“As difficult as it feels to acknowledge it, I have not fared well through the pandemic,” Iowa musician River Glen Breitbach said in an email. “I have been a hard working musician for over 25 years and in that time I have established annual routes that have me touring throughout Iowa and the neighboring states, as well as in Ohio and New York. Every couple years I make it out to the west coast for some shows. And in these past five years I’ve begun establishing myself in Canada as well. And now it’s been over a year with all of that paused, which really threatens my sense of security and leaves me with worries that I am losing some of the momentum that I’ve worked so hard to establish.”
Knowing that others were in the same boat, the Iowa Arts Council Fellow decided to produce an event to address the issue. He began planning We Are Here almost a year ago. The online concert will feature the talents of Sara Routh (who will also emcee), ADE, D Milree, Lily DeTaye, the Dan Padley Trio, Blake Shaw, the Savage Hearts, Charlotte Blu and Breitbach himself. Thanks to support from the Iowa Arts Council, it’s free for all viewers, although there will be opportunities to support the artists.
“I am very honored and grateful to get to work in collaboration with the IAC, so upon seeing their declaration regarding making opportunities for BIPOC/Women artists a priority, I felt a desire and an obligation to utilize my event as an opportunity to make a small contribution to this priority,” Breitbach said of programming the evening.
We Are Here aims to raise awareness of the state of the arts at this moment in time. Even as things are starting to curve back toward normalcy, venues are struggling and independent performers are still climbing back slowly from a year of nothing but virtual busking.
“I will be addressing the difficulties faced by artists … as well as a call to action for music lovers to raise their awareness and continue supporting the artists whom they love,” Breitbach said. “The emcee, Sara Routh, will speak to the importance of art in our lives during these difficult times. And each of the evening’s performers has been encouraged to share their thoughts and experience, which will provide viewers with more context about the state of the arts during the pandemic.”
That’s a big part of why, even as the weather warms and the venues are more accessible, this event is going to be online.
“I began planning this event in the spring of 2020,” Breitbach said, “so with all of the uncertainty about how the world would look a year later, it seemed wise to plan an event that acknowledges and demonstrates a willingness to yield to the times: to advocate for artists during these difficult times without risking anyone’s safety in doing so. Secondly, We Are Here acknowledges that while live-streaming has existed for several years, the pandemic has ensured that it is an established avenue of performance that is here to stay, so we aim to demonstrate to folks what a high-quality live-stream concert looks like.”
It’s ultimately all about making connections, between artists, between artists and audience — something Breitbach has been working hard on throughout the pandemic. Among other things, he held car concerts where his audience would choose a theme that he would then build a setlist around, one way of staying engaged with his fans and vice versa.
“I don’t pretend that engaging online can make up for what has been lost this past year and I wouldn’t want it to. We are a social species and we are collectively hurting right now. I don’t think it would be wise to try to avoid that hurt,” he said. “We must acknowledge it as we move forward so that we can process it and try to heal as best we’re able.”