It was early March 2020 and my wife and I had just gotten back from a bucket-list trip to Mardi Gras. I was preparing for 70 concerts in 22 days when the pandemic really hit the United States. Overnight, the carefully constructed house-of-cards, I’d spent years building as a performer, husband, father, and arts-business-owner, began to fall apart.
As it unfolded, I wondered how I’d protect my family and how bad it would all get. Would people panic? Would food supplies break down? I’d been in charge of financially providing for a while, but to have everyone’s lives at stake was something new entirely. I bought cases of food, home defense weapons, outdoor motion sensor lights, fenced-in, and planted a massive vegetable garden that would later be eaten by the local critters and bugs, medicine, PPE, and essentials to last us 6+ months. We would not step into a store for another 372 days…
My daughter was sick as we hunkered down into the new Shelter-in-Place lifestyle. The news was grim. My wife and I spent days doing what we could to avoid traumatizing our kids while we silently freaked out and, not so silently, went in the back bedroom and cried. Soon our youngest got sick, my wife, then me. We feared the worst. Did we have COVID? Would one of us die? My wife looked into my eyes and told me, “A lot of people are going to die from this, but we will not.” It was a bold statement that I wanted to believe. But it also brought me face to face with that possibility, what if one of us died? I couldn’t let that happen. My life as an artist suddenly didn’t seem relevant.
An all-consuming paranoia set in as article after article fed my fears. A knife was stuck in my gut day after day, and the only respite from that feeling was at the bottom of a scotch glass once the house had gone to sleep for the night. As parents, we never signed up for a world without playgrounds and friends for our children to play with. A world where we’d be “co-teachers” all day while trying to clean house, work, juggle loads of laundry, cook and prep meals, and an endless conveyer belt of dishes. We reminded ourselves that families made it past war times, so we knew we could triumph over this. Through all these complexities, we still needed to feed our souls, so I made it a point to play music every day.
As a child, I lost my older brother, Frane´. The arts brought me out of that darkness and saved my life from an existence of living forever-muted and underwater in my grief. And in this dark time of a pandemic, I knew I needed music to save me from darkness once more.
But, if I needed music for my therapy, others probably did too…
I remembered the common threads in my work; Unity, self-analyzation/empowerment, social/environmental justice. We have all collectively been experiencing the same trauma; maybe music could remind us that we’re in this together! I started to perform songs on Facebook and Instagram Live, and Sunny State, and I began recording videos of ourselves playing our songs “Music Train” and “Human” acoustically and cut them into “live” videos reminiscent of The Brady Bunch intro.
Sunny State: Music Train
Sunny State: Human (Live– sort of)
During this very reflective time, I felt compelled to release the studio version of “Human”, tackling questions of being “good enough” for those in our lives. With the help of director Ryan Keenan, we gathered footage from fans, friends, and family in lockdown. So alone, yet so utterly connected. In the words of Lori Stratton of Stratton Setlist, the music video became an “…inspirational anthem for society’s growing battle against the coronavirus.” Kristy Rose of Top Shelf Music Magazine commented on our ability “to unify the world through our music, even under these unforeseen and extreme conditions.”
Sunny State: Human
As satisfying as it was to create this unifying music video, I continued to grapple with this protective role that drove me mad. I could never have imagined the toll this cabin fever would take on my family and me. Naturally, it led to examining the life I’d led—Pre-Covid and I was suddenly able to see all my mistakes and hypocrisies with such clarity. The personal darkness inside reared its head, as each, carefully placed card, continued falling out of place. These emotions and the constant stress weighed heavy on me, haunting my dreams on sleepless nights. These feelings were not conducive or inspiring in any way. These were not the vibes I wanted to influence my music.
By summer, it was apparent schools were not reopening, and my income wasn’t going to be revived any time soon. We continued to decline invitations from friends, performances, studio sessions, family celebrations and watched the world we knew slip further away.
As time pressed on, like everyone, we hoped this would end, but it just kept getting worse with a madman running the country and leaving us all to fend for ourselves. In an effort to help raise awareness for voting and remind each other how diverse this country is, I leaped to record another song and music video using footage from friends, family, and fans. “Unite & Be” reflected on the “vast amount of diversity” and was an “anthem to unite a country divided during the most tumultuous election to date” while promoting the importance of democracy.
Sunny State: Unite and Be
I wanted to write new material and tried, but I couldn’t… I was dry… I’d never understood “writer’s block”, until that moment. I questioned if my life as an artist was simply some pipe-dream. And if so, how could I give any more focus to something that would never amount to anything? While I’d questioned my artistic worthiness before, this was different. Now, I was questioning my entire existence, my essence.
As 2021 opened, at the height of this depressive cabin-fever state I’d fallen into, vaccines became available to more, and a mature adult took office. I knew we needed to free ourselves from this lock-down prison. Was this sacrifice we’d made worth our sanity?
Slowly, things began looking more and more promising, and then, because of our work in education, my wife and I got vaccinated. In the weeks to follow, our parents were vaccinated too, and just like that, our kids had their grandparents again! Hope was back!
Now, we’ve begun reentering the world safely and slowly—You’d be surprised how good it feels to go into a grocery store. I’ve begun planning socially distant events that may not be able to take place until the fall, and that’s ok. We’ve seen friends and family outside with masks, and damn, is it refreshing!
Most days are better than the last. That pang in my gut shifted to my chest and actually leaves me alone from time to time, freeing me to enjoy the moment. I don’t know what the world of live music will look like, but the prospect of outdoor rehearsals and recording with Sunny State excites me. I’m reminded how writing feeds my soul and when I’m creating music, I lose myself entirely. This is my proper path. Whether my songs are of love, a pep-talk I needed, discussing injustices, or even a hot song about sex–I owe my work the space to live on its own, free of constraints. Over time, my house of cards will be resurrected of stone and strength. Love and passion. Empathy and understanding. In all aspects of my life, I know I can fortify resilient pillars—reinforced with a fresh perspective, and in doing so, the weight will shed, and the smiles will multiply.
This time it will be different.
Chris Reed is the lead singer of the California Rock-Reggae project Sunny State. He is a Recording Academy Member and the Owner and Director of Programming and Education for both Educational Service Companies Modern Minded and Arts Initiative. His greatest accomplishments are his marriage to his wife, Maggie, and their two daughters, Violet and Indigo.
Reed has passionately started sustainable performing arts programs since 2006 and taught more than 50,000 students across California how to proudly nurture their artistic talents. Chris has written more than 400+ songs and received recognition worldwide from radio stations and networks like MTV. Through all his projects over the years, Chris has toured the United States, South America, and Europe and released countless singles, 2 EPs, and 5 full-length albums.
This article is part of the MAHB Arts Community‘s “Covid19 Diaries Series”. If you are an artist interested in sharing your thoughts and artwork, as it relates to the disrupted but defining period of time we live in, please contact Michele Guieu, Eco-Artist, MAHB Member, and MAHB Arts Community coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you. ~