Entertainment News

Regional Musicians Feel Squeeze from Travel Ban, Bar Closings

By Guy D’Astolfo
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – JD Eicher was affected a little more than most by the travel ban to Europe.

The Youngstown-based singer-songwriter was to begin a 15-date tour of Germany and Austria in mid-April before the travel ban, designed to slow the spread of coronavirus, was announced by President Donald Trump. Eicher’s flight was to leave April 12, two days after his record-release concert at Ford Family Recital Hall, which is also postponed.

The corona virus shutdown is dealing a blow to all performing artists and venues, with cancellations and postponements extending well into April. As one of the few local musical artists who makes his living entirely from music, performing is a must for Eicher.

“It’s a very real moment [for me],” Eicher says. “I’m not going to get into the whole ‘woe is me’ because everyone is dealing with it, but it’s hitting hard now.”

He has already been forced to cancel 23 shows, with another 30 in jeopardy through the end of May. While public appearances are on hold, Eicher is offering preorder sales of his upcoming EP, “Court Street,” on his website, JDEicher.com. It will be released April 9.

In place of the canceled concert at Ford recital hall, Eicher and his band will perform in his basement recording studio and stream it on Facebook Live. Viewers have the option of sending monetary tips.

“We’re going from one of the most acoustically brilliant rooms in the area to my basement,” Eicher says, with a laugh.

Eicher, by the way, has also been doing a weekly Facebook Live show that he calls JDTV every Monday at 8:30 p.m. from his basement. The informal streaming show includes performances, maybe a guest, and some silly humor.

The six-song “Court Street” EP by Eicher and his band (drummer Dylan Kollat and bassist Jim Merhaut) features Marc Lee Shannon of Michael Stanley and the Resonators (guitar, mandolin) and Ryan Humbert of The Shootouts (vocals).

Want more Eicher? Click the links for exclusive performances of “I Don’t Want to Be Right” and “Evergreen.”

Shannon has actually joined Eicher’s band, a direct result of the recording sessions.

“We weren’t even looking for a fourth member but if Marc wanted to do it, then we want him to do it,” Eicher says.

The album was a return to roots for Eicher. He recorded it at Court Street Recording in his hometown of Canfield, with most of the tracks laid down live instead of recorded separately and layered together in the mixing room.

The outcome pleases him.

“I’d forgotten what happens when you get all these different people with their own ideas together,” he says. “You can feel the push and pull, and it was cool to get back to that. A drum fill in the moment is way different than one that you added in later.”

Another regional full-time musician affected by the coronavirus shutdown is Steve Vuich of Sharon, Pa.

As of March 15, Vuich has seen all 11 of his remaining March gigs canceled, plus another 25 more in April. These include the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration at Quaker Steak and Lube in downtown Sharon – which Vuich has played the last 40 years.

He was scheduled to play from 5:30 a.m. until midnight on St. Patrick’s Day, but backed out last week out of fear of being in a crowded room. Vuich, 61, says he’s worried about contracting the virus not just for himself, but his wife, their children and grandchildren and his elderly father.

“There is no such thing as social distancing when you have 3,000 people in a room,” he says.

Vuich attempted to find replacement musicians for Quaker Steak but was unsuccessful, and over the weekend the venue decided there would be no live music.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered bars in the commonwealth’s hardest-hit counties to close, but the list does not include Mercer County.

On March 15, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered all bars to close, and the Buckeye State is where Vuich’s gigs are located.

“As far as me not working, it’s a small price to pay to keep people safe,” Vuich says, noting he played shows last week with a bottle of rubbing alcohol on his sound mixer to wipe down everything he touched.

As long as the shutdown doesn’t drag on too long, Vuich says he’ll be all right.

“There is no unemployment for people like me,” he says. “We are independent contractors and no unemployment compensation is [withheld from my pay]. Fortunately, at this point in my life I no longer have any bad habits to spend my money on and my income mostly goes toward my family and our needs. But I hope it’s over soon so I can get back to playing.”

Vuich has been playing at bars and clubs since he was 15. He has held day jobs during that time but has worked exclusively as a musician for the past 15 years. He’s fronted his band, The River Saints, for more than 25 years, but most of his gigs these days are solo.

Early in his career, Vuich worked in Nashville as a songwriter, jingle writer, performer and recording artist. He says his career has taught him to be flexible and will see him through the current crisis.

In any month, Vuich’s schedule could include his rock band, to a wedding band, to solo shows, to open mic nights to a luncheon at a senior citizens center. In short, he’ll do whatever people want.

“Without doing that, I’m just a guy playing his guitar in my living room,” he says, “which is exactly what I’ll be doing for the next month.”

Pictured: JD Eicher has been forced to postpone a 15-date European tour due to the travel ban.

Posted March 16, 2020.

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