It turns out Trawick was close: When the owners remodeled their house 10 years ago, they built a stage for Trawick and his band, who have played a crab feast cancer benefit at the house every year.
“It was like he was foretelling the future that one day we would need a stage somewhere in a backyard once a month for who knows how many months,” Trawick says.
But he has stayed busy for the past few months. While concerts at bars and venues were no longer on his agenda, Trawick and girlfriend Lauren LeMunyan quickly pivoted to Facebook Live in the early days of the pandemic for a musical variety show simply called “The Justin and Lauren Show” that they’ve been broadcasting from their Arlington home since March.
“We didn’t try to do a bar gig on the computer,” Trawick explains. “We tried to make it a ‘Kelly and Ryan,’ ‘Regis and Kathie Lee’ type of thing.”
The first episode of “The Justin and Lauren Show” aired on March 12, the night Trawick canceled a gig at Hill Country Live in Chinatown over concerns about the coronavirus. Even at that early stage of the pandemic, people tuned in and showed their support by tipping via Facebook Live. “I probably made my rent in one night,” he says.
Along with songs and banter, the show also provided a sense of togetherness for fans who — like its hosts — were sheltering in place.
“The community has shown up for us, but also for each other,” LeMunyan says. “If someone is having a hard day, we have a loyal fan base that shows up every time we go live, and they’ve become friends on Facebook, they check in on each other. It’s happening in a time when connection is so needed.”
The success of the show, which airs every Thursday and Sunday night at 8 p.m. on Facebook Live, led to remote gigs for corporate and nonprofit clients, for birthdays and school events.
But by June, it was time to translate the online experience into an in-person one. The pair launched An Evening with Us, ticketed shows advertised via social media — but not streamed online — that takes place several times a month at homes in the region. Which brought Trawick and LeMunyan to the backyard of a couple of friends in Arlington, on the stage built for Trawick and his band a decade ago.
During a pandemic, live shows — even ones capped at 25 attendees — require precautions and procedures. Before each show, Trawick and LeMunyan measure out 10-foot squares for each party, and attendees are required to wear masks anytime they’re not in their square. Hosts reserve one bathroom for attendees, and Trawick and LeMunyan clean it by hand after the show. The location of the show is not revealed to ticket holders until days before the event.
While they have not heard from anyone who attended a show and subsequently contracted covid-19, Trawick says a handful of folks have canceled out of extra precaution. But mostly, they are relying on the sense of community to make these shows a safe experience for everyone involved.
“We wanted to create an environment of trust and safety without saying ‘safety,’ ” LeMunyan says. “There’s this overuse of ‘we’re safe, we’re socially distanced’ [by other events] but then I look at pictures and it’s anything but. Just because you say you’re safe doesn’t mean you’re being safe … and we wanted to be a forward-thinking solution that other artists could replicate, so that they could continue to perform and audiences could still enjoy live music.”
Since June, the pair have sold out more than 10 shows, and “The Justin and Lauren Show” has gone on the road to backyards in Philadelphia and Richmond, with shows planned in Gettysburg, Pa., and Harpers Ferry, W.Va. Even with its intimate head counts, Trawick is feeling the impact.
“The amount of people that have come up to me and said, ‘Thank you so much for bringing live music back into our lives’ has just been really awesome,” he says.
The show has also spurred Trawick to perform with his band for “Common Good on the Block” benefit shows that put the band name into practice. Also socially distanced, these shows take place at secret locations in Arlington, and have benefited the Arlington Food Assistance Center. Rather than performing on a backyard stage, the band rented one and put it together themselves via a YouTube tutorial.
As summer turns to fall and the United States approaches six months or more with most live music venues closed, Trawick plans to continue doing shows in backyards and on Facebook Live. He already turned down a show at a venue in the area over safety concerns. “I feel lucky that I don’t feel forced to have to play indoor gigs right now,” he says. But how long can he do outdoor ones?
“Personally, I always feel bad for the planet when we have warm winters, but I am hoping this year is a mild winter [and] I’ll be able to continue doing stuff like this,” he says, noting it could be a “figuratively cold winter for music” otherwise.
Until then, Trawick and LeMunyan are staying busy, with the online live streams, backyard shows and private gigs. LeMunyan, who has her own executive coaching business, is balancing work with the new demands of being a performer. And Trawick, after being relatively uninspired during the early stages of the pandemic, has picked up his pen and written a new song, “Back of the Line.”
In the stripped-down, acoustic number, Trawick sings, “I want to tell you the truth / I have never been more afraid to lose / The people I know and the things we used to do.” In these times of great uncertainty and even greater loss, Trawick is finding a new way forward.