Photograph by Daniel Knighton Pixel Perfect Images
Whitney Shay: “You could hear the audiences applaud.”
Singer Whitney Shay headlined a recent live show (complete with a real audience) on August 15 in the overflow parking lot of the Del Mar fairgrounds. It was one example of where live music might be heading in these pandemic times. Social-distancing was achieved through attendees staying in their own vehicles.
The project was the brainchild of Josh Jose Williford, who owns the Acoustic Spot Talent agency. Ryan Hiller opened the show, which charged an entry fee of $80 per car, with a limit of six patrons per vehicle.
How did the show go?
“They got about 65 or 70 cars,” Shay answered, “which I think was a pretty decent turnout, considering we only had it confirmed for a short period of time before the concert, and they had to acquire permits and bring in a stage and lighting. I think it was a great success, and the people who were there really loved it.”
What was it like performing live again in front of an audience?
“Oh my god, it felt so good just to be able to perform with a full band again [Laura Chavez and Joe Amato on guitars, Jodie Hill on bass, Tony Econom on drums] even though it was a little weird not being able to see who was out there.”
How did the audience interaction thing go?
“Fortunately, you could hear the audience applause, even though we couldn’t see them. That alone was a huge upgrade from the current trend of doing virtual concerts. Obviously, as artists, we love to have the feedback. That’s a big part of why we do it.”
Everyone in the band seemed to be safely distanced from each other, but I was curious about what kind of precautions they took in the rehearsals leading up to the show.
“We did do a few rehearsals beforehand in an open-air garage, and everyone social distanced and wore masks. We were trying to be as safe as possible. No one wants to get sick.”
Before the pandemic hit, Shay was completing her second European tour (and her first since she signed with the German label Ruf Records). I was curious how that went.
“It was amazing. We played 26 shows in 30 days. This was the most extensive touring I’ve done so far. It was awesome to see the love for American music in Europe. And the venues we got to perform in were incredible.”
She arrived home on the first of March, and played her last gig at Humphreys on the 14th of that month. Since then, gigs of any kind have been few and far between. One of her last performances was right before the 4th of July. She awoke the next day to discover her car was broken into and a ton of expensive gear was missing.
“They stole somewhere between $2000 and $3000 dollars worth of equipment,” Shay lamented. “That was unnerving, and I felt really vulnerable for quite a while after that. I lost speakers, a special red Telefunken microphone, a mixer, and a bunch of audio cables. It was devastating.”
This horror story ultimately had a happy ending for the singer.
“Thank god, I was insured. I had a Music Pro policy and they covered the whole amount. There was light at the end of that tunnel. I actually was able to upgrade. I had needed to do that for a long time, but couldn’t afford it. The only thing they didn’t cover was my merch case and tip jar, but our maintenance guy found them about a week later about a mile up the road.”