The years when music died. The pandemic lament of a Berkshire songwriter | Business

bernice lewis next to this lead

For singer-songwriter Bernice Lewis, the pandemic has changed the world of work. She was pictured at her Williamstown home last week.

WILLIAMSTOWN – In the last few weeks of Project Paycheck reporting, I spoke with people in the Berkshires looking for the smart thing to do next, given the job changes – and work-life issues – that are forced on us by the pandemic.

Last week I went to Williamstown and had tea with Bernice Lewis, a Nationally renowned singer-songwriter who built a career the only way you could before social media – one performance at a time.

She had coffee – a few cups.

We sat at a table in the large room which includes his family’s kitchen, living room and place to eat and, most importantly, a place to make music, all with stunning views to the east of the river. Hoosac chain.

I’ve written about the “big resignation” phenomenon, the surprising number of people abandoning their old jobs and careers. Lewis is not leaving. She would gladly return to the music business that spanned four decades, if that still was the case. She has performed across the United States, including the Kennedy Center and as a featured performer on NPR’s “Mountain Stage” program. In 2008 Lewis was named Artist in Residence with the National Park Service.

The pandemic closed concert halls everywhere in March 2020. Let’s start there. “He just fell straight off a cliff in March,” Lewis told me. “Some amazing things on my calendar are gone.”

Like many artists, she used social media to keep in touch with her fans, producing Facebook Live performances from this hall, this large hall. I watched a few home shows at the time, but didn’t consult Lewis until later.

bernice lewis

For nearly four decades, singer-songwriter Bernice Lewis of Williamstown has built a national reputation as an original American musician. The pandemic has turned all of this upside down.

Just my opinion here: It’s kind of like hugging through a blanket, which is perhaps Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of intimacy. It’s not at all like being in a music club, or at a festival, drowning in the sound, eating the storytelling and being with people.

Lewis won over critics as well as fans and fellow musicians. Two different authors for the Boston Globe hailed her: “An Enlightening Presence” (Steve Morse). “It’s impossible not to have a good time listening to Lewis sing” (Scott Alarik).

At that point, I used The Eagle’s Checkup column to invite people to report on their pandemic experiences, from their kitchens and living rooms. I have a note from Lewis. She told me about her concerts on Facebook Live… of trying to “stay positive”… of getting ready to put in a garden.

She had just shared a dispatch on her newsletter that looked at how the pandemic was affecting an entertainer who had great locations and dates stolen.

I relayed her post to a few friends because I thought it said something real about how creative people do. They do it honestly and with humor. My kind of people.

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“I operated with the belief that I should use this time to be productive, to pull projects off the to-do list, to finish my novels and write a million songs and become a jazz guitarist and classical pianist. Lewis said in this note to his subscribers. “But my motivation is completely inconsistent. I recently spoke with my therapist and wanted to share something she said. This period in which we live is a window of adaptation, not a window of self-improvement.

“Or, as Peter Mulvey (a Pioneer Valley folk singer) recently said in his concert online, ‘Shakespeare wrote’ King Lear ‘when he was in quarantine for the bubonic plague. I got up this morning and put on my pants.

Looking at his post again, I feel like something has been pulled, crumpled, from a time capsule. But I think we can understand.

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“If you’re hoping to be creative, I’d like to remind you that we don’t create in a vacuum,” Bernice Lewis told readers of his newsletter 20 months ago.

“If you’re hoping to be creative, I’d like to remind you that we don’t create in a vacuum,” Lewis told his readers 20 months ago. “Be nice to yourselves, notice what you accomplished today, even if it was as easy as making a healthy dinner.”

What happens after a quarry falls off a cliff?

I didn’t ask Lewis that, in those words, but I can see her stop and shrug. You keep trying to get back to work.

“I would wake up in the morning and say ‘Wow. This is my life,’ she said.

Not his whole life, however. She also teaches, and that’s a godsend. She is an associate songwriting artist at Williams College, where her husband, Scott Lewis, runs the Outing Club. Bernice Lewis also teaches songwriting at Schreiner University, Kerrville, Texas, and has taught at Colorado College and elsewhere.

It doesn’t pay all the bills, but education keeps Lewis connected to the craft, regardless of what’s going on in the industry.

Look ahead

Lewis has two performances planned in Israel in early 2022. She bought the plane tickets and they cost her $ 1,500, although the plane tickets, planes, airports, and all the tour equipment. , annoys him enough. She’s been traveling to see shows across the country for 35 years, after all. What all this fuss has earned him are fans. Particularly in Texas, where listeners appreciate singer-songwriters walking by and telling their musical stories, and then giving them the great honor of coming back to perform, again and again.

When the pandemic struck, Lewis was set to attend the Kerrville Folk Festival, in a town of the same name about an hour northwest of San Antonio. The 2020 festival was moved to last September, but limited to 200 tickets. Lewis had been a regular for years and years.

“I owe a lot of my career to the state of Texas,” Lewis tells me. They like him there. “Bernice Lewis may just be the icing on the cake,” Kerrville Festival Director Rod Kennedy once said of her.

bernice lewis

The pandemic closed concert halls everywhere in March 2020. “She just fell straight off a cliff in March,” Bernice Lewis said. “Some amazing things on my calendar are gone.”

The 50th anniversary of the Kerrville festival is scheduled over two weeks of performances in May and June. We bet Lewis, despite her deep affection for the festival, will be careful when buying tickets to travel.

The emergence of the omicron variant has the potential to put yet another year, a third, largely on ice for performers. Just recently, First Night Northampton, one of the most enduring annual venues for musicians in western Massachusetts, canceled its indoor performances for this Friday due to the variant. Other sites have it too.

For the music industry, it doesn’t matter what people tweet. This is the real culture of cancellation.

“The biggest challenge is that things continue to be called off,” Lewis said. “You are back to square one. If you buy a plane ticket and get canceled, you will not be refunded.

When music streaming services put the screws on the recorded music industry, artists hit the road. Suddenly the tours weren’t just part of promoting a new recording, they were paying the bills.

Since then, the places that populated the singer-songwriter’s itinerary have disappeared from the map. If they haven’t closed, Lewis says, they’re reluctant to make any commitments. Or they make commitments and cancel.

“At the moment it’s not even possible for most of us to put on a tour,” she said.

And now ? Lewis wonders.

Life on the road had already started to seem impossible to him. “Putting it all together is a daunting idea, and still not really possible, with all these variations raging,” Lewis told me. “Touring has always been something where you wonder how long you could hold it. The level of burnout has steadily increased.

She doesn’t really hope to rise in front of audiences in Tel Aviv and Karmiel next month and in February in Israel, despite having club dates – and those plane tickets.

His last short tour before the pandemic was a trip to Florida in February 2020, when the coronavirus was already moving through the United States but not yet a household word. Its flights were marred due to global issues with the Boeing 737 MAX.

There she was, grounded in the Sunshine State, with no idea, like all of us, of what was to begin.

“I have never seen the beach,” she said.

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