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CANCELLED PT 2: Cloud Cafe, Club Passim and Rob Flax's Response To Covid-19

By Steve Grigelevich for Brain Arts Org

March 26, 2020


As I wrote in Part I of this series…basically, shit’s weird for everyone, including for the arts. Right now, many of us artists and creative types are going back to the drawing board, reorganizing ourselves, contemplating, grieving, experimenting, possibly scheming? Some have a hashed out plan for creating art, delivering it to their audiences, and getting funds. Some don’t. Many don’t. Most don’t. That’s because COVID-19 ripped the carpet from under our feet, leaving many artists and arts organizations closing, cancelling performances, festival appearances, or entire tours. This time is stressful and detrimental to most artists who were actively performing, especially for those who make their living from their art. BUT, if we’re learning anything from artists, it’s that the creative impulse, as well as the impulse to connect, is strong, and the will finds a way.

Looking to ‘go out’ during this time of collective solitude? In this post, Part II, I bring you some short interviews with artists, venues, and online music platforms fighting the good fight out there! Check out the interviews, check out the artists and their upcoming livestreams, and if you feel so moved, open yourself up to the idea of supporting them in any way you can.

(interviews edited for length)

Interview with Derek Schwartz of Cloud Café, Live Stream performance space

Can you tell us, in short, what the Cloud Cafe is, and how it was conceived?

Cloud Cafe is a virtual performance series that my partner, Lily, and I have been organizing to help raise funds for artists who have lost work as a result of COVID-19. In the last week I've seen a ton of performance streaming through Facebook live and platforms like that, which I love, but with this we wanted to create something more participatory and interactive. I know that social isolation has hit people hard, and we really wanted to create a place where people can go to connect and build a community. We reached out to three artists we know, Katytarika Bartel (, Yara Liceaga-Rojas (, and Grace Givertz (, and asked them to each curate a night of performances. We encouraged them to think about how Zoom can be used as a tool to bring people into the performances, maybe even in ways you couldn't do in a normal performance setting, and they immediately started generating these amazingly creative ideas. All of the artists and curators have lost work and cancelled gigs since the outbreak of COVID-19. It’s a tough moment, and we really wanted to create an opportunity to pay artists generously for their work. We all need art right now, and artists need support. All of the money we raise will go directly to the artists.

Cloud Cafe has live stream performances coming up 3/22, 3/23, and 3/24. What can we expect?

You can expect to be engaged and to be welcomed into the experience. Early on in our planning process, we decided that we wanted Cloud Cafe to be a space for healing and not for commiserating. I think commiserating is important, but I also feel like it’s all that I’m experiencing through social media this week. We really want to offer something different, a place where people can come together and share a joyful experience. We’re not forcing people to smile and pretend that everything is okay, but we want to give people a chance to process everything that’s happening through a different lens. Each of the 11 artists who are performing will do this in very different ways and with different mediums including music, poetry, visual art, and more. These artists are incredible and we are so lucky to be working with them.

What principles and priorities are you and Cloud Cafe taking stock of during COVID-19 when it comes to the arts (or maybe beyond the arts)?

Lily and I are both extremely lucky to have jobs where we can work from home which is why we were able to dive into this project. We’ve been feeling really grateful for that, and have been deliberate about naming the things that we can still hold onto and feel grateful for with so much uncertainty around us.

Everybody is feeling the hit of this pandemic, but it’s not effecting everybody equally. One group of people who have been hit really hard are freelance artists and musicians who had to cancel tours and gigs. It’s so frustrating that, even though most people see the importance of the arts, there is almost no infrastructure in place to support the people who make it. Right now artists need people who care about their work to rally behind them and support them.

Anything else you'd like the people to know?

If you are salaried or working from home and have the means to chip in, please donate! If you are struggling with social isolation and just need a place to escape please join us! Flip through our website and take a look at the amazing artists who will be performing. Listen to their albums, send them $10 on Venmo, do what you can to support them.

Cloud Cafe is being organized by Derek Schwartz and Lily Xie (

Please consider TUNING IN and DONATING $$$ (or just $ if that’s what you got) to Cloud Café. ALL PROCEEDS GO DIRECTLY TO ARTISTS. TIGHT!

Donate at


Venmo: @Derek-Schwartz-3

Interview with Jim Wooster, Executive Director of Club Passim

As a venue, what was it like to stay open through, and eventually close because of, the COVID-19 pandemic, and how is everyone who manages and works at Club Passim doing?

It was pretty surreal to watch how quickly things slowed down and stopped at Passim. On Monday, March 9th we felt like we would have to take some precautions, but we could remain open… perhaps on a more limited basis. By the end of the week it was apparent that we would have to shut down completely. Many on our staff are also gigging musicians, so they’re feeling the effects of lost income. We have pledged to keep all of our staff on our payroll for as long as we can, and to include tip money for our servers since they depend on it. Our upstairs team has been meeting daily via Google hangouts so we can share information and make decisions.

Club Passim recently launched the Keep Your Distance Fest! What is it, how was it conceived, and how can audiences access it?

As soon as we realized we were going to shut down, we began brainstorming ideas on how we could support the artists who depend on us for their income. We decided to launch the Passim Emergency Artist Relief (PEAR) fund to raise money and allow artists who have lost income to apply for grants. Artists have been providing videos promoting the fund which we are collecting in our “Keep Your Distance Fest” playlist on YouTube.

How can fans and audiences support Club Passim and Club Passim artists right now and in the near future?

Please visit our PEAR Fund page at and make a donation – any and all amounts will help! You can also support Passim and our artists by tuning into our livestream performances – info at - and making a donation via PayPal. We appreciate all of the support we have gotten from our community so far, and we look forward to reopening our doors for live music as soon as we safely can.

Interview with Rob Flax, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and educator

What's your art-making process looking like right now? Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your relationship with your art?

Not dramatically different from pre-pandemic. I do a lot of creating and recording in my home studio. But, because I've had so many cancelled gigs, I have had to beef up my teaching and apply for emergency fund grants.

Over the last 2 years, I played over 200 shows, and prior to this pandemic, I was just starting to think about putting something out with a band. Now that’s on hold. I've been feeling like I need to kick things up a notch, but because of this pandemic, I can't. I'm also trying to get my home recording set up so I can do live streaming. And I've been thinking, "how am I going to make web things in an already crowded internet?" And now everyone is on the internet doing it. Also, a lot of home recording equipment is sold out now.

I have my birthday bash on April 3rd. I had a lot of special guests planned, and now none of that's happening. So how do I make an online live stream performance something that someone wants to attend? It feels like the stakes have changed for live-streaming now. So trying to transition to that in a meaningful way is important, I think.

Here's another challenging thing. I can't play the same show 3 nights in a row, like I can do in different cities with a different audience each time. If I do the same live stream show, everybody can see it, so how do I make it different and special enough so that people will want to keep showing up, and maybe throw a little something in the digital tip jar. My fear is that maybe I'll have to learn covers to keep people engaged, but that's not really what I'm about.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your livelihood as an artist, in terms of performances, income, or interaction with fans/audiences?

Some of my work is teaching: workshops and residencies and that sort of thing. I was gonna be teaching at a festival in Maine this April that was cancelled. And the ones that haven't, I've been thinking, "should I play this? Is this safe?" I have to decide what's ethical. There's such a strong ethos that I've been trained in that says, "you don't cancel. The show must go on." So now, it feels weird that I have to be the one to make that decision. Most of my shows for the next 2 months have been cancelled, so most of that money has evaporated. Also, I have merch that says "7 hugs a day,” which is not really gonna work (during COVID season). I feel that as a society, we are starved for touch. So, at every one of my shows, there's just a lot of hugging that happens. This is absolutely the worst time to be promoting touching people! But that's not as bad the other problem, which is that we're even more touch starved.

Where can people see you online and how can they support you right now?

My facebook page is where I'm gonna be promoting my music: Also, take Skype lessons with me if you want. I teach most string instruments, and I teach improvisation. Either technique of improvise in a range of genres. Don't take lessons unless you're ready to actually work. Or, if you wanna buy a t shirt, or just send me some money.

One of my shows that was cancelled was April 22 in St. Louis at the World Chess Hall of Fame. Anybody who can beat me in a game of Chess gets free merch. My name is Fiddlercrab3 on

Anything else you'd like to let the people know?

I am reminded of Mister Roger's words after 9/11: ‘after the darkness, find the helpers.’

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