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Creating Some Good from a Bad Situation

Rich Egger
Bill Maakestad did his Final Friday gig online to promote downtown Macomb businesses and to provide people with some live entertainment.

Musician Bill Maakestad normally performs the final Friday of each month at The Wine Sellers (TWS) on Macomb's courthouse square. But with stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines in place, the final Friday of March was anything but normal.

“Some people told me they really miss going out for everything - going out for meals, going out for a drink, and especially going out for music here,” said Maakestad.

So he collaborated with TWS co-owners Craig and Julia Burns on an experiment to promote downtown businesses during the coronavirus crisis while also providing people with some much-needed live entertainment.

Maakestad performed his usual Final Friday gig, but this time it took place in the adjoining Taylor’s Hall for Events. Due to the ban on gatherings, you could only catch the show through Facebook Live. Maakestad suggested people buy a bottle to carry out from TWS, visit a downtown restaurant to buy a takeout meal, and then settle in at home for the show.

Craig Burns said, “This isn’t at this point a competition between us and other small businesses. We’re all in this boat together and anything that we can do to help others, we know that they’re more than happy to do the same in return.”

Credit Rich Egger
Maakestad performs while Craig Burns makes an adjustment on his laptop in the empty Taylor’s Hall for Events.

He said they got more than 500 individual views of the live stream of the show.

“That doesn’t necessarily tell us how many people were watching because multiple people could have watched on one device. Some people could have logged on for a few minutes and then logged back off,” said Burns.

A number of viewers posted messages about how much they enjoyed hearing live music again.

Yet the evening was about more than entertainment.

It was also a fundraiser for Genesis Garden, the Macomb-based grassroots organization dedicated to eliminating poverty and providing shelter to families in need. The group has also led the way in ensuring that needy families are getting food during the pandemic.

Executive Director John Curtis said he appreciates community partners working together to meet local needs during this crisis.

Credit Rich Egger
Craig and Julia Burns own The Wine Sellers, a more than 16-year old business that they bought just last fall. Craig Burns said TWS normally makes money through a mix of live events and package sales of wine, craft beers, and spirits. But for now it must get by with just retail sales.

And Craig Burns said the crisis could yield some long-term good.

“I think that this has forced us all to really focus a lot more on local, a lot more on each other, a lot more on our local charities and what they do within our communities and how vital those things are,” Burns said, adding that local artists are vital too. That’s why he hoped to do more online concerts during the stay-at-home order, perhaps using other social media platforms in addition to Facebook Live.

Burns said he is okay with musicians performing for tips or for a local charity. He said either way, it is another step toward emerging from this crisis as a stronger community.

This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.