Pandemic Porch Concerts Use Music to Chronicle Highs and Lows
By Barney McCoy, Professor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communication
May 28, 2021, 6:30 a.m. ·
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When America went on COVID lockdown in March of 2020, Laura Deitchler a single Lincoln mom, school teacher and writer started picking songs to fit the moment. The place to play them was her South Lincoln porch.
"I went out at 8 pm and you know, I don't have any particular musical talent, but I have a Bluetooth speaker. And the first one I think was 'Come Together,'" Deitchler said.
"When I was just starting to post on social media, someone was like, "Well, it's kind of late, you know, maybe people don't want to hear your music,' and I was like, 'Well it's one song. I'm not killing it and you know eight o'clock is not that late.'"
Neighbor Margaret Buck says Deitchler's porch music gave her a connection.
"I really enjoyed the personal interaction and talking with Laura even if it was six feet away and over a porch railing," Buck said. "It reminded us how social we all are and how interdependent we all are."
Deitchler didn't expect the COVID lockdown to last 15 months and counting. Today, neighbors, friends and hundreds of Facebook followers tune in or show up each night to listen and make pandemic playlist and porch concert requests.
"Somebody else could have done it and you'd hear the music and kind of walk on and with Laura, you want to linger a little bit and have a bit of conversation and see how she's doing, what she's up to. She's always up to something," said Bob Hall, another neighborhood attendee.
It wasn't only the pandemic. Also on center stage were social justice issues that sparked anger, protests and riots across America. Deitchler remembers well the night they learned of the death of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis.
"And that was probably the first one. Was that night," she said. "It was Billie Holiday's 'I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues.'
"How much of that outrage was because we were already fed up with this one thing (the COVID pandemic) and then this other outrageous thing happens (George Floyd police killing). And it feels like this whole year has been on emotional edge."
By July COVID infections, hospitalizations and deaths grew even worse. With no cure in sight. Americans became more isolated. And not everybody took masking seriously. That touched a nerve in Deitchler.
"While I had been really diligent about not going out, masking when I do go to the store, and I was angry," Deitchler said. "So my angry song was Aretha Franklin's 'Think.'"
Two months later, another sobering U.S. COVID milestone inspired another song.
"'Angel Down' by Lady Gaga. That's an early one," Deitchler said. "It was Memorial Day where we have lost so many veterans but we were also approaching the 100,000 mark. It still makes me a little teary. Just thinking about how many we've lost and the beauty of that song. How many angels that we've lost in the last year."
Steve Buhler, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln English professor, has helped to curate Deitchler's pandemic porch concert songs.
"Laura is doing something very therapeutic for the community and helping to make a community even stronger, even as we're apart," Buhler said.
2021 brought an insurrection of the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump supporters. On Inauguration Day, Joe Biden was sworn in as America's 46th president
"On Inauguration Day, I had some people that weren't really happy," Deitchler said. "It (the song) was 'People Get Ready.'"
Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions.
"I have tried to be more of a unifier," Deitchler said. "But always putting love out there, community, I can respect someone with a different point of view as long as it is a loving and a respectful point of view."
Deitchler says many of the songs that she's played during the pandemic have also defined her.
"And one of them is 'Blackbird,'" she said.
Not the original Beatles version, but a cover by Canadian 16-year-old Emma Stevens in her tribal language of Mi'kmaq.
"Sometimes the lyrics have one feel and the music gives it a totally different feel," Deitchler said. "You know, the broken wings and I've just learned resilience and to pick myself back up and it's not easy, but it's better than the alternative."
Today more than 50% of Americans are fully vaccinated. Deitchler knows her pandemic playlist and porch concert days are numbered.
"I have a Facebook group and I think what I will do with them is like kind of put to the group, 'Help me envision this. Here we are together loving music. Where do you want to go from here?"