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For Philadelphia Band Low Cut Connie, Music Became A Pandemic Support Group

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Let's go back to March 19, 2020. I know you'd probably rather not do that, but stay with me here. The pandemic had just begun, and Adam Weiner of the band Low Cut Connie was feeling just like the rest of us.

ADAM WEINER: I'm sitting on the couch. I was feeling a little bit down, you know? Is the world ending? It was just so scary. But at that moment, a few of our fans were like, just do something. Go live on Instagram or something.

CHANG: So they did.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Are we live?

WEINER: We're rolling, baby.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We are in South Philly.

WEINER: Hello, internet.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Do we have any people with us?

WEINER: For some reason - I don't know why. By the end, there were tears coming down my face. I was sweating. It was like this cathartic performance for us.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOW CUT CONNIE: (Singing) Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.

CHANG: They kept the livestreams coming every week for more than a year. Now they have released an album of cover songs taken from those performances, broadcasts that Weiner began to call Tough Cookies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WEINER: (Singing) I wish I could swim.

Somewhere in the first week or two of doing it, I kept saying to people on these livestreams, you're tough. You're tougher than you know. You're going to make it through. But also, you're sweet. So I was calling for people to be both resilient but also compassionate.

CHANG: Yeah.

WEINER: And I used that phrase, tough cookies.

CHANG: Well, I want to read aloud how you describe Tough Cookies. This is from your website.

WEINER: Yeah.

CHANG: Tough Cookies is a concert, a church service, a support group, a strip club, a punk club but mostly a soul music variety show.

WEINER: Yeah.

CHANG: There is so much to unpack right there, but can you talk about the support group aspect of all this?

WEINER: Absolutely. It's been incredible watching this community of people all over the world that have been tuning in for over a year. Some of them are getting up at 6 in the morning. Some of them, it's 11 o'clock at night.

CHANG: Wow.

WEINER: And they've built this little support group of tough cookies. And if somebody lost their job or they lost a loved one, I say, how are you feeling right now? And they tell us in the comments, and everybody offers them support and love. They formed a book club. They formed a dating club. There's an addiction subset of fans, you know, people dealing with addictions and grief. And it's become this absolutely incredible community of people with heart and soul just taking care of each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOW CUT CONNIE: (Singing) I can remember standing by the wall (ph).

CHANG: In your live performances, and I've seen videos of them, you have this, like, wild, energetic stage presence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WEINER: (Singing) You got to get up. You got to feel good tonight.

CHANG: But I'm curious. When you started livestreaming, was it hard to transmit that same energy? - because you can't see any of your audience during a livestream.

WEINER: Well...

CHANG: How hard was that?

WEINER: You know what it's like as a broadcaster.

CHANG: Oh, but I'm used to it. In fact, I almost find comfort in not making eye contact with my audience. But what you do is different.

WEINER: It is. I'm used to performing in front of thousands of people, hugging people, messing up people's hair.

CHANG: (Laughter).

WEINER: And to do it for cellphones, it was challenging at first. But, you know, it's a weird thing. It's like this antenna grew on the back of my head, and I could sort of feel, just intuit the reaction of the people watching.

CHANG: So it didn't feel like the audience presence was any weaker than it would be in person.

WEINER: No. I would say, (singing) everybody say yeah. And I could hear them go, (singing) yeah.

CHANG: (Laughter).

WEINER: And I'd say, (singing) yeah. And they go, (singing) yeah. People over 40 countries were going, (singing) yeah.

CHANG: (Singing) Yeah (laughter).

WEINER: Yeah.

CHANG: I love it (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOW CUT CONNIE: (Singing) Dress you up in my love. Dress you up in my love. Dress you up in my love. Dress you up in my love, in my love, from my head down to my toes.

CHANG: I know that, you know, you also interview people on these livestreams. At one point, you had a long chat with the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, John Fetterman.

WEINER: Yes.

CHANG: And one of the things that you two talked about was the closure of all the music venues during the pandemic. So we're approaching, hopefully, the end of the pandemic. You're used to being on the road all the time. Do you think live music will be the same after this pandemic is over?

WEINER: No, I don't. I don't think anything will be the same, and I don't hope for it to be the same.

CHANG: Really? Why not?

WEINER: Well, our world will never be the same. We're seeing through different eyes now, and that means that live music audiences are seeing through different eyes. And so as a performer, I have to give them an experience different than I would have given them two years ago. When we get back on stage this fall, in October, we're doing a few comeback shows.

CHANG: Yeah.

WEINER: God willing - that'll be a powerful moment. But we have come to incorporate into our performances, you know, more social activism and more understanding of what our neighbors, our coworkers, our family members and friends - what they go through every day to get through life. And so I'm sort of dedicated to never again seeing entertainment as just an escape from reality. I want it to be something that's fundamental, that we need. It's like air. It's like food.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOW CUT CONNIE: (Singing) It's you. It's you. It's all for you, everything I do. I tell you all the time, heaven is a place on Earth with you. Tell me all the things you want to do.

CHANG: You are sitting right there in your spare bedroom, your performance space. I would love it if you could play us out with a quick song. Could you do that for us?

WEINER: Absolutely; my pleasure. Before I do, I just want to thank you all so much for having me. And to all your listeners, stay strong. Stay tough. And also, thank you for being compassionate.

CHANG: Oh.

WEINER: This has been a hard year. But in a lot of ways, it's been a good year. So with that, I would like to take everybody out with a little song that I wrote called "Stay As Long As You Like" that I want to dedicate to all the tough cookies out there.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOW CUT CONNIE SONG, "STAY AS LONG AS YOU LIKE")

CHANG: The new album from Low Cut Connie is called "Tough Cookies: The Best Of The Quarantine Broadcasts."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAY AS LONG AS YOU LIKE")

WEINER: (Singing) I feel it coming, bad news down the line. I heard you laughing, laughing to keep from crying. You hit the ceiling with all the troubles you see. All through this evening, you'll get no trouble from me. Stay with me a long time. Stay for just one night. Stay as long as you desire. You can stay as long as you like. You can stay as long as you like. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.