Local musicians looking to lift spirits with virtual holiday concert

Multi-instrumentalist Angie Haze, along with Chris Dudley (left), perform as part of a nine-piece ensemble called The Angie Haze Project, which features guitar, bass, violin, saxophone, accordion, and more.

Mason Lawlor Reporter

Main Street Kent is trying to fill the local entertainment gaps left by COVID-19 this holiday season. This week it has debuted “Home for this Holiday,” a festive, 18-song virtual show featuring local artists who have each recorded an “unplugged” holiday song.   

Every musician has performed for Main Street Kent in previous years.  Supporters can stream “Home for this Holiday” with a minimum donation of $10 to Main Street Kent, part of which will go toward Kent Social Services.  The stream will be available for unlimited viewing through Jan. 1. 

For participants, the event will be a chance to perform for supporters, an experience lost for much of the year due to COVID-19. Ray Flanagan, member of the local band The Authorities, said his life was flipped upside down after Ohio shut down in March.  

“Kent is one of the greatest towns in Northeast Ohio, and I have really missed the music festivals this year,” he said.  

Festivals such as Kent ’Round Town, Kent Blues Fest, American Roots Music Festival, and Kent Beatle Fest are annually held in the city, giving up-and-coming musicians like Flanagan the chance to share their music with a live audience.  

“I’ve been playing all of them for years,” he said. “They’re so unique; the whole town is full of music and people who are there to be a part of it.”  

Jen Maurer, an Akron resident who plays button box accordion in the band Mo’ Mojo, said the absence of live music has taken a toll on both her mental and financial well-being. July marked her 20-year anniversary of being a full-time musician.  

“It’s pretty awful,” Maurer said. “I’ve played around town for so many years.  With so few places having music right now, I’m looking at a winter off, for sure.”  

Multi-instrumentalist Angie Haze leads The Angie Haze Project, a nine-piece band that includes mandolin, cello, guitar, saxophone, drums, and accordion.  She has been hesitant to play shows during COVID-19 out of respect for her bandmates.  

“Being a big band, we don’t want to risk getting each other sick,” she said.  “We also don’t want to risk anybody coming to see us getting sick, so we decided to err on the side of caution.”

Sarah Benn, a bassist for the project Sir Duke and Golden Lady, has also remained cautious due to her family’s tragic experience during the pandemic. 

“I am willing to forgo live indoor performances for the sake of health and safety,” she said. “My family has already lost one to COVID-19, and I want to do the right thing for everyone else.” 

Solo performer Randy Horvath, on the other hand, played his first live show since February last week.  The Kent area resident found it convenient to play hometown shows in the past.  

“It’s always kind of nice just to stay home, be in my hometown and play those bigger shows and get to see all my friends,” he said.  “That’s definitely something that was missed this year.” 

Maurer noted that the financial struggles of the musical community have been overlooked for the past several months.  While reading an article from USA Today listing the top 10 jobs disappearing due to COVID-19, she was shocked to see musical workers mentioned nowhere on the list.  

“I was like, ‘Are you crazy?’” she said. “Musicians, sound techs, anybody across the country involved with music, we’re also the ones that are completely at the mercy of people controlling themselves.”  

Maurer, along with many other artists now without ways to share their music, is receiving unemployment benefits. The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance minimum benefit is currently $189 a week, with no minimum income requirement.  

“With $189 a week, I don’t know how anybody is surviving,” she said.  “We’re just living off of the summer and not spending as much. Thank God for grants.”  

With minimal opportunity for live performances, full-time artists have been worse off financially than others. Kevin Martinez, a bassist who plays alongside Sarah Benn in Sir Duke and Golden Lady, was forced to look elsewhere for gainful employment for the first time in six years.  

“In one 24-hour period in March I had 20 gigs and three orchestration projects cancelled,” he said. “It has frozen the bulk of what being a musician is, and affected every single nook and cranny of all of our lives.”  

Horvath, who played “Little Drummer Boy” for the show, has fared slightly better. Unlike some of his peers, he has a day job working for Summit County. Still, he understands the importance of music for both his own health and the community.  

“The holidays are going to be tough for everybody,” he said. “A little holiday cheer is going to be good for the community in general.” 

Flanagan, who recorded a version of “In the Bleak Midwinter” for the holiday show, also noted the responsibility of musicians to allow their audience to release stress in a fun environment.  

“I hope that we can do our collective job as musicians to lift people up and inspire them as we reach the end of this increasingly trying year,” he said.   

Martinez and Benn decided to play “Jingle Bells” for the show, with Martinez playing electric bass and Benn using an upright bass and singing lead vocals.  

“We feel like we’re giving something to the community,” Benn said. “We certainly hope our humble offering makes someone’s day brighter.”  

Haze recorded an update of the Italian Christmas carol, “Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle,” which she sang in Italian while also playing guitar and mandolin.    

“It’s a song my great-grandmother used to sing when I was a kid growing up,” she said. “It’s kind of a classical song, which is not something I do, ever. But I thought this would be cool because it reminds me of her.”  

More than her own feelings, she’s convinced Main Street Kent’s production can go a long way towards bringing hope to people during difficult times.  

“I’m hoping people can see the necessity and importance in music, and how I think it does help uplift people,” she said.  

In the meantime, some musicians have had more time to write their own music. Horvath has been slowly making a new album throughout the year, which presents the challenge of trying to stay safe.  

“I’m trying to write more,” he said. “Due to COVID-19, it’s hard to get in a studio to record.”  

Haze accepts online opportunities as much as possible, including recently when her band began a series on YouTube called “Quarantine Life.” Flanagan and Maurer are gearing up to finish new albums in the winter months. 

Mason Lawlor covers the city of Kent. Contact him at [email protected]. 


Hi, I’m Lauren Sasala, a senior journalism student from Toledo. I’m also the editor in chief of The Kent Stater and KentWired this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important news about Kent State and the Kent community. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.