The Tree of Forgiveness Nightclub is Virtually Amazing
By: Barry Brandow
Over the past few months, most of us have seen live music events canceled or postponed, leaving a huge void in many of our lives. Not only do we miss the bands we enjoy most playing the music we love, but we miss the connection we have with our closest friends whom we see at the clubs, theaters, and annual festivals. I, for one, had just about every weekend from March to September marked on my calendar to see a band playing somewhere with friends from all over. It was sad seeing these events canceled, but in a time of social distancing and the high risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus, it was the best and safest thing to do.
This crisis has not only put a damper on the music fans who want to see our favorite bands, but it has also been a financial strain on the clubs and club employees whose jobs and incomes have come to a screeching halt. It has been enlightening to see many well-known bands doing fundraising live streams on formats like Facebook and Instagram trying to raise money for charities that support clubs and their workers.
The factor affected most by this whole equation are the artists and musicians who are working gig to gig to pay their rent and put food on their tables. Some have the financial resources to maintain their livelihoods, but many do not and are relying on the generosity of fans viewing their live streams and donating to virtual tip jars connected to their PayPal or Venmo accounts. It’s gratifying to see artists doing live sets while we’re commenting and communicating within a group of fans who are also watching the stream. The artist also knows there’s a group out there watching and can read the comments crossing the screen. What’s missing is the intimacy, the connection, the interaction that both artist and audience crave and desire.
Enter the Tree of Forgiveness Virtual Nightclub.
One concert enthusiast named Vito Rinaldo from Putnam Valley, New York, wanted to get involved somehow. The 72-year-old retired schoolteacher not only misses the atmosphere of live events with his numerous close friends and family, but as an avid concert-goer dating back to the late ’60s (original Woodstock and Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen to name a few), he has bonded and connected with many of the musicians that play in the New York/Connecticut area.
He wondered how he could share a musical experience with his friends, while also helping the gig-to-gig musicians put money in their pockets? How could he make it live while intimately connecting the audience and the artist performing? “When Neal Casal, died I felt helpless and hopeless,“ said Rinaldo. “I wanted to do something to help musicians who might be struggling financially or battling physical and mental issues”.
It was after a social Zoom session with his friends one night that an amazing idea popped into Vito’s head. “How can I start a virtual nightclub with my music-loving friends and invite musicians to play live for us?” As an avid fan of the late John Prine, who tragically lost his battle with the Coronavirus on May 7, Rinaldo pays tribute to the great singer-songwriter by naming the club after a Prine lyric heard in the song “When I Get To Heaven.’” It says, ‘I’m gonna open up a nightclub called The Tree Of Forgiveness and forgive everyone that’s done me harm.” Immediately the wheels started spinning, the ideas started flowing, and The Tree of Forgiveness Virtual Nightclub was created.
How does a virtual nightclub work?
It starts with a musician willing to do a live one- or two-hour set of music with a camera and microphone either from their living room, basement, kitchen, or studio. Next, you need a mailing list of music-loving friends eager to tune in. Once a show is scheduled, an email goes out to the club members with instructions to reserve your spot for the upcoming event.
After the small cover charge ($5-10) is sent, you are placed on the event’s limited guest list (40-75). Prior to the event you are sent instructions on how you can enter the club and enjoy the show that is powered by Zoom. Only those households on the guest list are permitted to join the group. On the day of the show you are emailed the event code and password along with door time, showtime, and a quick review of club rules and guidelines.
Prior to the show, you log on to the event page and enter the club’s waiting room. You are again briefed on the club rules and guidelines and how to contribute to the artists’ virtual tip jar. You’ll also be reminded when to mute and when to interact with the musician to maximize both the viewer’s and artist’s experiences to the fullest.
Attendees are muted while the music is playing and unmuted when it is not. Throughout the event everyone is encouraged to contribute the artist’s tip jar. 100% OF ALL MONEY CONTRIBUTED FROM COVER FEES AND MONEY DONATED TO THE TIP JAR GO TO THE MUSICIAN!
To kick off the Tree of Forgiveness Nightclub’s grand opening on Thursday, May 8, Tash Neal of The London Souls performed an amazing solo set from his living room for 40-50 club members. Many of those viewing had never heard Tash before but were thrilled to be part of this interactive live music experience. By the end of his 75-minute set, they became new fans looking forward to Tash’s return.
There were a few minor glitches, and the sound quality wasn’t perfect. “Zoom was never designed to host live music events” explained Rinaldo. “Audio can be challenging to say the least.” Regardless of the imperfections, everyone who was part of the club’s virgin voyage was thoroughly entertained. They all got to watch and listen to a gifted musician, with friends old and new, while interacting visually and verbally at the appropriate times.
For Tash, he got to hear the cheers and appreciation of an audience he could see and interact with directly. For the audience, they got to enjoy a night of awesome live music from a great musician, in the comfort of their homes – no $20-$40 parking, no $8 beers, and nobody taking their spot when they went to the bathroom. Bottom line, it was a much needed night of socializing with their favorite people and doing what they enjoy most.
After the success of the first show The Tree’s mailing list has grown by leaps and bounds and the schedule of musicians has been filling in quickly. Since then, the club has enjoyed sets from songwriter and guitar virtuoso Tim Britt, who mesmerized guests with his recreations of Dave Matthews Band favorites. Tim was enjoying his experience so much he played for an extra hour than what was scheduled. None of the 50 club members, most of whom were DMB fans, minded one bit. The energy and connection were very special.
Earlier in his set, Tim mentioned that he’d done a few live streams, but it had been a while since he’s been able to see whom he was playing for or interacted with a live audience. His enthusiasm was refreshing and contagious. Tash also enjoyed his experience so much he returned the following week with a special setlist for the members who had been so uplifting and generous the week before.
As a member of the audience for that show, I can honestly say it was a real treat. He also did a special two-song VIP Meet-and-Greet set before his scheduled set for ten invited fans. All the minor glitches were fixed, and the audio that was a challenge during the first show was perfect.
It is impossible to predict the future of live music. Will things ever go back to the way they were? Will we be sitting in our cars like a drive-in movie watching a band from 20-100 yards away? Whichever direction the concert scene turns, it is the safety and well being of the fans that takes priority over all. It may be a while until we can go to a concert without social interaction restrictions. For now, it’s virtual nightclubs like The Tree of Forgiveness that offers our best option to enjoy live music in a safe social atmosphere with our friends all while putting money into the pockets of musicians in need during these uncertain times.
It’s great to see Vito’s vision come to fruition. It’s also rewarding to see that it works on many levels. I for one hope to see the success of this platform continues even if we go back to “normal.” It’s a special intimate connection between musician and fan. Like a stand-up comedian with new material, it’s a valuable opportunity to work on new songs, crafting them in smaller settings before playing them on the bigger stages. I applaud Vito for paving the way and giving today’s struggling artists a platform to share their talent with the music-loving world.
“Along with expanding the number of artists (playing the club), we are hoping to build an audience of heavy tippers (lol),” Rinaldo said. “I also want to expose that audience to new, talented musicians. My ultimate goal would be to build the format in such a way to contribute some of the proceeds to charitable organizations like MusiCares, Backline, and The Neal Casal Music Foundation.”
As a club member and supporter of Vito’s project, I believe he is on the fast track to reaching his goal and making an impact in the music industry. I applaud Vito for giving music-loving fans a venue to escape the craziness. It’s no surprise that the club is always full.
To join the mailing list, send an email with your name and email address to email@example.com. Please put ‘TOF Mailing List’ in the subject line. For more information check out the links below.
The Tree of Forgiveness Nightclub
Also, send some love to Tash Neal and Tim Britt by clicking on the links below and catching them next time they play at The Tree of Forgiveness Nightclub.
The London Souls