This year has really been something… I’m sad that the ways in which so many of us often cope — through live music: seeing friends at shows, seeing bands perform live, feeling music from an epic sound system move through our bodies — isn’t really possible like it was pre-pandemic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than okay with keeping safe and sheltering at home — this pandemic is a scary and terrible thing. But I think about how when I was stressed or down in the past, I’d often have a show to look forward to. This year, I did catch a few memorable live events pre-pandemic, but also some virtual ones that were striking enough to make me get up and dance a little in my room or watch with rapt attention.

Here ARe BAQVAS's top 5 live shows of 2020

1. Ocean Vuong in conversation with Tommy Orange @ City Arts & Lectures

Okay… not technically a music show, but it was a live event that held me in rapt attention. A memorable quote from the event that resonated with me:

I am at my best when my fear of not speaking is greater than the terror of life. — Ocean Vuong

2. Habibi @ Bottom of the Hill

This was a Noisepop event at the end of February! One of the last shows I attended prior to the shut down. Seeing Habibi live was so fun and I remember dancing quite a bit during their set.

3. Arwah Collective Digital Fundraiser for Kashmir.

Arwah Collective is “a queer/trans desi creative coalition fighting transnational fascism and the occupation in Kashmir.” They organized a digital/virtual fundraiser show with DJ Haram, Kohinoorgasm, and Diaspoura. This is a show I would’ve LOVED to see in-person (though virtually was still a good experience). It’s the type of show where a loud sound system would’ve been a perfect addition. Still, I turned the sound up on my laptop speakers and enjoyed seeing artists who I deeply respect and whose music I love deliver creative live performances. It was fun to hear some of my favorite songs performed live even if it was through the internet 💚.

4. Superb Presents: Denzel Curry.

Superb is an event organizing group at UC Berkeley! I’ve seen some fantastic Superb shows over the years, most notably Tokimonsta & Teebs at UCB’s Sproul Plaza. This Denzey Curry show occurred in September on Zoom. Curry performed at a music venue with amazing visuals, great sound, and a lot of spirit for a show with no live audience. The Zoom chat was pretty lit and I could feel other viewers’ elation at the live show. I found myself recording some of the live performance during my favorite songs, too, like I would at an in-person live show. A thought crossed my mind when I did that, “This is the way it is now.” The show culminated with a live Q&A, which added to the memorable virtual event.

5. Riz Ahmed - The Long Goodbye: Livestream Edition This virtual show held particular resonance for me as it fell on my birthday! It felt poignant, as well, because it was filmed at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. It was a stunning 30-min work of visual art where Riz often spoke candidly about how odd it was to not have a live audience and spun his phone around to show the empty venue. It also felt intimate as he shared personal family stories, how his family has been affected by COVID-19, but also retained the truest aspects of a show with music performances. My favorite song off The Long Goodbye is “Fast Lava,” and seeing that performed live, on my birthday, was really fun and I definitely danced a little.

I still miss live in-person shows and everything that comes with it, but virtual shows do help me feel connected with others. I appreciate the candidness and vulnerability that artists often share, too. I’m thankful and I'm sure others are, too, for opportunities to enjoy a live music experience despite it being virtual and being able to lose ourselves in the moment. Before I end, these are especially difficult times for artists, venues, and all the people who work to make live events happen. Here's some important journalism and organizations that you can check out:

KQED: 2020 Decimated the Concert Industry—And It Can’t Rebuild Without Government Help by Nastia Voynovskaya

Independent Venue Alliance (donate to save SF music venues)

The Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW)

National Independent Venue Association (donate to save US music venues)