Eleven months after the coronavirus pandemic shut down South by Southwest 2020, a different disaster was poised to derail JM Stevens’ participation in another multiday music festival-conference.
Like so many in Texas, Austin-based singer-guitarist Stevens lost power for several days due to February’s snow, ice and subfreezing temperatures. And without electricity, there would be no way he could play his scheduled sets for Folk Unlocked, a five-day virtual event featuring performances from around the world, with Jim Lauderdale, Los Lobos, Jackie Venson, Keb Mo and Mary Gauthier among the notables.
Fortunately for Stevens, his world is getting back to normal. Power has been restored in his neighborhood and he has some water pressure, so now he can concentrate on getting ready for his three scheduled Folk Unlocked performances.
“I gotta say, it’s really incredible the amount of detail and work the people at Folk Alliance International have put into getting all this together, being all virtual,” Stevens says. “I’d be in a corner somewhere openly weeping by now.”
In the time since his scrapped SXSW 2020 official showcase, Stevens has worked through the logistics of presenting a quality livestream show.
“For me it was really tricky at first getting a good sound, but I finally got my hands on this gadget called the IRig Stream, which lets you take a line in straight from whatever your recording device is, then at least you can get some reverb and stuff so it doesn’t sound like you’re singing into the toilet,” he explains. “They were pretty much sold out all over the globe, but I paid too much for one on eBay and snagged it — definitely worth it, and it has made things easier.”
At the same time, Stevens admits that livestream shows are more stressful than doing a concert at a venue.
“It’s like you gotta wear too many hats — camera, sound, lighting — then you gotta perform into the void,” he adds. “I try my best to make the best of it, though. I’d still pick driving around all over the country playing venues and all the work and headaches that entails over doing livestreams from the comfort of home.”
For his solo acoustic Folk Unlocked performances on Feb. 22, 24 and 25, Stevens’ venue will be his studio, East Austin Recording. (“Easy commute — as in like 15 feet out my back door,” he says.) In addition to featuring material from his solo debut, 2019’s Invisible Lines, Stevens will work in some new songs as well.
“I’m sitting on two or three albums of new songs; I’m plotting now how to approach, and I’m starting to see how they fit together,” he says. “I’m hoping things will start to feel safer soon, as I really want to record the whole [backing] band live together for the most part. It’s more fun that way for me. Some of them lend to more of a super-stripped-down acoustic record, so I’m considering cranking one of those out sooner than maybe I could do a full-band production.”
As far as bands go, Stevens has no plans to revive Moonlight Towers, which he fronted over the course of four studios albums, the first arriving in 2002 and the most recent in 2014: “I’m too far down the road I’m on to turn around and go back the other way.”
— By Chris M. Junior