to do it all distanced and safely required an intractable level of scheduling,” he said. “Recording at a new studio for me, at the time, and working with people who have never recorded before.”

“However it was sort of the best thing too,” Lesley remarked. “It forced us to do things that we’ve never done before. That’s what art should do for anybody. It should make you have to do something you’ve never done before, with the people that rise to the challenge to do it.”

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