Being a full-time professional musician is hard enough. The Covid pandemic has made that a million times harder, as Davenport’s Lojo Russo learned over the past year.

Russo — whose diverse style includes roots, blues and Americana — dedicated 28 straight days recently to performing Celtic music online.

An ovarian cancer survivor, the popular singer-songwriter (unlike many Q-C bands and musicians) decided not to perform public gigs indoors. For St. Patrick’s Day this year, Russo did a private event at a company’s break room, while wearing a mask, and it was awkward.

On Tuesday night, April 6, Russo will return for the first time playing in public since October, at a special event. The “You First Music Celebration” – starting at 6 p.m. at Crawford Brew Works, 3659 Devils Glen Road, Bettendorf — is the brewery’s first co-sponsored public event with another organization involving live music.

It was created in conjunction with Realty One Group: Opening Doors to celebrate and support local musicians, as well as celebrate local real estate professionals and their clients, no matter what organization they are from. Free to the public, Russo and two other Q-C standouts – Bobby Ray Bunch and Molly Durnin – will each play 50-minute sets.

“Businesses over the last year have all had to adapt to thrive. And as a result, so have the customers,” event

Lojo Russo at one of her favorite places, Davenport’s River Music Experience.

organizer Jesse Hammes, a real-estate agent with Realty One Group and a local music enthusiast, said in the event description. “We can’t think of a better way to thank you than to announce Lojo Russo as part of the celebration. This is Lojo’s first public gig of 2021, and we are grateful to her for bringing her talents to the stage.”

“The Quad-Cities reps a stellar music scene. Period,” Hammes said, noting he wanted to find a way to promote local musicians. He and Tom Taylor — CBW assistant general manager and venue coordinator — are discussing the possibility of making this a monthly event.

Crawford has hosted live music often – for indoor events, patio events, and  musicians for private events on The Mezz (its rental space), Taylor said. They were among the first local spots to live-stream music during Covid shutdowns.

The promo poster for the April 6 live music celebration, featuring Q-C artists Lojo Russo, Bobby Ray Bunch and Molly Durnin.

By Tuesday, Russo will have had the second shot of the Covid vaccine, and will get to relax a bit more to play indoors.

“It’s pretty damn special. It’s exciting,” she said this week of playing again. “I’m a little apprehensive in a good way.”

“There is a little trepidation, but there’s a lot of excitement and the fact I’m doing something that I don’t normally do, and I’m practicing for the show,” Russo said. “I’m just a little apprehensive about playing without a mask, but I’ll have had my second shot and hopefully I’m not flirting with disaster.”

A former resident of the Twin Cities, Russo moved to Davenport in 2005. Now in her 50s, in 2018 she was diagnosed and treated for ovarian cancer, and by 2019, was beginning to get back to normal.

“I was starting to get my physical groove, my mental groove and my musical groove back in 2019, only to have it shut down again in 2020,” Russo said.

Her first canceled show last year was March 14, and when the weather got warm, she focused on playing outdoors when possible, including a handful of curbside concerts through River Music Experience, and gigs in Galena and Minneapolis.

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Last May, Taylor at CBW put together a “Missing You Music Fest,” including Russo, Mo Carter, Bobby Ray Bunch and Angela Meyer performing inside, and streamed it on Facebook with no in-person audience. “It was really strange,” Russo recalled of not having people to sing for. “You know, I’m old school — I plug in my guitar and I played to the people. I’m not of the generation that just keeps going, putting

Russo and Tom Taylor having fun at CBW’s “Missing You Music Fest” last May.

videos up online or doing Facebook Live shows or anything like that. That was completely new to me.”

“By the time all your shows are getting cancelled, you’re looking at — how can I make this up in the winter?” she said. “You’re between a rock and a hard place trying to book your winter, because I’m not going to play indoors and I know some musicians made that choice to play indoors or play with a mask on. I’d made the decision not to, so basically, once the cold weather hit, I was done playing public shows. Among festivals and dates that were canceled last year was Russo’s plan to play the Wildwood music festival in Texas in May, in which one of the headliners was to be Joan Jett.

“It was a big deal festival and I finally got in after all these years of trying,” she said, noting it was also canceled this year.

“The pandemic was not just about whether I was going to get it, but whether or not I was going to give it to someone,” Russo said of Covid and health concerns.

Her website describes her musical style as “a little bit of everything because she’s always played a little bit of everything — bass in a psychedelic rock , mandolin in a Celtic group and guitar in every kind of funk, folk, jazz and jam combination you can imagine — usually taking the lead. “This variety of music and performance styles allows Russo to tailor her shows to her audience without compromising her music,” her bio says. “Russo’s not-so-traditional blend of roots, blues and Americana gives her music an old-timey feel with a contemporary perspective.”

Missing live audiences

She was not only was hurt by the big loss of income, but dearly missed live audiences.

“As a professional performer, it was performing to an audience. It took me awhile, but I discovered that my joy of music is rooted more in my

Russo playing on Facebook for the last day of what she called “Celtic Wanderings.”

joy of performing and sharing the music than it is in just playing the music,” Russo said. “You know, I can play for my cats all day.”

“What makes music for me has been performing it for people and sharing in the joy of music,” she said. “I want to share that and the only way to share that is to play it for people and watch them. We receive joy in the music, tapping their toes, smiling or singing along or whatever it is and that interaction.

“I’m a performing songwriter. I’m not just a songwriter,” Russo said. “I crave that interaction, that sharing of the music with people, not just on a phone screen.”

But after her winter of discontent, she forced herself to do a month of Facebook videos, playing Celtic music for 28 straight days leading to March 17.

“I was needing to jump-start myself after being just complacent, an apathetic majority of the winter without gigs,” Russo recalled. “You’re

Real estate agent Jesse Hammes came up with the idea for Tuesday’s celebration of local musicians and real estate professionals.

just kind of like, okay, I got nothing to work towards and I was really feeling it now. It’s just feeling like oh my God, if I don’t do something right now, I’m going to explode and I may never get back to it.”

Playing the Irish music she loved, by that end of her month, Russo started to feel that connection to people again, even though people weren’t there in person.

“I was finding that connection to people, to that blank wasteland that is online,” she said. “It’s so hard to react to floating hearts and clapping hands.”

“It’s also something that I knew I could just have fun with the music. It was almost like it wasn’t so much about performing but more about finding the joy in playing,” Russo said. “It’s just fun, just shenanigans. I knew that playing that kind of music would help me kind of bring the fun back into performing.”

On the last day of her online “Celtic Wanderings,” a Facebook user posted: “That was beautiful. Thank you for taking us on these wanderings. Thank you for bringing us together when we have all been so far apart this year. Til next we meet and raise a pint to days past.”

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Russo is looking forward to returning to playing gigs indoors and outdoors, appreciating that she was able to connect with music fans that

Molly Durnin giving her typical 110% at a Jambrella event at The Mound.

she never had before, either through Facebook (anywhere across the country) or curbside concerts.

“So instead of 200 people who might be in a bar or something like that,” she said. “I made the best of a bad situation.” For the curbside concerts, local residents really appreciated it.

“The fact that, hey look at that, I got music in my backyard. Or you know, I got you in my front yard and the neighbors came out and sat on their porches,” Russo said. “There was this socially distanced community that was slowly coming back together. So yeah, I think it was a good way to make the best of a bad situation, so good for RME. They really stepped it up and they always step out. Those guys are

Durnin with a young fan — she signed her CD “Run” to the girl, “Always be faster than the boys!!!”

pretty amazing.”

For the April 6 Crawford event, La Flama will have their food truck in the parking lot from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and you can bring in your own food to Crawford as well. The bar will have $2 off Crawford Brew Works lagers and light brews

Bobby Ray Bunch of Bettendorf is a multi-talented entrepreneur in his own right. He is a self-employed realtor with eXp Realty; a singer/songwriter, standup comedian, creator of Food Truck Fight, and runs his own BRB Live, which provides professional, engaging entertainment for corporate events and private parties. For more information, visit www.bobbyraybunch.com.

Molly Durnin of Moline is a full-time musician, and since March 27, the Crawford event is among 16 gigs she’s playing before she moves back to Charleston, S.C., this month. Her last will be at a big going-away party on April 15 (6-10 p.m.) at Eleven17 in the Village of East Davenport.

Durnin moved to the Q-C in 2017 from Charleston, and she’s moving back there, since it’s a busier (and warmer) music destination. For more information, visit www.mollydurnin.com.

For more on Crawford in Bettendorf, visit https://crawfordbrewworks.com/.

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.