Jamming through the pandemic


Design by Kate Trabalka/Overlooked in Appalachia

When the stress of life and a global pandemic mix, one local band finds relief in a good jam session.


Every Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., if the weather permits, some Johnson City, Tennessee, musicians gather to play and create some tunes of their own. The band forms as Isaac Ratliff on piano, Erin Dalton on vocals, Andrew Gibbens on drums and Phil Ling on bass. These four musicians come together for a sense of belonging and comfort within their respective music playing.

The band has yet to be named or perform for others due to the pandemic. It was started in November after Dalton approached Ratcliff at the Mockingbird Music Room and Gallery in Jonesborough. She had a sudden thought that she would like to lead vocals instead of her usual role as a pianist and vocals.

Dalton has played with Ling in the past. The two met in the music scene around town, and thought it was a great fit for him to join. Gibbens and Dalton are married and love to play together in their home where the band meets to play now.

The band said this formation is intended to bring joy to their weeks during a crazy time. There is no pressure on or expectation of the band. It is just for fun and a time to relax with friends while doing something they all love.

“It’s been a good time for us to practice and play without too many expectations,” said Ratliff. “Luckily, none of us rely on performing to make our living, so it hasn’t been a big financial hit.”

Ratliff talked about how the pandemic had affected and somewhat helped the band. He spoke about how he and Dalton wanted an outlet to play with other musicians, and that is technically how the band was started.

“The pandemic has affected our ability to carry on the momentum we had going last winter and introduce people to our music through live shows, so that has been a bummer,” said Ratliff. “It hasn't been all bad, though.”

Ratliff voiced how he was playing with his brothers before the pandemic. COVID-19 affected their flow of shows and outreach to the community. He expressed how he has adapted to the changes by joining this band and focusing on the freedom that it brings.

“With so many things coming to a halt, I felt I was given space and time to explore what I wanted to do with my voice, my playing, songs I loved to perform, songs I had half-written,” said Dalton. “During a difficult year, I am finding possibility and perspective.”

The four musicians have taken a time of difficulty and morphed it into a way to learn and create more for themselves. Dalton expressed that the band has found joy in playing together and having the freedom to do what they are doing. Gibbens shared the same viewpoint on the prosperity of the band.

“The why at this point is to share in the pleasure of playing music, working on songs, seeing what happens,” said Gibbens. “This current project has been, in a certain way, a response to the shifts taking place. For now, it is nice to just play tunes in the living room”

Gibbens was planning to perform in some festivals and shows in 2020 but because of the pandemic found himself with a ton of free time. He clarified that he thinks the music industry will be greatly altered due to the pandemic, but he is intrigued to see how he will have to navigate the aftermath.

“My favorite part of this band is that we have zero pressure on us to please anyone except ourselves,” said Dalton. “We aren't trying to create for others.”

The band has a playlist on Spotify that they refer to when looking for something they might want to work on. Dalton specifies that there are a few songs the band cannot help but come back to. She believes their common love for the tunes is immense.

They go from “Feel Like Makin’ Love” by Roberta Flack to Sarah Vaughn’s version of “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” and finish it off with Ella Fitzgerald’s “Midnight Sun,” And jam the night – and the stress – away.

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