Venues in Columbus, Ohio, might be closed, but a local bar is trying to keep the music scene alive by bringing concerts straight to listeners’ living rooms.
Rambling House, a bar and music venue in Old North Columbus, is holding virtual concerts called Couch Tours to support the local music scene and provide financial relief for musicians and Rambling House employees.
Lindsay Jordan, who started as a bartender and now does booking at Rambling House, said the artists they book for the tours arrange a Facebook event and sell tickets as they would to an actual show, and then go on Facebook Live at showtime. She said Rambling House shares the link to the show on its Facebook page, and the bartenders post the musicians’ Venmo or Paypal on the livestream’s chat for people whose circumstances allow them to pay a “cover.” In addition, Jordan said the livestreams promote a GoFundMe for Rambling House staff, where she encourages viewers to “tip your bartender.”
Jordan said Rambling House has raised about $8,000 for its staff through the Couch Tours.
“You’re running everything on good faith that people will tip and they’ll buy tickets because anybody can go live and just click on the show, especially once it’s live. But it’s amazing how supportive the Columbus music scene is — and musicians are of one another,” Jordan said.
Though the shows are typically held in the evening, Jordan said they have happened during happy hours, around 5 or 6 p.m., or on Sunday mornings, which Jordan said are essentially “coffee shows.”
“Since everybody’s locked up and they’re probably on their phones, people tune in, and they just will put the music on in their speakers in their house and they’ll comment later and say, ‘That was so nice,’ like, ‘We cooked breakfast’ or ‘We made dinner while such-and-such was playing and it felt like we were at a concert,’” Jordan said.
James Wooster, who has been booking artists at Rambling House for the past three years, said the Couch Tours have been a simple way to bring people together during this time.
“The musicians are doing all their own sound, they’re using all their own equipment, they’re in their own house, they’re playing all the music and we’re just — all we’re doing is trying to give it an audience and basically try to share it with the people who are connected to the Rambling House online, and get them interested,” Wooster said. “It’s just a little thing we can do right now.”
A few hours before Gov. Mike DeWine announced the closure of bars and restaurants throughout Ohio March 15, Wooster said Rambling House had already decided it should close and figure out a way to move things online. Since then, it has held about 20 Couch Tour shows, with plenty more to come, Jordan said.
“They were really quick on the draw after this pandemic happened. It had to be, like, either the day of or the day after that [the governor] called the shutdown of all the restaurants and bars, that their GoFundMe was up for their staff. You don’t see that all the time,” Paige Vandiver, a local drummer and a regular guest and performer at Rambling House, said.
Vandiver plays in several Columbus groups, including Linden Hollow and The Salty Caramels, and performed a Couch Tour show with her boyfriend as duo Straw & The Scarecrow April 14. Vandiver said the consistent access to live music has injected a sense of normalcy into their lives that has helped both her and her boyfriend with their mental health amid the quarantine.
Vandiver said past and present Rambling House owners have all come together to get Couch Tours started.
“It’s taken a lot of work and a lot of love on their end to do this,” Vandiver said. “They’re like family up there.”
Wooster said Rambling House staff is proud to be able to offer something valuable to the Columbus community during this time, and it might influence the way people engage with live music post-quarantine.
“I don’t know if this is something that — this is now more ingrained into our diet of entertainment, or if this is just something to hold us over until we get back to normal. I think there’s still a lot of mystery around that,” Wooster said. “I do think that we have now embarked on a new platform that’s more popular, and maybe that will continue to grow in its own subgenre of things you could do on a Tuesday or a Friday night.”