local musicians return — in person — to the Boston Music Awards

“The only thing I like to do is play music for people, and we couldn’t do that for so long.” This is how Mallcops singer and bassist Joey Del described his return to the Boston Music Awards for the first time since the event went virtual. in 2020.

The 2021 Boston Music Awards, held at Brighton Music Hall on Wednesday, brought together artists from across New England to share in the celebration of their peers. The annual awards show dates back to 1987 and has featured artists like Aerosmith, Phish and Donna Summer, to name a few. Local musicians spoke to GBH News about the nearly two-year pandemic that has wreaked havoc on their industry, bringing some bands together and motivating other artists to go solo, causing makeovers and creating financial stress.

Although it was an awards show, the atmosphere at Brighton Music Hall was not competitive; it was communal. The Boston Music Awards aren’t limited to specific genres, so they offer one of the most diverse shows in town, featuring bluegrass-folk, indie-pop, and hip-hop artists on the same stage.

During the pandemic, musicians improvised, innovated and united to keep the art alive. “We live in a world where artists can collaborate more easily than ever. I want to be able to collaborate with artists all over the world, whether it’s Jersey or Russia, and I want them to be able to edit my beats live,” said Boston hip-hop artist ANSON RAP$. The Boston ensemble Twisted Pine has found another way to work together while staying apart: its members have created a Christmas album with songs without a preconceived composition. They circulated tracks and layered individual recordings of their own instruments, almost like a drum circle, to take advantage of remote collaboration.

Izzy Heltai, who received the award for singer-songwriter of the year, has used the pandemic as a retreat from Boston to create her own arts module in western Massachusetts. “We actually spent a lot of time together in the studio and I started exploring a lot of different ways to write songs. So the time was really good for me,” Heltai said. from the city, he and his band were able to experiment with their sound, which led to their latest EP, “Day Plan (5 Songs Written 4 the End of the World)”.

Instead of collaborating, musicians Senseless Optimism and Layzi realized going solo was how they were going to get through the pandemic. “Being in a band can be full of drama. Anyone who’s ever been in a band knows what it’s like. It’s good not to have to deal with that,” Layzi said. Senseless Optimism, who grew up with the phrase “every disappointment is a blessing,” used his mantra to catapult his solo act. “It’s a shame we couldn’t go out and play. It’s a shame we couldn’t go out and train,” she said. “But, the advantage – the blessing – was that I was able to opt for something that, at the time, I was very afraid of.”

The pandemic has caused a real culture shock in the state’s arts and entertainment sector. According to a report by the Mass Cultural Council, it cost the industry nearly $600 million. This economic blow rippled through the music community.

For artists like Drew Zief and Francis Hickey of Jake Swamp And The Pine, music is their livelihood. “It was stressful. For me, I’m freelancing, so I play with a lot of different musicians and bands, and live performances are a big part of my income as a professional. So for this whole industry to disappear overnight with no warning or timeline for it to come back… Yeah… It was stressful,” Hickey said.

Music has also become a means of escaping reality throughout the pandemic. Zola Simone, the BMA’s New Artist of the Year, credited songwriting with preserving her sanity. “I think without that time and space to think and create, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity or been in the right place to make this album and everything that followed it,” Simone said.

Her hit song, “Easy,” won Song of the Year.

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