By Bobby Bordelon
A night of violins, conversation, and good spirits could be found on Lee Street on Saturday, Aug. 29, when violinist Adam DeGraff played for a local crowd. Hosted by the Lee Street Listening Room, DeGraff, and manager Abby Bashlor, the event was the first of several planned performances that are open to the public and felt like a welcome change of pace from the quiet Saturday nights of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If you feel, with all this craziness going on out there, if you feel particularly susceptible to sickness and disease, stay home,” DeGraff said. “If you feel healthy and ready to get out there and to be experiencing community, music, art, friends, family, in a more public setting, come and let us help you recharge so you can help the people who need our help.”
In July, Governor Jim Justice signed an executive order closing a number of businesses and events, reinstituting certain prohibitions on some businesses and events, including musical performances. Citing “West Virginia’s public health experts,” the order closed of “carnivals, fairs, concert and music halls, adult entertainment venues, and other similar businesses” including “indoor or outdoor live music performances,” with special exceptions made for the Hatfield McCoy Trail System, outdoor recreational outfitters, white water rafting, and ziplining businesses.
DeGraff pushed back against these restrictions, citing the difficult time many young people are having as a result of not being able to experience community.
“We’re not trying to make a statement as much as we’re trying to demonstrate that music is powerful, music is important, community is important, and fellowship is important,” DeGraff said. “All are welcome. … That it’s been … not allowed currently, is absurd.”
Bashlor also highlighted people’s social needs, something many have tried to work through while social distancing and lockdowns have been in effect.
“I think the importance right now is bringing people together, because we’ve gone for a while without hanging out with each other, people having conversations,” said Bashor. “Any day of the year, his music just brings a lot of feeling to people and that’s important.”
With a “sizable” turnout, the event saw several groups of friends and family sitting together to hear the music.
“I had people come in wearing masks, and they are more than welcome [to],” DeGraff said. “There are some people who wanted to just sit with their friends and family in one of the alcoves I made, and they felt comfortable there. There was no hating on each other, there was no disagreement… this was about connecting in front of the music in an environment that’s encouraging you to be human.”
The Lee Street Listening Room is divided into a number of sections by couches and seating facing a variety of directions, with a few tables scattered throughout. Noting that Lewisburg already has both Carnegie Hall and the Greenbrier Valley Theatre for concert-style seating, the couches have proven helpful in the moment.
“I set up chairs and couches in little alcoves,” DeGraff explained. “The current seating for that room is at half capacity, so I can fit about 49, give or take, in the room currently. … To me, having nice seating spaces were the same family or the same circle of friends to sit comfortably and not be up in each other’s faces, is what I feel like is called for right now. Our capacity would be 49 [people], because I have 49 places for butts.”
Although the listening room accepts donations, DeGraff also discouraged those who are having financial troubles from donating. Noting that he and several of the potential other performers are still working private events and giving lessons, Saturday’s performance was not intended to fundraise, but show how needed music is.
“We always accept donations, but [Saturday] was a lot of service industry people and folks that have been hard up,” DeGraff said. “I encourage people not to give if they feel like they don’t have excess. Nobody donated money and I actually felt really good about that. This is not about money-making, this is about serving our community as artists.”
Saturday’s performance featured DeGraff as a solo performer, but in-the-works future events could see an expanded roster.
“I have a bunch of touring friends who have expressed interest in coming,” DeGraff said. “These are good-hearted musicians who think music is healing and that people are starving for it right now. [They are] looking forward to making their music available at no cost to people. … we’ll be doing bunches of them over the coming [months].”
DeGraff opened the doors, welcoming the community to join them for any upcoming events.
“Even if you were just there for five or ten minutes, [the performance was for] feeling a little bit of love, watching something you maybe haven’t seen, sharing some music with some friends in an open place that feels welcoming.”