While stopping for gas on the way to their first tour performance, Andrew Loper and John Della Franco found out the Austin, Texas arts festival they were supposed to perform at, South by Southwest, was cancelled.
“Obviously, we were devastated, but still went to D.C. and put on a show that night,” said Loper, a 2018 economics alumnus.
Their band, Rubber, was slated to perform at SXSW on March 17, in addition to playing their own “To SXSW and Back” tour, when both were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cancellations came as part of the $9 billion loss the concert industry could take due to the pandemic canceling shows and festivals, the Los Angeles Times reported, and it is unclear when events will be able to take place again.
The band was invited to perform at Block by Blockwest, a May 16 musical festival with 30 bands hosted on Minecraft, an online game. It was organized by Courier Club, a Philadelphia dance-punk group made up of Timothy Waldron, Ryan Conway, Michael Silverglade and Jack Kessler, who had performed with Rubber in at the Spirit of DIY concert in November 2019 at Cambridge Hall.
On Minecraft, the artist’s game avatars are set on a stage as pre-recorded music plays before an audience while Minecraft players can interact with features during the “performance.” Prior to the event, artists sent vocals to the event organizers.
Guests, who are free to view the livestream if they have Minecraft downloaded, can engage with artists by buying merchandise and viewing more than one performance at a time. The festival also can be streamed on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch.
For Courier Club, they jokingly passed around the idea of throwing a Minecraft festival before working to create a digital alternative to SXSW, said Timothy Waldron, the band’s singer.
“We kind of joked around about it but that idea just grew every day,” Waldron said. “It got [to] a point to where we actually decided that we have to do this and find a way to show up for our fans and have a few of our friend bands play and that’s where Rubber came in.”
The original Minecraft festival was set for April 25, but after Minecraft servers were overwhelmed with a high volume of guests, Courier Club postponed the festival to ensure a better experience.
“Our servers were just dying,” Waldron said. “We opened them up and had several thousand in-game along with thousands who got locked out and another 88,000 on streams. We decided to wait a little bit so we wouldn’t water down the experience.”
Rubber has adjusted from preparing for an in-person concert tour to performing on virtual shows by focusing more on the music rather than all the promotional preparations of a concert tour, Loper said.
“For South By Southwest, we were prepared to drive and hit multiple cities on the way so it required a lot of preparation,” Loper said. “We got a lot of merch ready along with bracelets, posters and stickers. For Block by Blockwest, it was a lot easier, we just sat down and recorded a live set and have been in close contact with the organizing team.”
They’re still concerned about the future of live performances, as the COVID-19 outbreak has drastically altered their plans. They hope to do shows sometime in the summer, but they don’t have solid plans, Loper added.
“We’ve had some discussion of moving some shows toward June or July, but it’s completely tentative and dependent on the state of the world in the next couple of months,” Loper said.