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Coronavirus stopped live music, so concert T-shirts become face masks



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Since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live music, groups like the Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic are donating concert T-shirts to make face masks.

USA TODAY

If not for the coronavirus pandemic, concert venues from small clubs to football stadiums across the U.S. would be alive this summer with the sounds of music.

But COVID-19 pressed pause on most live performances, leaving live-streamed gigs as the safest way to connect musicians and fans. While concert tickets can be rebated, concert T-shirts are sitting in boxes, some unsold from past shows, others made in advance of now-canceled or postponed spring and summer tours.

So T-shirt company Everywhere, which makes concert T-shirts and other products from recycled material, began making face masks from its material and donating them to charities and facilities in need as the pandemic ensued.

Everywhere, which is based in Chicago, had been making shirts for the summer tour of Dead & Company – its roster includes Grateful Dead singer/guitarist Bob Weir and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, as well as singer/guitarist John Mayer. After Weir learned about the project, dubbed Music4Masks, he informed friend and Widespread Panic guitarist Dave Schools about it; both donated shirts and enthusiastically talked up the project to other musicians.

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“We have all kinds of T-shirts from all kinds of tours that had never got sold. This is something to do with them,” Weir said. “I suppose we could have just given them away to homeless folks or something like that, but right now this seems to be a more pressing issue.”

Collectively, the two bands have donated about 1,500 pounds of shirts – about 5,000 T-shirts. “It doesn’t wind up in a landfill and each shirt can make five or six two-ply masks and they give them away,” said Schools, who is the bass guitarist and vocalist for the Georgia-based band. “We thought that was a really good idea.”

Everywhere gathers materials and helps get it to central locations and distributed to local mask sewing groups, organized by Sewing for Lives and Frontline Fabric Masks, which together have more than 10,000 volunteer members making masks at their homes. .

Some volunteers create “no-sew masks,” made by cutting and constructing the cloth, while others sew masks, which are more durable and were initially donated to hospitals and medical facilities, but are now being sent to food pantries, women’s shelters and other sites.

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So far, the collaborative has distributed 20,000 masks to hundreds of organizations. Musicians and bands can donate shirts on the Music4Masks site. You can donate to the groups’ current project Operation School Bus to get masks to schools. Schools can get kits of 35 ready-to-sew masks, too.

Support for Music4Masks is growing, with the involvement of more artists such as Josh Ritter, bands Wilco, Lord Huron and The Lumineers. And Everywhere is now taking pre-orders for a Music4Masks face mask ($20, proceeds go to the mask donation program and Sewing for Lives) made from 100% recycled cotton and polyester material.

“The concert industry has taken a big hit due to the pandemic,” said Everywhere co-CEO Irys Kornbluth. “While live music and events are offline, we are reaching out to artists and building a different sort of platform, spreading a positive message of how wearing masks can make an impact.”

Also in the works: a way for artists to have unused merchandise up-cycled into masks they could sell to fans. “Especially now in the absence of live concerts, artists can benefit from having more merch to sell online,” Kornbluth said.

Back in April, trade publication Pollstar estimated that the music industry would lose as much as $20 billion, not factoring in all venues.

For musicians, the best result would be more people wearing masks, which would hopefully slow the spread of COVID-19 and perhaps accelerate a return to live music, the musicians say.

“That is what we do. That is what we are here for and we can’t do that now. Everybody help each other get this virus under control so that we can get back out and do what we do,” Weir said. “If we had done that to begin with we might even have had some concerts this summer … or at least fall concerts.”

Widespread Panic guitarist Schools can empathize with music fans missing live performances. “With some time to think about it these last few months, it becomes something like a basic human need … no matter what scale it’s at, whether it’s a stadium for a concert or a sporting event or a night club to see a band that’s a buzz band,” he said. “But there’s no point trying to do something in person until we can get this thing under control and at least get more knowledge and understand the spread.”

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

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