Frank Daly and his band Jamison Celtic Rock were on tour in Florida when the novel coronavirus first began to hit home.
“We had done the Cape Coral Festival the first weekend in March, and then a few of the guys flew back home,” Daly recalls. “Alice Marie (the band’s fiddler), Kyle Walter (drummer) and I stayed the week, and then we were going to play the St. Augustine festival the following weekend. The other three guys were going to fly back down for that weekend. And we were hearing stuff from people back in Philly that things were going to get bad and they might shut things down—and there might be a quarantine. And you know, we’re down there in Florida and on the beaches and playing gigs in Fort Lauderdale, where there was literally no mention of it at all.”
Then came word that the St. Augustine festival was off. That, Daly says, was a blow because it would have been the first time Jamison had performed there, and they were really looking forward to it. “It was kind of a smack in the face,” he says. “Like, this was real.”
He remembers thinking, “If all this stuff is shutting down and now it’s moving down to Florida, then I felt like I needed to be home, closer to my family. I suddenly felt very, very far away.”
So that Thursday—before the St. Augustine festival would have been—they all piled into the car and drove back to Philly. They arrived on Friday. “And for the most part,” he says, “we’ve been quarantined ever since.”
The band was able to play one gig that Saturday at Curran’s Tacony in the Northeast—and after that, all the Philadelphia pubs and bars started closing down. They lost St. Patrick’s Day, with all the gigs that take place on and around that day—for any Irish band, a major financial hit.
More than that, he says, losing all that work in March was what he calls a “cultural hit.”
“That’s when most things happen,” he says. “We have worked really hard to get into these festivals in Florida. We’ve made some friends down there that we were looking forward to seeing. And people don’t love Irish music in August like they do in March. It gives us kind of an opportunity to focus more on the Irish stuff. It stinks to not be able to do so many of those songs and have people appreciate them at that time. Within the Irish-American culture, there are so many great things happening (in March), and there’s excitement, and there’s pride, and we as a community lost all that.”
Despite it all, Daly remains philosophical.
On the one hand, it’s important to him that all the band’s members and families stay safe. On the other hand, with so many people sickened with Covid-19 or working as essential personnel, he knows that others have it far worse. “In the grand scheme of things, this sucks a lot more for other people. We’re missing out on gigs, but we’re all alive, we all have families, we all have our health, and you have to stay focused on those things. Otherwise, this kind of stuff will eat you up inside.”
Still, perhaps not surprisingly, he misses his band. And like so many Irish musicians in the Philadelphia, he and his bandmates have learned how to make lemonade out of lemons. The pandemic and social isolation have forced them to get more creative, says Daly, who describes himself as “an eternal optimist.”
For the past several weeks, members of the band have collaborated remotely on quarantine videos. “We all have GoPros or phones and things like that,” he says, “and we said, ‘Let’s record a song, and then we’ll all do our parts.’ So I would record myself singing and playing the guitar and send it out to the band, and then they would throw on headphones and play along and record their part. We put together a video, and then we did another one, and another one, and we’ve got five of them out right now on our YouTube channel, and we’re currently working on two more that are all pretty much done.”
Like so many other Irish musicians in the Philly area, Daly and members of the band have also performed live to Facebook, taking tips on Venmo and PayPal.
Those tips have come in especially handy, says Daly, a full-time musician.
“You don’t want to be the person who’s saying, ‘Can you help me out?’,” he says. “You want to be the person who’s helping others out. So in that regard, it’s awkward, but it’s also humbling that people are throwing me tips of $20, $50 or even $100 sometimes to be playing music, and, you know, that’s pretty awesome. It’s helping me with paying mortgage and electric and other bills. They don’t go away.”
One other thing that will never go away, though, is Daly’s love of playing music.
“I feel like I was put on this earth to play music, and everything that’s not focusing on music, it’s just not what I’m here for. It’s just wasting my time.”
Everything was going swimmingly with that plan. And then, he says, with a bit of a laugh, the pandemic hit.
Still, he tries to look on the bright side.
“All right, just keep throwing it at me, universe,” he says. “We can deal with this one.”