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Covert Concert Series blooms from a Quarantine Necessity

Covert Concert Series (CCS): a team of professionals offering artists the production and platform to live stream their music, has streamed local talent such as Echos Talk Back, Plynth, AMFM, Hunter Root (of Medusa’s Disco), and Uncle Jake & the 18 Wheel Gang since its late-May conception.

EDIT: The Medusa’s Disco stream has been postponed until December 23, 2020.

For as much black as I wear, I have this superpower of being able to point out the wildflowers growing through the concrete. Speaking of cracks in the sidewalk, let’s put 2020 on the curb, lighting its last cigarette in some post-apocalyptic sci-fi alien flick. Although it could feel like our version of normal has been trapped below jagged rubble and odd, unidentifiable tentacles, it will be recovered. The pandemic has been a disruption, not destruction. In the meantime, this pause—as is any slice of time under immense waves of change—is an invitation for reinvention. 

Karl McWherter, an established event photographer and videographer, shares that same power of positivity. Together with Mike Santarelli (Sanco Sound & Light), John Becker (Anomalous Audio), and Zack DeSantis (musician and founder of Berks County Quarantine Open Mic), they formed Covert Concert Series (CCS): a team of professionals offering artists the production and platform to live stream their music. Since its late-May conception, CCS has had local talent such as Echoes Talk Back, Plynth, AMFM, Hunter Root (of Medusa’s Disco), Monkeephiles, and Uncle Jake & the 18 Wheel Gang, smiling against a red barn nestled on a private property off the beaten path in Reading, PA.

Monkeephiles strike a pose before their set, photo by Karl McWherter

McWherter said the project started simply as “a [production] challenge meant to help artists get their art out.”

After hashing out details on meticulous streaming challenges such as switching between camera frames on the fly and perfecting the audio and visual connection, the team at CCS found themselves immersed in the tediousness of this technological offering. 

“That’s when we realized that, although what we are doing here is a lot of work, we were putting out something that was watchable. You weren’t tuning in because you felt like you needed to check in with your buddy in a band,” McWherter said.

In fact, the team’s latest production had a mammoth 18.3 thousand viewers, and for good reason. Consider the Source was celebrating the 10th  anniversary of their album “That’s What’s Up” by playing it in its entirety, and CCS celebrated the recently acquired downtown studio space by producing the live stream of the prog-rock thundercats.

With the partnership of Rich and Amy Johnson of Pollen Consolidated, an event management company specializing in arts and entertainment, CCS has graduated its artspace to The Loft at 505 during only the first few months of its existence. Santarelli met the pair by working sound for events in the community; Pollen Consolidated is responsible for Berks gatherings like First Friday and the Concerts in the Park series.

Gabriel Marin of Consider the Source warms up before their stream, photo by Karl McWherter

On the phone, I could hear ideas firing off in McWherter’s head as he explained how the new location’s large windows, high ceilings, and all-around larger capacity invited fresh aesthetic opportunities to their multi-camera streams.

“We expect it to free up our creativity and allow for an even better-looking product. The higher ceilings allow for vastly improved lighting options as well as expanding options for camera angles and locations. Plus, it just looks dank!”

Musicians will be welcomed to play a full set of their music in the studio before CCS’s growing  online audience. In addition to the broadcast, they get a copy of the audio and video, as well as access to CCS’s’ multitrack recording and post-production video services. So CCS is not only inviting musicians onto its platform for a set in the spotlight, but it is also offering them a  finished product to take home and use as they please.

The CCS team in the new studio space. Left to Right: Zack DeSantis, Mike Santarelli, Karl McWherter, and John Becker.

“If there’s any positive thing that came out of this entire COIVD lockdown, it’s that artists are not able to be out gigging touring and are instead getting creative and writing,” McWherter explained. 

“Rather than constantly being on tour just trying to keep up with that grind, now you have nothing to do but to create, and you actually see some inspiring material come out of all this. Anybody who is serious about their art should be writing, so all this great material is theoretically being produced [now], and we have a way of getting it out there.”

As quarantine boxed musicians into the five-by-seven selfie views of their cellphones, the need for adaptation was omnipotent. This awareness was not only sharp in the sides of our singers and songwriters but also among lighting engineers, audio technicians, booking agents, and videographers who collectively let out a sigh and thought, “How can we keep the show rolling?”

CCS is not only offering a way to help musicians explore this new, and very necessary, avenue of virtual connection, but also a centerpiece for any artist’s media page, all within a safe environment. They’ve also begun to book for January.  

Psychedelic Rock goblins Medusa’s Disco is next in queue, streaming this Wednesday, December 23. They’re so stoked that they’ve already leaked the setlist. 

Keep up with CCS as more exciting projects develop by liking it on Facebook and following it on Instagram and YouTube.

For booking or any other inquiries, please contact covertconcertseries@gmail.com.

An English and Writing graduate of Kutztown University, Sarah has fused the two passions discovered through her years of study: writing and live music. Her creation of NEPAudio provides a very public love letter dedicated to the local jam scenes stretched across Eastern and Central Pennsylvania.

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