2020 was set to be a big year for Lexington rock band Johnny Conqueroo. The band had tour dates, television performances and music festival gigs all lined up. But then coronavirus wiped their schedule clean.
“We definitely lost like everything,” said Wils Quinn, drummer for Johnny Conqueroo. “And it’s not necessarily a loss because it’s not like a physical thing. It’s one chance only. You know, shows will go on when everyone’s healthy and safe again, but those opportunities were really cool.”
Johnny Conqueroo was booked to play on Adult Swim’s “Fish Center Live” in March and were lined up to perform at the Forecastle and Floyd Fest music festivals. The band was on tour with jazz duo The Mattson 2 when events started getting canceled.
“That’s when we got the call that the show’s been canceled because of the coronavirus,” said Quinn. “And after that we just started getting email after email of cancellations.”
During a normal summer, Johnny Conqueroo would’ve seen bookings roll in. That was all gone with the pandemic. It was a shakeup for the band who’ve been performing together for seven years now.
“It was a little weird,” said Shawn Reynolds, Johnny Conqueroo bassist. “It was like a hit the brakes kind of thing. But I don’t know, it was good to like recollect ourselves and like definitely to be able to think about some new stuff or how we want to change, you know? You get like a bit of like a huddle moment for next year where things start coming back.”
“I really hope that it hasn’t messed with us too bad,” said Quinn. “And if it, if it has at all, I think it’s probably like morality level. Not playing for so many months… I don’t think that the landscape has changed too bad. I’m worried about venues and worried about the fact that venues aren’t going to be able to stay open.”
Reynolds says none of the Johnny Conqueroo band members rely on the band heavily for financial support. What they’re more worried about is the toll the pandemic will take on the stages that they perform on. About 90 percent of independent music venues are at risk of closing due to the business they’ve lost during the pandemic, according to a survey conducted the National Independent Venue Association. Here in Lexington, the nightlife has taken permanent hits with the losses of Best Friends Bar, Cosmic Charlies and Two Keys Tavern.
“Honestly, the worst part was really seeing like a lot of these music venues that we love and places that we want to play or play before having to really struggle financially,” said Reynolds.
While Johnny Conqueroo were able to use their time away from performing to polish up their set list and refresh old songs, not all bands had the luxury of being together during the lockdown. When the pandemic started, the rock band The Dreaded Laramie’s band members, who are typically based in Lexington and Nashville, all wound up quarantining in different parts of the country.
Lead vocalist and guitarist M.C. Cunningham, a UK graduate student, stayed in Lexington and bassist Drew Swisher stayed in Nashville while guitarist Zach Anderson fled the furthest home to Denver, Colorado.
“It’s been tough, like it has for all bands because we aren’t really out playing shows, but we have gotten creative,” said Cunningham. “We have been actually working on a music video for our single, ‘Goggles,’ from three different states, pretty much since the pandemic broke out.”
The Dreaded Laramie are working on animating the “Goggles” music video entirely by hand. The video will accompany the single off their 2019 EP. Anderson has been putting the most hours into the project, drawing 3,000 frames to play at a rate of 10 frames per second.
“M.C. had the idea of trying to just, you know, just animate a music video,” said Anderson. “Like it would be easy, it would be fun. And it has been fun, but it has not been easy.”
Before working on the “Goggles” video, none of The Dreaded Laramie had experience with animation. Through trial, error and texting each other drawings, the band worked out how to create their video.
“This is the first time any of us have animated anything,” said Cunningham. “That’s probably the reason why we did it- because we knew nothing about it. I didn’t think we needed a guide book. We have developed our own method totally from scratch, no guides used, which maybe was not the smartest thing to do. But we are pretty psyched about the result that we’ve come up with.”
So far, the incomplete “Goggles” video, which The Dreaded Laramie say will be complete in early 2021, sees cartoon versions of the band enjoying a day at the beach. It’s like an ideal fantasy of what the summer of 2020 could have been. And although the Dreaded Laramie weren’t able to spend much of the year with each other, working on the video gave them a sense of connection.
“I feel like teaming up with people is so important,” said Swisher. “It’s so important to do things that bring you closer to other people. And sometimes that’s making an animated music video by hand, and sometimes it’s like helping out with your local free grocery store or taking part in a protest.”
Bands like Johnny Conqueroo and The Dreaded Laramie show how the creative spirit can overcome hardship. Whether it’s by revisiting and reviving something old, remembering why we’re passionate about the things we do, or discovering new creative outlets, all of us can walk away from 2020 with a changed perspective.