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Local musicians on the pandemic: What a long strange trip it's been

As Sonoma County music venues navigate re-opening to live music, there is loads of anticipation, excitement, anxiety and just plain ENERGY! You’ve got thousands of people SO eager to hear live music again—and you’ve got hundreds of musicians aching to get out there and provide it.

I thought I’d talk to a cool cross-section of SoCo musical talent to find out how they’re feeling about all this:

Erica Ambrin is a singer/songwriter who has performed throughout Northern and Southern California as well as gigging and recording in Maui. She has also been a contestant on American Idol.

Buzzy Martin is a guitar player, producer, singer/songwriter, youth advocate and author. His novel “Don’t Shoot! I’m the Guitar Man” about the music program he brought to San Quentin prison juveniles, is now a major motion picture release.

My$tic is a versatile and experiential hip-hop artist. He’s studied guitar, piano, violin, clarinet and sax. He represents a collective of area artists named Godly Untamable Youth that are active voices in the community.

Lee Vandeveer is a singer/songwriter who fronts the Lee Vandeveer Band, combining eclectic influences with powerhouse Americana rock. She is an outspoken activist acknowledging that “all music is derived from oppressed cultures.”

Yuka Yu is Taiwanese, Dutch and Japanese and grew up with the birth of the electronic music scene in Asia in the late ’90s. She began DJ’ing while training at the London Sound Academy and has gigged throughout Europe. Now in SoCo she is building a global community—a Yutopia—welcoming people of all backgrounds, nationalities, color and gender by sharing music and inspiration.

What was great was to hear how many similarities everyone had in their replies. “Music is life itself,” Louis Armstrong famously said, and this group of performers made it clear that at the core of being a performing musician, we all have so much in common—even though our styles, genres and approach may be quite diverse.

Here’s a sampling of the questions and answers from our group. I’m sharing it as one voice, because it really felt that way:

So how does it feel to be back playing live?

Revitalizing! The face-to-face human connection and energy reciprocation is a feeling like no other. It feels amazing. Surreal almost. People are really excited to see live musicians again, and it shows. The energy is so positive, and infectious. Performing live for people again is a great feeling for both me and the people coming to hear live music. I can see it in their eyes and feel their love. It feels great to play live again and be able to connect with my audience. I can’t wait, I literally can’t wait.

How are gigs different than pre-Covid? How is the audience different?

Most shows have been outside, which I love. I feel like the audience is much more engaged. It’s a treat for them, and you can feel the appreciation for us musicians sharing our craft. The tips are amazing as well. For me music is essential. It’s the universal language. I feel like there is more respect from everyone for the music and musicians who perform. Music is a gift from our heart to their heart that some were not aware of until now. People are just so happy to play and see music being played, it’s really sweet. There’s a bit of a blend in audiences I’ve been experiencing. Some of us have been inside practicing our moves so that when floors opened up we were ready to dance as well as those who grew a bit stiff while we processed through Covid. Regardless, an audience is an audience and stiff crowds are my favorite. It grants me all the power to break the ice and activate the dance floor.

What was it like for you musically during the pandemic while isolating? How was your creativity level?

I’m a very isolated person in general so the pandemic shot my creativity through the roof. I created a plethora of content including 12 singles that dropped at the beginning of 2021 with two music videos, and also prepared the skeleton for the EP I just released.

I had a chance to focus on my production, piano and singing, and bamboo flute. I am naturally an introverted person anyhow.

I really focused on writing. Making sure to have lots of new material to try out. I also did a few online gigs, but that just wasn’t the vibe.

I took the time to woodshed, did a lot of new songwriting and rehearsing old songs so I could pick them up to perform in my show.

I kept thinking “I need to figure out how to do some consistent online thing” and just never did. BUT, I’m much better on piano and guitar now and I think my voice may have improved a bit too, so that part was really nice. I realized that when I push myself to create with the constructs of capitalism in mind, then my work isn’t as good as I want it to be. Like I have some good paintings and songs that I made myself create but they are nothing like the ones that float into my head when they are ready.

Are you nervous about being in crowds of people who may or may not be vaccinated?

(This is the only question that got a quite mixed set of responses..)

No, I got both my shots just for that reason, so I can do my job of performing and bringing not only the music but the smiles too.

I am still pretty cautious, I’m not putting myself in crowded spaces unless distancing is practiced, so yes and no I guess.

I was at first, but I always wear my mask and have been vaccinated.

I don’t feel nervous at all. All the places I’ve played have it set up with enough distance. Most places have reservations so that you can have a table appropriately distanced. The tip jar is also at a distance and people have been good about wearing a mask when they approach you.

Not at all. Isaiah 54:17

Here’s how you can learn more—and hear more—from these artists:

Erica is currently writing a new project and will be dropping a single and a music video late June. Info on all upcoming shows and music are at

Buzzy’s latest video is HERE and you can see a trailer for his film HERE.

My$tic just hosted a pop-up show at the Sebastopol skate park for YuniVersusAll, a clothing brand he started with his good friend Janet from their Godly Untamable Youth collective.

Lee and her band will be at Brew on June 5th and at the Whiskey Tip on August 13th. They’ll list more upcoming shows on their website.

Yuka has monthly residencies in San Francisco at Asiento second Fridays 6-10 pm and Northern Ducks second Sundays, 8 pm-2 am.


Occidental Center for the Arts is going to open for a series of “Second Sunday” outdoor concerts this Summer in their amphitheater. Executive Director Tina Marchetti told me that they will limit audience size to provide social distancing. "Our amphitheater holds 200, so we’re starting up with a limited audience size of about 75 people. We want folks to feel safe and comfortable so they can relax fully enjoy the performance. We want to reopen carefully and maintain our audience’s safety and comfort as a top priority.”

Enjoy Sunday afternoon in their beautiful shaded amphitheater with two great Sonoma County acts at each show. All shows are 4-6 PM, tickets are $25:

  • June 13: Phil Lawrence Band and Mimi & Gabe Pirard
  • July 11: Solid Air and Heartwood Crossing Trio
  • August 8: The Musers and Familiar Strangers

They are also planning teen drama and musical theater programs for the Summer. You can find more details on the OCA website.

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