by Lorrie DeFrank
Before COVID-19 shut down businesses and curtailed social gatherings in Northeast Florida last March, singer/songwriter Mike Shackelford was performing live five nights a week at Brucci’s, Mezza Luna, and Mudville Grille. Pianist Gina Martinelli had recently started a nightly gig at Santioni’s. Guitarist Arvid Smith and soul singer Mama Blue engaged with large and small audiences at public events. And the Jacksonville Symphony filled its music hall.
Like their counterparts nationwide when the music stopped, they were impacted particularly hard financially by the pandemic. Within weeks, all would reconnect with fans through some sort of online streaming, often offering the option of virtual gratitude jars to offset their losses.
Although some are venturing back out to give socially distanced live performances, their virtual concerts provide intimate connections with people and opportunities for artistic creativity in a safe environment.
Mike Shackelford: Cool to reconnect
For Shackelford, it’s been life changing. “This will be something I do from this point on—turn on the camera and speak to people who want to hear my music and what I have to say,” he says.
Since settling in Jacksonville with his former band Justin in the late 1970s, he has established a strong following, later performing with The Mike Shackelford Band for 20 years and more recently solo at bars, restaurants, and listening rooms throughout the region. He has opened for such celebrities as The Everly Brothers and Hall & Oates and contracted with the City of Atlantic Beach to host monthly singer/songwriter and acoustic nights. For the past dozen years his open mic nights have packed Brucci’s at Beach and Hodges each Monday.
The coronavirus revealed its silver lining to him early.
With a responsibility to sustain his family and a desire to perform, he presented his first Facebook Live concert from his home music room just 11 days after the mandatory shutdown. He started out doing two a week and has landed on Wednesdays from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. All of his concerts remain accessible on the site.
“This has given me the opportunity to be the kind of artist I always dreamed of being—a songwriter intimately connected with people and able to move them in a way I can’t really do in the middle of a restaurant when people are talking and the TV is on,” says Shackelford, who plays the acoustic guitar and harmonica. “And I can concentrate on songwriting.”
His “Story and a Song” and request nights have been popular with viewers who post comments during every show to Shackelford and his wife, Stephanie, who replies and lets her husband know who’s watching.
“There is no way to describe how cool it is to reconnect the circuit board in my memory and turn to my own song or another song that allows me to speak of that moment in time,” says Shackelford, who referred to the viewers’ comments as priceless.
A friend and fan for decades, Lindy Boyter said Wednesdays’ online concerts are like being back at Brucci’s with her friends. “We ask for songs we all know and like, and talk to each other,” she says of the comments they post. “This format is wonderful to see Mike again and hear his beautiful original songs and excellent covers.”
Until lately, high school classmate Ken Gullette hadn’t heard Shackelford play since their 20-year reunion in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1991. “Over the past summer, my wife and I sat on our screened-in porch, put Mike’s concerts on full screen and listened with a glass of wine,” says Gullette, who lives in Illinois. “It’s like having a private concert by a friend in Florida.”
For 22-year-old Jessie Fabik, who calls Wednesdays “Mike Shackelford Day,” the Facebook Live concerts are therapeutic as well as entertaining. Because of his sensory processing issues he finds noisy crowds overstimulating and, therefore, can’t attend live performances, according to his sister, Carole Senn, who played guitar with their dad, Jody Fabik, at Shackelford’s open mic nights. “Jessie is more involved now than ever. When Mike sings ‘Roll On’ Jessie plays the harmonica along with him,” Senn said.
Shackelford frequently expresses how deeply he appreciates and respects the people who watch, comment, and contribute. Although tips through such online payment systems as PayPal, Cash App, and Venmo have helped considerably to keep his family afloat, they don’t match what he made playing for hire. Yet, despite being invited back as places reopened, he will not feel safe going back out on a regular basis at least for the rest of this year because of the pandemic.
“I never intended to play in a bar or restaurant until my late 60s but did it because of the passion I have for it,” he says. “This is a confusing time to start a whole new brand, but I feel like it’s tailor-made for me. I don’t have a problem in front of a camera singing a song and baring my soul.”
Concerts may be viewed on his Mike Shackelford Facebook page.
Gina Martinelli: Music soothes souls
For decades Gina Martinelli has been highly respected and widely recognized throughout Northeast Florida’s cultural community. A private music and art teacher, she played the piano at clubs and restaurants and for special events from Ponte Vedra to Amelia Island. After playing the piano as a substitute at Santioni’s Italian Restaurant in Fleming Island, she landed the nightly spot in January—just two months before COVID-19 temporarily ended it.
“We were all isolated and I could not do my gig. I thought I would do livestream because everyone was shut in,” says Martinelli, who eventually returned to the restaurant. “I reconnected with friends from high school, people from all over the country … even some of the foreign teachers in immersion programs in English who came through here.”