Unemployment numbers are growing each day, grocery shelves are picked over, businesses have closed their doors indefinitely and municipal leaders have slapped do-not-enter signs on the entrances of public recreation spaces.
Illinois’ statewide stay-at-home order is now in full swing, and any sign of a return to normal seems to fade more and more with each passing day.
But in light of the circumstances, several local musicians decided to turn the reality of being holed up at home into an opportunity to deliver a digital concert to raise money for local Riverside restaurant staff hurting during this unprecedented time.
On Saturday, March 21 and Sunday, March 22, nine musicians from Riverside and one from Berwyn rallied together for a two-day session of “Quarantunes,” a Facebook Live event to raise money for the servers, bartenders and staff of restaurants throughout Riverside.
The brain behind the concert was Riverside resident Jerry Owen, a personal trainer whose business in Countryside has taken a hit during this time like so many other gyms and fitness businesses.
Owen, who has had to shift his business model to virtual training, thought about other types of industries also struggling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly local restaurant owners and their staffs.
So when Owen — who also happens to be a guitarist and singer — began thinking of ways of how he could bring the Riverside community together to raise money to help struggling Riverside staff, he shifted his focus to local musicians hosting a virtual concert.
“There’s so much talent here, and I thought, ‘Let me see if I can pull this off,'” he said.
On March 19, Owen contacted local friends and musicians to see who would be interested in performing virtual sets live from homes and asking viewers to pledge money.
While finalizing the acts and livestream logistics, Owen recruited his neighbor, Kim Palermo, to help with social media promotion and graphic design for the event’s Facebook page.
Finally, on Saturday morning, the Quarantunes for Riverside Restaurant Staff Facebook went live.
Aside from Owen, nine other local musicians performed 30-minute sets, playing between five and six songs each. Eight of the performers hailed from Riverside, including Owen (guitar and vocals); husband/wife duo Michael and Myrtala Casey (guitar, ukulele, vocals); Jon Scarpelli (guitar and vocals); father/daughter duo Jerome and Nina Tomas (guitar and vocals); John Bowes (saxophone); Steve Rembis (guitar and vocals); and Matt Grusecki (guitar and vocals); and one from Berwyn, Matt Scharpf (guitar and vocals).
Each act went live on Facebook video one after the other, sharing information about the concert’s cause and promoting the concert’s virtual tip jar via a Venmo account.
Scharpf, who knows Owen from previous music gigs and family involvement at St. Mary Church and the Riverside Swim Club, has participated in Facebook live concerts for local causes every other day for the past two weeks. He said Owen asking him to participate in the Riverside initiative was a no-brainer.
“It’s easy to sit around and complain, but when we have it so well, I think it’s easy to get online and do a show and raise a couple bucks for people who need it far more than we do,” Scharpf said. “Being so blessed, it’s times like these that make you realize how hard it is for other people, and when all you have to do is listen [to music] to raise some money for other people, it seems to make perfect sense.”
Through both video comments and Facebook messages, Owen said the concerts were very well received in the community.
“Riverside really sticks together and helps continue camaraderie between residents and the village,” he said, “The shelter-in-place went into effect at 5 p.m. on Saturday and we went live at 6 p.m., so people were commenting that this was a great distraction. I don’t think the timing could have been any more perfect.”
Following the Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon performances, more than 14,000 people tuned into Quarantunes, raising more than $6,200. Owen said the money received was divvied up for Riverside restaurants based on the size of the restaurant staff, which ones completely shut down, which moved to a carry-out model, and the staff cuts made at each.
Overall, to Owen, Quarantunes meant a chance as a fellow entrepreneur to stand in solidarity with other small business owners and demonstrate the power of a community coming together during a bad situation.
“Being an entrepreneur, it’s not easy,” he said. “It’s a tough business, and I have mad respect for people who put in their time to serve people.”