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SoundCheck: From Live to Virtual, Musician Jeff Arrigo Makes the Most of a Pandemic

Courtesy of Jeff Arrigo

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every aspect of our society these last few months. We all are feeling its lingering effects as we stay at home. We wear masks when we do go out. Groceries are delivered and shaking hands is out of the question. For musicians all over the country, the pandemic has meant lost gigs.

Fayetteville singer/songwriter Jeff Arrigo had a weekly Wednesday gig at the Pesto Café. With the onset of COVID, that quickly came to an end. But, Jeff is one of the lucky ones.

“I am in no way like some of your guests. Like, heard Justin Larkin on the other day, he’s a good friend of mine. But no, I’m a teacher. I teach ESL to international adults,” said Arrigo.

Like other part-time musicians, it’s still difficult to lose the creative outlet of playing live.

“It’s emotional to not be able to do what you really enjoy doing.”

So, to make up for the hole left by the loss of the Pesto Café gigs, Arrigo took to Facebook. He kept Wednesdays and instead of playing for two hours, he only plays from 7:00 to about 7:45.

He says, “I try to keep it under an hour just to not have viewer fatigue.”

The difference between the live and virtual shows doesn’t end there. At the Pesto, the atmosphere was small, dark and cozy – full of people and the smell of Italian cooking. Plants and artwork adorned the walls. There were candles on the tables and a lively bar along one side of the restaurant. That’s a stark contrast to Arrigo’s Facebook shows in his apartment, but he still tries to create a peaceful setting.

“You know, aesthetics are important to me just in everyday life. When I set up my iPad, I make sure that over my shoulder you can see some art work and the afghan my sister made me over the couch, you know, so that it looks like a home, it doesn’t just look like a white wall.”

Even though these Facebook gigs look and feel vastly different, they do have their perks.

“It’s given me kind of a forum for trying some new music. Because I was playing every week and I pretty much tried to not repeat very many songs for about three or four months. It feels more forgiving, you know, I feel like if someone’s paying me to play music and people are, not necessarily paying to hear the music, but they’re paying to eat dinner and to be entertained, I want the music to be at a certain level. And on the Facebook Live, of course I don’t want to play a song and completely clam it up, I feel a little bit more free to try some songs that are about half-baked and maybe not ready for prime time,” said Arrigo.

Most of his Facebook audience is made up of family and friends, but he has a fan from the Pesto that always tunes into the virtual gigs.

“She just came every Wednesday with her daughter. She tunes in and she’s very appreciative, I mean, she enjoys my music, and she’s very appreciative of the fact that we can at least do this,” he said.

Even though he has made a home there, it is unlikely that Arrigo will return to the Pesto Café once it reopens for live music. He is moving to Columbia, Missouri at the end of September. Once he’s up there, he hopes to continue to play music.

“My favorite thing ever as a musician was having a regular gig, because my least favorite thing as a musician is looking for a gig,” said Arrigo.

And even though he will technically be moving out of the Ozarks, he will always consider the area home.

“I just feel very attached to that part of the world, and it seems to give me lots of inspiration to write when I’m there or when I’m thinking about it.”

Jessica Gray Balisle, a Springfield native, grew up listening to KSMU. When she's not wrangling operations and compliance issues, she co-hosts live music show Studio Live and produces arts and culture stories. Jessica plays bass in local band the Hook Knives. She and her husband Todd live with their two cats, Ellie and Jean-Ralphio, and way too many house plants.
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