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As Coronavirus Put Live Music Events On Hold, A Texas Artist Looked To The Internet

DON GONYEA, HOST:

When the pandemic started and live music was put on hold indefinitely, Carrie Rodriguez had an idea. Now, Rodriguez is a singer-songwriter based in Austin, Texas. Her response was to start a series of videos published on her website and on YouTube so her fans could keep a sense of community going. The series is called A Song For You, and it features Rodriguez and her partner and musical collaborator, Luke Jacobs, playing together.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARRIE RODRIGUEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

GONYEA: That's from one of their most recent videos. It's a Christmas song from 19th-century Spain called "A La Nanita Nana." And Carrie Rodriguez joins us now to tell us more. Carrie, welcome.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you, Don - so great to be here.

GONYEA: So your very first video in this series was published back in March - boy, so long ago March was. Why did you do it, and what was your goal?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, in that - you know, in the first couple of weeks of shock of the whole thing happening, we started to see live streams going on. We participated in a few where you're playing music to your computer screen. And you're playing for people, but you can't see them. And that was very challenging for us. I mean, that was kind of adding to the loneliness factor.

So my partner, Luke, who is a great musician and also conveniently a great videographer, said, well, what if we tried to just make song videos for people and we don't make this a live thing, but, you know, we just play music for the joy of playing music and then share it later? So it felt a lot better to play a song and kind of imagine that we're playing this for people and use our imaginations more than if we were just playing to this cold computer screen.

GONYEA: The setup is really pretty simple. It's two chairs, two, maybe three mics. And you're on vocals and fiddle. Fiddle is your primary instrument. Luke is playing guitar or dobro or who knows what. Just kind of talk about that setup.

RODRIGUEZ: Right, well, we did want to keep it very simple. I mean, we wanted it to feel like this is our music room and we're playing a song for you from our music room - didn't get too fancy with with the camerawork. And also, we're so limited. Our one helper is our son, Cruz, who's 5 (laughter). So he's actually become quite good. The kid can record audio, he knows where everything gets plugged into, how to pull up all the, you know, computer apps that record. So that's been really fun, too.

GONYEA: And occasionally, he introduces the song for you.

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, he makes cameos when he feels like it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRUZ: There we go. This is (unintelligible).

RODRIGUEZ: Ok, give us a clap.

CRUZ: (Clapping).

RODRIGUEZ: Rolling.

CRUZ: Rolling.

LUKE JACOBS: Oh, Buddy, you can't (unintelligible).

RODRIGUEZ: Some are more successful than others.

(LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: OK, Carrie Rodriguez, let's hear one of the covers you've performed during this pandemic series. This is "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" - originally by, of course, the great Hank Williams.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARRIE RODRIGUEZ AND LUKE JACOBS: (Singing) Never seen a night so long, when time goes crawling by. The moon just went behind the clouds to hide its face and cry.

GONYEA: It is such a beautiful and sad song, and I love hearing your fiddle as you perform it there. But this is one of those songs, I think, that reminds us that great art becomes newly resonant as times change. I mean, I'm sure there are a lot of people out there feeling that lonesomeness as they hear you sing this song that Hank Williams wrote back in the 1950s.

RODRIGUEZ: Oh, yes, so true. And it really shows you the power of a good song. I've been feeling that throughout this whole process of recording these songs. You know, you just go, oh, yeah, this song is right now, it's 2020, even though it was written 70 years ago. And I - yeah, I love that about great songwriting. I feel the same thing when I'm singing a John Prine song, for example. They're timeless. And they continue to be appropriate for whatever era that you're in.

GONYEA: These are really simple, clean recordings and arrangements that you're posting here - again, no live audience, obviously. But I'm wondering what you've learned about yourself in the process of doing these. Maybe I can ask it even more broadly. What have you learned about performing?

RODRIGUEZ: There is definitely a lot to stripping things down. I mean, it's not as easy as just playing a song with fewer musicians or just playing the guitar part of a song. No, I found that for a lot of these songs, we've had to completely reimagine the song. I might have recorded it with a five-piece band, and it might have had, you know, one kind of tempo or groove. But to make it work and really speak with just a fiddle and a guitar, we really have had to rearrange the music and find new grooves.

You can always keep growing and learning. Even if you're playing a song you've played a million times, there's a new way to play it. And it's been so much fun to find those ways. And we'll continue to do it. We're now starting to get towards the end of my kind of catalog that I'm comfortable with playing live, so now I'm starting to have to dig a little deeper...

GONYEA: (Laughter).

RODRIGUEZ: ...Which will be an interesting next phase of the series.

GONYEA: So as we wrap up, let's hear a bit from your latest video in this series. It's it's a song called "Get Back In Love."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing) It only takes a smile. It only takes a walk once in a while to get back in love.

"Get Back In Love" is a song written by a dear friend named Ben Kyle.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing) It only takes a glance.

It really - to me, it really speaks to this feeling that we're all having right now. We are home, and there are such challenges that go along with spending more time at home with your loved ones than what you're used to. And I love that the song is just reminding us to take the time to stop and have a slow dance with your husband in the living room, take the time to go outside and take a walk and find the beauty because there is so much beauty. Amidst all of the heartache, there is beauty. And pointing it out, to me, is pushing ahead into the new year with a positive kind of feeling.

GONYEA: That was Austin-based singer-songwriter Carrie Rodriguez. You can see all of the videos in her series, A Song For You, on YouTube. Carrie Rodriguez, thanks so much for speaking with us and looking ahead to a new year. Thank you.

RODRIGUEZ: Oh, thank you, Don - such my pleasure. Thank you.

RODRIGUEZ AND JACOBS: (Singing) Dance me to the end of love. Dance me to the end of love. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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