The Day the Music Died

Published July 3, 2020

Part 2 in our series called The Day the Music Died, featuring tales from people across the music industry sharing how the pandemic has affected them, their art and their life’s work.

In this week’s edition, Tim O’Brien, our teller of tales from the inside, shares some RIPs, watches birds mate and asks us to consider whether music requires both a music maker and listener in order to … well … be.

Happy to help, Tim. Keep doing your part; we got you.


Tim O'Brien. Photo by Scott Simontacchi.

Tim O’Brien. Photo by Scott Simontacchi.

Casting Seeds

For Jan and me, the pandemic has meant hanging out, planting a garden, watching birds pair up and build nests and reading too much news. We’ve also been playing a lot of informal music. It seems like a good time to learn some new old songs.

It seems like a good time to learn some new old songs.

Jan’s brother-in-law Wayne Avery, a fine Kansas musician, passed in mid-March after a long illness, so we’ve been singing “You Ain’t Goin Nowhere,” one of his favorites. We’re also singing “I Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In,” “Lean On Me” and “Hello In There.” We honor Wayne along with the late great Kenny Rogers, Bill Withers and John Prine as we sing them here at the house. We plan to sing them for others soon on a streaming concert. I guess that’s how we connect with the community as we go through this process. 

Sound Signals

Years ago I read about the beginnings of dance and music, and how sound signals prompted group movement within small communities. Taking the idea that music predates language as a form of communication, and that in not so recent times, music was much more of a group effort with no separation between the performer and the audience. I’ve wondered what has changed and what stayed the same since folks started banging drums and blowing on whistles.

Watching Steven Colbert do his late night show without a live audience and without guests, it felt pretty disconnected. The first time he had a guest via Zoom, the guest’s audio didn’t work for a few minutes, but just the sight of another person reacting really changed the vibe completely in a split second. It was like I could stop holding my breath or something. 

The Zone Between

Maybe music isn’t what’s written down, and it’s not necessarily what notes are played, or the words that are sung, but what happens out there in the zone between the listener and the performer. Music forms an instant community when it’s played live for an audience, and while we can’t be in the same space to do it together right now, those communities still exist and we’re still forming new ones.

Music forms an instant community when it’s played live for an audience.

John Prine’s passing in particular reminded me that he brought so many together with his songs, and there’s been an amazing world-wide ovation to Prine’s curtain call. 

~ Tim O’Brien

Tim and Darrell Scott with John Prine singing a Prine standard, “Paradise.”

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

In addition to his 22 solo albums and 10 albums with Hot Rize, Tim is a Nashville cat who has been featured in 100 or more recordings by artists ranging from John Prine to Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam to Phish.

Find out more at

For more Tim check out our Conversations with Tim O’Brien.

Continue reading our series The Day the Music Died with Part 3: Ben Morrison.

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