Coleman had gigs scheduled as the clock wound down, with pubs, clubs and bars closing everywhere in the Delaware Valley and nearby.
On that last day, he recalls, the Jersey pubs were closing at 8 p.m., and he had a job scheduled at a bar in West Chester, but that was canceled.
At the last possible moment, someone called with a booking.
“The last gig was at the Holy City Publick House in Gloucester, N.J.,” he recalls. “They called me and said, ‘Do you want to play?’ I said, why not. I may as well get that last gig in before God knows when we’re going to be play again.
“A lot of people were panicking. I was just like, ‘That’s fine.’ And we just know it’s the busiest week of the year, and then everything was just shut down. So I’m thinking, all right, it’s going to be shut down for maybe a couple of weeks. That ended up not being the case.”
One other major disappointment: Coleman had been scheduled to return home on the 19th—he’s from Ardboe, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland—but those travel plans had to be canceled. “That kind of sucks as well, because I was looking forward to seeing my family. I get to see them once a year, and now I’ve got to FaceTime them. This is hard for my parents, too, because they’re locked up in the house, too, like everybody else.”
All of the canceled work and the lost opportunity to return home would have been enough to make anyone more than a little depressed. But anyone who knows Raymond Coleman, of Telford, Bucks County, and the father of three little girls, understands that nothing will keep him down for long.
Coleman, like many local Irish musicians, has turned to social media to supplement his income during this unscheduled down time by offering live concerts for often generous tips.
If you’re on Facebook, you can catch his act—probably one of the most engaging and entertaining of any you’ll see and interact with—on Thursday and Sunday nights.
Thirsty Thursdays, in particular, draw a lot of attention—a recent Facebook concert pulled in more than 1,000 comments—although it’s mature audiences only. Coleman hoists a few and relaxes, and members of his audience at home join right in on the fun. “What I notice is that they’re drinking with me, and then they text me the next day, ‘Jeez, I’m dying.’ People are getting knackered, and I’m laughing. It helps us to keep sane as well. But it’s fun.”
Sensible Sunday is the toned down weekend follow-on. “My mother can watch on a Sunday, but not on a Thursday,” he says with a laugh.
Audience involvement is key to an entertaining live show, but Coleman finds that, if anything, there’s much more of it when he performs live on Facebook.
Once, recently, Coleman carried that idea to an intriguing extreme, collaborating with his audience members to write a song about life under the cloud of Covid-19. He just asked: Who wants to write a song? The next thing he knew, people were submitting thoughts and snippets and lines. “And we just started writing. It killed about an hour and a half,” he says. “That was fun. I just sat down and fixed it up a little bit and we sang it. And at the end I just put it up there for them.”
Although his online performances help pay the bills—he accepts tips on Facebook via Venmo and PayPal—Coleman also gives back, doing online performances to raise funds for charity, including, for example, the Center for Autism, a Bucks County food drive, and a children’s hospital in Glasgow.
Coleman’s online performances help keep body and soul together, and he’s thankful for his fans’ generosity. But he finds that he’s also reaching a broader audience.
“It’s my fans who’ve been supporting me through the years, they’re being very generous, the ones who are still working,” he says. “But I’m building up a lot of new fans, doing all these different gigs, so a whole new fan base as well—Glasgow, for example—and just all over the world. They’re donating and it’s keeping my head above water. Thank God. I actually enjoy doing the live shows. It’s a nice break to be out of the bars for a little bit. You can take the good with the bad, you know?”