A Year of Listening to Music Together, Apart

I have a group of very close friends who are near and dear to me that I met at Firefly Music Festival in 2016.

We were a part of the festival’s brand ambassador program and began talking in a group chat a few months before the event itself. The chat started with somewhere in the ballpark of 300 people, pulled from the Facebook page for the program, and began with an energetic, nervous buzz, like that of a bunch of Freshman meeting each other on the first day of orientation. Messages rolled in non-stop that first day. I was on a rare (note: exceedingly rare) exercise kick and went out for a run right after joining the group, but instead of running I just paced the streets responding to message after message until my phone literally died and I hightailed it back to my apartment to plug it back in and rejoin the chat.

The size of the chat has ebbed and flowed, but there are still about 20 of us kicking around talking to each other, traveling around to see live music and more together. We live scattered across the country but have connected and grown together through this chat. We’ve shared a lot, from cliche like laughter and tears, to the more unexpected, like in one case, a pair of pants (here’s looking at you, Jcole). Heck, we even write this blog together.

Like every other group of long-distance friends, we haven’t seen each other in person since February of 2020. All of our concerts and festivals for the year were obviously cancelled and with them, our plans to see each other. Early in quarantine, we discovered the website JBQX, which let us play music curated by each other as different DJs from our respective homes and devices. Several Emo Nights ensued, sometimes punctuated by me queuing up the cast album of the 1960 musical Oliver! in a joke that only I thought was funny until I got enough downvotes that I was kicked off the DJing stage. We also jammed out to Two Friends’ Big Bootie mixes, using JBQX to stream them together, an experience that made our friend Jill say in an earlier post, “I for one, never thought I would experience tears coming to my eyes while I listened to something titled Big Bootie.” We watched a lot of live streams together too in these early days, before everyone was burned out on remote events. One of my more vivid early lockdown memories is tuning into the Coachella documentary released on youtube while hunkering down in a friend’s otherwise vacant apartment because I thought my roommate had Covid.

Somewhere still in the initial lockdown, before anyone reached a “stage 2” of reopening, but after Big Bootie 17 was released (these are our markers of time these days), one of our friends, Brownie, suggested we join a Music League. Music League allows a group to anonymously collaborate on themed playlists each week, then vote on their favorite songs. Each vote translates to a point for the person who submitted the song and points are tallied on an ongoing basis. We started off with the Music League recommended playlist of “Songs With A Color In The Title” and have created 47 other unique mixes with themes like, “A Better National Anthem” and “Songs You Had No Business Knowing In Middle School.” My favorites are our Halloween themed mix “Spooky Songs” and our “Chaos Round,” where songs were submitted without any rules, serving up a beautiful disaster of a playlist with hits like The Hamster Dance and Tip Toe Thru’ The Tulips. Most weeks, whoever was still awake would gather in the group chat about an hour before submissions closed at 1am and start harassing anyone who’d forgotten to submit, so we could react to the playlist together on first listen.

One year later and we’re winding our music league down. I’m pretty impressed we kept it up this long. Brownie has acted as our faithful commissioner throughout, and we made him a custom vinyl with some of our favorite songs from the league as a thank you. Jess recently recommended that we do a set of playlists themed after each other – “Songs That Remind You Of Seech,” “Songs That Remind You of Lindsay,” so on and so forth – and it’s been cute to see everyone’s reactions each week when they get to scroll through a list of songs that their friends have chosen specially for them. We’re on the last person-themed week now, fittingly it’s for Commissioner Brownie. Megan is absolutely dominating the scoreboard, with 572 points. Dave tails her in second with 514 and Steph clocks in at third with 490. The fourteen of us in the league have agreed that after this round, we’ll do another round along the lines of “Songs To Close Out the Night” before finishing it off with, of course, a second Chaos Round. Let the dulcet tones of Harry Potter – Trap Remix play us off. Brodie has recommended that we listen to the final playlist together over JBQX, opening up the app we used constantly last spring for the first time in almost a year.

It feels right to wind down our Music League now. After a year+ in quarantine, and a year of racking our brains for a song we haven’t repeated too many times that fits the theme, our creativity is stretched. As more and more of us get vaccinated, we’re re-entering the world and in many instances, re-grouping. This necessarily means a natural shift away from some of the habits and hobbies we adopted in quarantine to help keep us sane. Yesterday, I bought my first concert ticket in a year and a half. It’s for an outdoor Mt. Joy show in October with Music League Third Place Winner, Steph. I have so much hope that it will happen. I’m hoping the world is safe enough soon enough for live music to come back. I’m hoping to see my friends again. I’m hoping to emerge from this over a year long stretch of darkness blinking into the sun, jumping for joy with my friends in the pit while a band on stage surprise strikes up the opening chords to a cover of Tubthumping. We’re not there yet, but we’re close. I can feel it. In the meantime, at least we’ve had music.

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