Playing to an Empty Room

A visual herstory of live music in a lockdown

March 15, 2020 was a gut punch.


I remember taking lemon drop shots, attempting to escape the reality that life as we knew it wouldn’t exist anymore. Suddenly we were following curfews and terrified of going to the grocery store; our eyes perpetually were glued to the evening news waiting or hoping or wishing or praying for a sign that this was almost over. That sign never really came, so we as humans adapted. I clung to my freedom the best I could - escaping to the park, driving around in my car aimlessly - but there was a void that would stay empty until we returned to gathering together, especially when it involved live music. Finally, there was a flicker of light when Westside Bowl was approved to host a livestream show on May 9th, 2020. Akron-based rockers Goosed performed to myself and three other people in the basement on the Trophy Room stage, while everyone else tuned in via Facebook Live from home. I remember after they played we scattered around the room, maintaining more the six feet between us, and talking about how the pandemic was impacting us individually. That evening, and the ones to follow, felt like we were hiding in a fallout shelter, with no idea what was happening above us or outside those four walls. Many nights were spent in that room throwing back cans of Genesse Cream Ale and La Croix, trying our best to make sense of everything happening all around us as well as cling to some sense of normalcy. I don’t know if anyone ever said it, but I think we were all a little scared and those nights made us forget about it for a little while. After all, it became our clubhouse where we could get out of our heads and back into the music.


This collection is a visual love letter to the underground and local music scene. I was given the unique opportunity to document a pivotal moment in the history of live music from the heart of Youngstown, Ohio. During a time when independent venues were begging for federal assistance and nonprofits were forming to provide aid to live music crew members who were laid off, I was privileged to document over 60 local and independent artists from throughout the Midwest. The people, the moments, the music - all of it came together to create something that was beautiful while we were all so uncomfortable. Looking back at these photos feels like a million years ago and yesterday all at once. I am honored to have been in that empty room and captured something that I hope will live on for a lifetime. I hope someday, the ones who felt the confusion, anger, discomfort and sorrow can look back on these moments and remember how resilient we all can be if we just shut up and listen.


Thank you to everyone involved who made this dream possible. It takes a village and I’m forever indebted to mine for believing in me. I will never stop following the music or taking a million photos.


All photos captured by Mollie Crowe. Copyright © 2020 Little Blackbird Photo LLC. All Rights Reserved.