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For Nevada County musicians, the show goes online

John Orona
Staff Writer

Know & go

Peter Wilson Streams on Facebook at 6 p.m. Wednesdays using #WilsonWorldWednesday

Despite most live entertainment venues remaining closed indefinitely or being substantially limited, Nevada County music artists are staying upbeat.

While many musicians are familiar with financial uncertainty, the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crisis has pushed local artists to find new ways to earn a living while doing what they love.

Local acoustic guitarist Billy Bensing first started busking — playing music publicly for donations — in the Paris Metro when he was 17 years old. Now after more than 35 years as a professional musician, he’s gone back to his roots hoping to make ends meet.

“It can be very lucrative if you do it in the right places,” Bensing said. “Since I totally had no income, this has been supporting me.”

For more than a month, Bensing has twice a day serenaded customers who are lined up and waiting in front of BriarPatch Food Co-op due to occupancy limitations.

He said through busking he’s been able to match, on average, what he would normally make playing gigs throughout the week. Some weeks he can get tipped $100 a day, which would be about what he would make in gigs, but he’s also missing out on large events that could earn him much more.

While there is uncertainty, with his income fluctuating day to day, he said he’s used to living on a musician’s income and recognizes how much worse his situation could be.

“As hard as it’s been with this pandemic, I’m one of the lucky ones that has actually still made a living,” Bensing said. “We’re having to think of other ways to make money. (The pandemic) took away our basic livelihood and now we’re improvising.”

Bensing said he’s been joined by a few other musicians, but hasn’t had much competition. Many musicians during this time, rather than finding a captive audience in line at a grocery store, have turned online for an audience.


Local singer-songwriter Peter Wilson started doing weekly live concerts on Instagram and Facebook after performing in the second online Stay At Home Festival last month.

At first both he and his audience struggled with the logistics of the setup, trying to find the stream, and how to format the performances before finding a routine.

“There was just a learning curve, and a lot of the technology is new to me,” Wilson said. “Once we drilled in on how to do it, I just decided to do it every week.”

Before the pandemic, Wilson didn’t earn his living solely from performing, but his other source of income, concert promotion, has come to a halt as well.

“It’s been extremely impactful for me,” he said.

During performances, Wilson set up a tip jar where people could make a donation through PayPal or Venmo. While his online income so far is not enough to support him, he said he’s happy he’s able to perform in some fashion, which he calls his spiritual practice.

According to Wilson, playing live music in front of people keeps him mentally and spiritually healthy, and if he hasn’t had a gig in a few weeks he feels out of balance.

“I was a little stumped to not have gigs,”he said. “I get a little grouchy and unhappy if I haven’t been able to do that in while.”

Since performing regularly online, Wilson said he’s begun to create a social media community that he hopes to keep alive even after venues reopen.

“It took me a while to figure out, but I’m beginning to enjoy the whole community that’s growing up around my live streams,” he said. “There’s people who show up every week, people bumping into each other in cyberspace saying ‘Hey, how you doing?’”

While the online shows have helped him and his viewers get through isolation, Wilson is eager to get back to his spiritual practice during his return in-person performance on Friday at 1849 Brewing Company.

“(Online shows) have filled that void a little bit for me, but it’s not the same, though,” he said. “Being in a room with other people — I miss that a lot.”


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To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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