Guitarslinger Dennis Richards wanted to do something to help his fellow working musicians who live in McKinney. When Gov. Greg Abbott followed President Donald Trump’s lead and halted all in-person gatherings at bars, restaurants, and theaters, musicians were some of the hardest hit. And while many of the restaurants and bars where they slung their music had shifted to takeout, for many of the musicians slinging music online isn’t as lucrative as igniting the stage with a crowd of people in front of them.
As the executive pastor at Christ Fellowship church in McKinney, Richards was fortunate enough not to have to rely on his road income to survive during the COVID-19 shutdown. But his fellow working musicians weren’t so lucky.
“A lot of scrambling,” Richards says. “‘How do we take our music online? Can we do that? What about TV commercials?’ That source of live music has just all of a sudden screeched and came to a halt.”
Richards along with his sometime band mate, Americana artist Shane Frame, and musicians Will and Crystal Yates and Maylee Thomas and her husband McKinney Mayor George Fuller from the Maylee Thomas Band created the McKinney Musician Relief Fund. They set up a GoFundMe page, which has raised nearly $12,000 of the $20,000 goal, and hosted a three night Facebook Watch Live concert event to help raise money for local musicians.
They plan to host another online concert event at 7 p.m. Saturday and continue the online series with more dates to follow. Saturday night’s lineup is Daniel Kirkland, Adam Cline, Philip Brumley, and Sabrina Taylor.
“It just never ceases to amaze me that our thoughts are so limited and don’t really understand the magnitude of it until we launched the concerts,” Frame says. “The amount of community outpouring, whether it was commenting or a phone call, was phenomenal. ‘Thanks for doing this and so miss being able to go out and see people.’ You can drive to [McKinney] square and park your car and walk around the square and see great music at approximately 10 different venues. Everybody was missing that.”
Frame compares the McKinney music scene to Austin in its musical heydays back when Texas guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan was setting fire to the stage with his slinging. With the help of Beth Shumate at the McKinney Convention and Visitor Bureau, McKinney had recently applied to be known as a “music friendly city,” a designation bestowed by the Texas Music Office. “It gets the [city’s] status elevated,” Frame says. “Not just a standard city with a music scene but a city known for its music scene.”
Last year, McKinney was recognized as a “cultural arts city,” Mayor Fuller points out.
Similar to Vaughan, Frame, who plays more than a 100 gigs around the area each year, created the McKinney Music Live Facebook page not only to promote local musicians but to give them a place for them to gather and connect.
This McKinney musician network is what brought Frame and Richards, the Yates, and Thomas and Fuller together to find a way to support their friends and fellow working musicians who are struggling to pay their bills. It’s a problem Frame was all too familiar with since he also works with local musicians booking about 300 dates each year for Landon Winery locations. When he learned the winery, like many other locations, was cancelling all shows from March 15 to May 1, Frame was the one who had to call and tell the musicians.
“It ranged from some having day jobs and this was their hobby to this guy who it was all that he did [to survive],” Frame says. “The biggest concern was that a majority of them are 1099 independent contractors. There was a handful of them that when those dates got canceled, that was the only thing that they had. It doesn’t pay a ton, and they don’t have a lot saved up.”
Richards was aware of this concern. He and Frame had been discussing it. So he spoke with the Yates who lead the music ministry at Richards’ church, and they suggested that they should team up with Thomas and Mayor Fuller, owners of The Guitar Sanctuary with Frame, and host some kind of benefit for the McKinney music community.
“I think it’s a great cause,” Mayor Fuller says, “and I make myself available for any cause that helps people in my community.”
Thomas adds, “They’re all really hurting with all the live music venues now closed for business, and we wanted to try and do something to bring attention and come to help them out and kind of offer a curbside service.”
About 10 days later, they had set up a five member board to distribute the money raised by their GoFundMe page. The main criteria is making your living as a musician and your home in McKinney. Frame identified about 135 musicians who played at 18 music venues in the McKinney area from January until March.
Shortly thereafter, they announced the weekend online benefit concert event. Frame, who is also a songwriter, had some experience setting up Guitar Sanctuary’s music school online when the government closed all schools in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. He also dabbles in documentary work, and figured pre-recording the artists performing and airing it on Facebook Watch Live was the best way to limit the margin of error if they were to ask each artist to post the video clip of them performing.
They had a lineup of 12 artists to play over the three day period, including Thomas and Fuller, the Yates, and Frame and Richards. Other artists included Andy Timmons, Jon Christopher Davis, Zane Williams, Rob Wechsler, and Cafe Society.
The local music community showed up in force to support the benefit concert series, donating more than $11,000 of the $20,000 needed. “During this time many local musicians have lost their LIVE music gigs, which is the majority of their livelihood,” one supporter posted on the McKinney Musician Relief Fund Facebook page. “It is awesome to see this concert series being organized to benefit the great artists of this community!”
“It’s wonderful to see this cause bring together people and music during a difficult time,” wrote another.
The response was overwhelmingly supportive and inspired Richards, Frame and the rest of the gang to continue the online concert series until the government lifts the shelter-in-place orders and allows restaurants and venues to start hosting live music acts again.
“You felt it in your heart (when the lockdown happened),” Frame says. “You love performing, and when you’re not doing it, it’s almost like not breathing.”
For more information about the concert, visit the McKinney Music Live Facebook page. To donate, please visit gofundme.com/f/mckinney-musician-relief-fund