For many musicians, live streaming is as simple as setting up a webcam, picking up an instrument, and pressing record. But how does a 20-piece jazz band keep performing when the gigs dry up during a global health crisis?
The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra met the challenge and did not miss a beat when COVID-19 struck. Savannah’s internationally-renowned big band, founded by Jeremy Davis and Clay Johnson, have been performing outstanding live stream concerts every week since the pandemic forced venues to close and people to stay home.
“In light of the situation, it’s a huge victory,” said Davis. “Twelve weeks ago, it started and it hasn’t really stopped. We’ve seen a catastrophic, amazing, impressive array of gigs go away. It’s been remarkable the amount of revenue that has gone away forever because of COVID-19 for us. That part of it has been terrible, but the streaming thing has been a real bright spot because we’re still working.”
Davis has proudly kept his band members employed for the last twelve weeks. The Equinox Orchestra’s live-stream concerts on Facebook every Monday night have attracted over a hundred thousand viewers each week, and have generated a tremendous amount of revenue through generous virtual ticket sales ranging from $20 to $3500 a ticket, even though the concerts are free to watch. Thanks to sponsorships, the Equinox Orchestra have also been able to divert ticket sales to charitable organizations like America’s Second Harvest and Direct Relief.
“I’m still kind of surprised when I see it,” said Davis. “More than that, we’ve been able to deliver some joy to people. This has been a bright spot of encouragement.”
The Equinox Orchestra performed their first live stream from a barroom in Perry Lane Hotel. Out of necessity, the band was reduced to a 10-piece so that they could spread out and comply with CDC guidelines. Each week has led to new challenges and technical breakthroughs, but it was a two week stint at the Studio at NFS Ranch in Florida that showed Davis the potential for high quality streaming. The studio offers a multi-million dollar recording set up and the same streaming equipment used by the Lincoln Center.
“Those two weeks in north Florida were spectacular,” said Davis. “Same musicians, same quality of performance, but when you watch those two streaming sessions from NFS, those were album worthy. The quality was so great...then we realized that we couldn’t go backwards, so we’ve had to be scrappy about it.”
The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra’s huge success during the pandemic has caught the attention of artists, agents, and promoters all over the world, so Davis and Johnson have been having panel discussions with their peers about live streaming and monetization.
“We have always been into the aspect of mentoring,” said Davis. “We’ve shared our knowledge with artists all over the country...We even have a long list of really simple things that you can do to make your live stream better. If there is an artist out their struggling to get this figured out they can reach out to us at our contact email. We’re happy to share our knowledge.”
Besides the weekly live streams, the Equinox Orchestra have finally begun performing live and in-person again with their Summer Outdoor Shindig concert series, or S.O.S.
“We’ve heard the cry,” said Davis. “We’re responding with quality entertainment, social distancing, outdoors in the sun, under the safest conditions.”
The first S.O.S. concert took place in Davis’ front yard for an audience of seventy friends and neighbors. Since then they have performed at Collin’s Quarter in Forsyth Park and various private parties, with more shows to come in Bluffton and the Landings. Davis knows people are anxious to hear great live music again, so the band wants to come to your neighborhood and is available for booking at a scaled down rate, with help from neighborhood associations or sponsors.
“Fabulous Equinox Orchestra travels internationally and it’s not an inexpensive proposition to have us at your house,” said Davis. “We’ve worked really hard the last twenty years to get our prices where they are, but we’re taking a giant leap backwards in price range to make the music accessible to everybody.”
The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra has been able to continue moving forward, even when the rest of the world came to a stop. Besides an innovative approach to live streams and outdoor concerts, the band have even continued to develop their show with the hope of recording new music.
“We have a whole new show that we didn’t have before,” explained Davis. “We have three brand new, original compositions that are in our show now. We’ve been able to find a silver lining with lots of new material, lots of new arrangements...we’re primed and ready to go back into the studio, which we may do in the next 30 days.”