“I’ve been gigging again,” says Sej Miles, an award-winning singer-songwriter, who supported herself as a full-time musician from 2015 to 2019. Then, tempted by a steadier income, she took a job at the Monterey Airbus (the airport shuttle that runs between Monterey and both San Jose and San Francisco International airports), only to be furloughed in March 2020. “Three months into the pandemic, I started to feel peaceful and was able to keep this mindset. I used the time to play piano six to eight hours a day.”
In addition to becoming a better piano player, Miles also picked up a baritone ukulele.
She is not the only musician who found more time at hand to practice during the pandemic. Monterey-based harmonica player Chuck Brewer has an album to show for it.
“During 2019, I was in a band that played a lot,” he says. “Once the shutdown happened and there were no more gigs and no more rehearsals, I started to focus on my own music and this is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”
Brewer has a day job in sales for a local software company and never completely relied on his income as a musician. “With a few exceptions, it’s very difficult to actually make a living as a musician in this area,” he says.
Zack Freitas moved to Monterey because he believes “this is where the work is,” he says, describing dire times for working musicians in his hometown of Hollister, and then in San Jose, where he tried to pick up gigs with no success.
“I was hustling,” Freitas says. “When Covid hit, I was in Austin on my first tour. All the gigs got canceled. I didn’t want to be a musician. I remember considering giving up.”
Before Covid, Freitas used to play every weekend – sometimes three gigs a day. During the pandemic, his weekends started to look different. “I was not happy,” he says. “This whole thing didn’t hurt me financially because I got some money from the government, but psychologically – I like to drink, and I started to drink more.”
Gigs returned around February 2021 and things are starting to look normal again, Freitas says.
Other local musicians are also excited to get back to what they love. “I was really anxious to get out there and do it,” Brewer says. “It has been a difficult time. I know of a musician who had to move out from the area to be able to afford living.”
For Miles, performing again is a financial benefit and more: “I gained love for playing again,” she says. “The audience loves it, too. So it’s a mutual appreciation. I guess we all know it could all shut down any moment.”