The OC Voice is a portion of the OC Report newsletter where local residents may have a platform to talk about local issues they care about. Del Ward is a 26-year-old singer-songwriter and community organizer from Hillsborough. He works as a dance accompanist at UNC-Greensboro's dance department and teaches Music for Dance masterclass around the Triangle and Triad area.
It was March of 2020. I had quit my job, packed up my gear and what little of my life I could fit into my old Camry, and hit the road. I was driving cross country to move to Los Angeles. I had a handful of shows booked while I made my way across the country. I also had guest teaching positions at a few universities along the way.
My first stop was Nashville, Tennessee. The day of my first show, the NBA canceled their entire schedule, Disney World closed indefinitely and the World Health Organization had officially declared a global pandemic. So, I played my show and then immediately went into a tailspin. One by one, all of my shows and teaching positions were canceled as venues and universities shut their doors. Where was I supposed to go? What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to make money?
I returned to my hometown of Hillsborough, and I sat in my studio waiting for things to get better as I watched people continue to go out to bars to party and subsequently fuel the growing infection and death rates. I felt isolated and hopeless.
I know it’s cliche, but I have relied on music my entire life. No matter how bad things got, music was the one thing that I always had to go back to in order to find some semblance of order in this perpetually and ever increasingly chaotic world.
As the pandemic continued I eventually threw myself into organizing in my community and, unfortunately as a result of working so hard, I found myself drifting out of touch with my music. There weren’t shows to play, I was hesitant to even meet up with friends to jam and livestreams never came close to feeling like the real thing.
Since October of 2020, I’ve been lucky enough to find the time to work tirelessly on recording new music while continuing my work as an organizer, and as restrictions begin to rollback statewide, I’ve been able to jam with friends and have just recently started to book a few shows here and there and for that, I am extremely grateful.
There’s something that happens when you play with other musicians. It doesn’t happen all the time and it’s hard to put into words, but it feels as though time stops, your mind clears and you start to connect with the people you’re playing with on a truly spiritual level. This is what I have missed most; human connection through music.
As things begin to re-open I’m cautiously optimistic about what the future holds for musicians. I’m ready to have more moments of connecting with people through playing and I’m elated to begin to play shows again, even if they have to be outdoors in the unrelenting heat of the North Carolina summer sun. My caution stems from knowing that we aren’t out of the woods yet and we could find ourselves in the same situation in another few years.
That being said, if this past year has taught me anything it’s that we need live music. Whether you’re a musician or just someone that loves to go to shows, I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that we are ready for things to get back to some sort of semblance of normalcy.
We might not be throwing ourselves into a mosh pit or packing ourselves like sardines into someone’s living room for a house show just yet, but I have hope that things will eventually get there.
It feels somewhat silly to write about how hard it has been for me this past year. I consider myself lucky to be alive and have a roof over my head, but that doesn’t minimize what musicians and artists alike have had to endure throughout this year — the term struggling artist has taken on a whole new meaning since the pandemic, but the isolation and hopelessness I felt at the beginning of last year is beginning to shed and reveal a sense of excitement and anticipation for a better tomorrow.
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