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The phrase “don’t let the music stop” took on a whole new meaning during quarantine when Tara Ambrosine and John Taylor founded the Delaware County Quarantine Open Mic (DCQM). With about 14,000 followers, this Facebook group has blossomed into a place where dozens of Philadelphia-area musicians share their performances using Facebook’s Live feature.
Every day, Ambrosine posts available time slots to the Facebook group, and musicians can direct message her in order to sign up for a time that day. Musicians then perform to Facebook users who have joined the group. A performance can range from originals to classic cover songs, though some artists anchor their sets around a theme, such as when Josh Steingard does Ween Wednesday and Sean Gould does Phish Friday.
“At first, we just had a few people playing,” Taylor said. “We didn’t have an open mic format.”
Ambrosine, 29, and Taylor, 30, are a couple who live in Drexel Hill. They started DCQM on March 16, in the early days of the pandemic. Ambrosine is a yoga instructor and Taylor manages a golf course on top of being a musician.
Taylor got the idea for the group when his gigs got canceled due to the pandemic.
“It started off kind of slow,” Taylor said. “We had a few people playing, then overnight we had 1,000 people. Then a 1,000 people a week over the next few weeks. Now we’re up to [almost] 15,000.”
Nick Lombardo, 29, has performed for the virtual open mic around 15 times. He teaches African American History at Hardy Williams High School and has been playing music since childhood. He’s been recording an album since July of last year and has used the group to promote it. Influenced by the Grateful Dead, Lombardo’s style is mostly Americana and folk.
“I got to work with some amazing musicians, and the virtual open mic has been a great way to showcase all of our work,” Lombardo said.
Musicians are scheduled throughout the day, every day, to play on Facebook Live. Viewers have an option to tip some musicians via Venmo. Other musicians may ask viewers to donate to a charity that’s chosen every week.
“They are charities that people have either commented or emailed us asking us to work with,” Ambrosine said. “Sometimes people have directly affiliated with the charities and other times it’s just someone who feels strongly about a certain charity.”
Audiences tend to be surprisingly interactive and positive, even given the impersonal nature of the platform, Lombardo said.
“No one has ever said anything bad,” Lombardo said.
Lombardo’s and his band, Nick Lombardo & the Decent OK, also spent the early days of the pandemic looking for novel ways to keep performing, doing outdoor live shows at the Italian Market.
“I live right in the market and I looked out at the big blacktop,” Lombardo said. “I was trying to figure out how to utilize this space in a positive way.”
In the absence of any guidelines, he just started setting up the space for a socially-distanced performance.
“I basically drew chalk circles for people to stand in and I plugged in my guitar and just started playing.”
He did that every week for three weeks until he was shut down for drawing too large of a crowd.
“It was such a positive thing for the community,” Lombardo said. “Like people really enjoyed the chance to see live music and get out of the house.”
While Lombardo hasn’t been performing as much on the DCQM open mic, due to recording his album, he still makes time for it.
“I look forward to performing [on DCQM],” Lombardo said. “It breaks up the monotony, and everyone is insanely supportive.”
Now that quarantine restrictions are starting to ease up, the DCQM group has transitioned to in-person performances with the Live-Action Open Mic. Musicians can perform at an open venue and livestream up to an hour of their performances in the Facebook group. Artists can continue to solicit Venmo tips or raise money for charity using the platform.
Running the virtual open mic also presented Ambrosine and Taylor a viable business idea. They’ve since started Taylor Made Entertainment Connections, a booking agency that connects artists with venues that will host live performances.
“We’ve got over 100 connections so far and growing,” Ambrosine said. “We’re still at the beginning of the booking phase, but we’ve made a lot of connections with musicians and venues.”
For Ambrosine and Taylor, bringing music back to bars and other small venues is an important step to getting back to normal after the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think it’s going to be a slow open for a lot of bars and venues,” Ambrosine. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel though.”
Taylor Made Entertainment Connections is a side project for now, but the hope is that it will grow into something bigger.
“If it becomes a stable enough income that would be incredible,” Ambrosine said. “If not, at least we’ll be helping local musicians get live gigs and helping to build the local music scene back up as much as we can.”
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