In the old days, when the band was four people strong and the coronavirus was a distant nightmare waiting to happen, any Wednesday evening would find Good Company at rehearsal, working on new arrangements, practicing harmonies and enjoying one another's company with a plethora of instruments scattered around the living room. Truly, we were good company. In those days, our kids would try to shut out the music by closing the doors to their rooms so they could focus on Super Mario Brothers. Gin and tonics were the norm and a bowl of popcorn was almost as traditional as the Celtic music we were playing. Over the years, as the tempo of Father Time slowed down our lives, the children grew up and moved out, and one by one we began retiring from our day jobs. Eventually, rehearsal time moved to late morning or early afternoon. Although the popcorn tradition remained, the gin and tonics went by the wayside and were replaced by a glass of juice or a nice cup of tea.
Sadly, nearly five years ago one of our members passed away after a long battle with cancer. Ann Marie Woolley was, in many ways, the heart of our sound with her cello, guitar playing and sweet angelic voice anchoring our four-part harmonies. Since we have many instrumental tunes in our repertoire that Ann Marie played on guitar or cello, Sam McNeill and I have now taken over rhythm duties on guitar or cittern. We've also had to adapt vocally with McNeill or Janet Finney-Krull taking over the lead singing chores while I stay on harmony. Obviously, it's not the same without Ann Marie and we do miss her dearly, but we still love playing music together and just recently celebrated her birthday with a toast of Irish cream liqueur.
Now that COVID-19 has complicated our lives we have had to adapt even further. Or rather, farther. When a semi-clear day presents itself with little or no wind, and the air temperature is warm (or as warm as Humboldt County would allow this past winter), we get together outside and set up at least 10 feet apart. We all have either a functional yard or a roomy deck where we can set up and practice, jackets at the ready. At the heart of playing acoustic music in a group setting is the need to hear each other well in order to keep a steady beat and stay in tune. Keeping a steady beat from a distance of 10 feet is quite a challenge instrumentally and even more so vocally. In order to keep the vocals in tempo and in tune, we allow the lead singer to have their mask off while harmonies remain masked. This routine, though not optimum, does tend to help with staying more in tune although the tempo does tend to fluctuate. I'm sure our social distancing would meet with Dr. Fauci's approval.
While staying active and continuing to enjoy and play music, we still miss our performances out on the town. We were used to playing out at least once a week and our monthly gigs at various venues during Arts Arcata and Arts Alive are sorely missed. Playing local brew-pubs, the Morris Graves Museum of Art, Café Mokka and the occasional wedding, as well as simply seeing fans and creating new ones in the community, have always been a fun part of living in this small chunk of California we call home.
Now that the COVID-19 vaccines are becoming more and more available (we have each gotten our shots) we hope to see life slowly return to normal. We have no illusions that the old days will be here anytime soon, so we're shooting for fall or early winter for a lessening of restrictions and perhaps a return to normalcy. And a chance to perform in public together again.
Robert Stockwell (he/him) is a member of Good Company and the former wine and spirits buyer at the Arcata Co-op.