BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Schools and restaurants shutting down due to the coronavirus were a double dose of change for Bristol’s Andre Arsenault.
So he went underground.
“I never knew it was going to turn into whatever this is,” Arsenault says. “I don’t know what this is. This is me and you in my basement.”
With his phone perched on a tripod and connected to a microphone, the acoustic guitarist and Kickemuit Middle School music teacher goes live on Facebook.
“Tonight, I have a very special set,” he tells his listeners before one set. “All original stuff.”
It is the only stage Arsenault has right now, but he never expected the reverb he’d hear from his audience that’s scattered throughout the area.
“So, everyone kind of comes and hangs out. They comment. They talk to each other. They tag each other.”
A few songs into his nights and the messages start to flow into his feed.
A listener tells him, “it’s going good.”
“I appreciate that,” Arsenault replies. “Thanks.”
The next song is one he wrote called “02809,” about better, care-free days – like summertime in his patriotic hometown.
“Cause it’s the 4th of July in 0-2-8-0-9. Now, those flags are lining Hope Street. They got families on front porches. The kids are swinging sparklers, and they’re lighting tiki torches.”
After one song, there’s a moment of silence, until a clap from our photographer echoes through the otherwise empty basement.
“Normally it’s just me,” Arsenault says. “It’s really weird when there’s nobody clapping. So, I appreciate you clapping for me tonight. That was wonderful.”
Listening on Facebook is free, but there is a virtual tip jar.
“We are taking tips for the East Bay Food Pantry,” he tells his audience. “So, if you like what you hear, please support local families in our community. Support the food pantry.”
“I can’t wait to be back out there, but we’re doing what we can for now.”
The performances are remote, but the connections are real.
“I know there are families that will actually put this on their TVs. I even saw a couple the other day slow dancing to one of my songs,” Arsenault says. “I’m doing what I can. I’ve got to figure out how to teach chorus to my students.”
He hopes it’s a brief diversion from the world on the other side of his bulkhead, and that the virtual wall and the virus that caused it, will be gone as soon as possible.
“I can’t wait to get back to normal someday. That’ll be a great day.”