Béla Fleck, Abigail Washburn, and Juno sporting a chicken hat.

Tonight Randy, Zeke, and I watched Dar Williams perform one of the free, live-streamed living room concerts that have become a highlight of the past three months of quasi-quarantine for our family. When you watch one of these concerts on Facebook Live–the platform through which most of them are delivered–you can also read a steady stream of gratitude, requests, and memories, from other folks who are watching from all over the world. The comments can be a little distracting, but they also serve as a small reminder of the sense of community you feel when you see an artist perform live.

Dar said her set list tonight was put together by her manager Patty, who was celebrating her birthday. So I don’t know if it was Patty or Dar or both of them who were in a particularly contemplative mood when they decided on the songs. With one exception, what Dar played were among her most somber songs. I get it. We’re living in a serious moment. But it was a little surprising because the other live-from-home concerts we’ve seen have been a bit more buoyant and reminiscent of a regular live show in terms of the variety of music. Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn‘s Friday night Banjo House Lockdown tends to be particularly joyful and lighthearted as their sons–seven-year-old Juno and two-year-old Theo are often participants. Last week Juno jumped in front of the camera and began to dance, wearing a chicken hat, during one of the songs. Some of the Indigo Girls‘ shows from home were performances of entire albums. Similarly, Brandi Carlile is doing a series with her band where they perform each of her albums (tune in June 14 @ 9pm for Firewatcher’s Daughter).

During one of their livestreams, the Indigo Girls raised more than $200,000 for Honor the Earth, a nonprofit dedicated to Indigenous environmental issues. Brandi raised $100,000 for racial justice organizations in her first concert. She and her band have always been activists, and have their own foundation that supports people and communities. And Béla and Abigail have invited viewers to donate to a few different causes during their shows. So I was surprised when during Dar’s show tonight, a banner came across the screen that said something like, “Enjoying the show? Tips are appreciated,” and included a PayPal link. Dar also mentioned that a portion of the proceeds from the show would be given to vote.org. Dar is a good activist too. But it made me think that she must be struggling. She’s certainly a successful singer-songwriter, but not a household name. I don’t know much about what it takes for musicians to earn their livings. I definitely support them with ticket sales, buying merchandise, and buying and downloading albums, but my dollars aren’t going to pay anyone’s mortgage.

Going to hear live music has always been one of Randy’s and my favorite things to do, and we’ve missed the experience since the pandemic canceled everything. I’ve read how singing is a particularly effective way to spread Covid-19, so I have no idea what has to happen before we will be able to go to concerts again. But we have loved the intimate feeling of seeing musicians we love perform from their houses–seeing their dogs walk by and their kids dart through and just hearing what they have to say, knowing that they’re experiencing some of the same things we are. And hearing more of Dar’s sad and serious songs and knowing that she appreciates tips made me think the uncertainty of this time may be hitting her hard too.