COVID Preys; Music Stays

Hilltop NY keeps that beat moving


Drive-in concerts, live-streaming, and private parties with masks and restrictions is how one local band continued to perform gigs throughout the pandemic.

Hilltop NY, a groovy rock band that falls under the genres of psychedelic rock, jazz fusion, and improv, had an eight-spot East Coast tour planned to start in March of 2020. Hitting spots from Vermont to Long Island and all the way down in South Jersey, this was lining up to be the band’s breakthrough moment after four long years of building popularity and notoriety in the live music scene.

“COVID hit and we could not believe it. We’d been prepping this for months and just had to scrap the whole thing. You could say we got hit with a tour killer,” said Steve Perry, a junior at Mercy College and the lead drummer of Hilltop NY.

Perry has been with the psychedelic rock band since its origin in 2016, and when COVID-19 hit, the tour was forced to shut down entirely. The band was left feeling like they had missed their big break and was forced into a state-mandated quarantine like so many others across the country. 

Bands and artists that dream to make or already make their livelihood off the pay from live gigging were absolutely crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down their summer. Musicians were forced to alter their norm.

On social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, there is an option for accounts to live-stream. On a live stream, the user account can speak in real-time to their followers and even invite other friends to join the feed. This feature has long been used for bands and artists to interact with their fans and preview new music, but now it has become a haven for free concerts. In the heat of the pandemic, Hilltop NY used this to collaborate with other artists and continue to grow their fan base online. 

“So we would play some small groups sometimes, like private parties. And for a lot of these people, it was the first time they had seen friends in so long.”

As case numbers dropped and restrictions were lifted, small groups of people began to congregate again. Hilltop NY played live gigs at parties, usually for the aristocracy of community, with strict social guidelines. The band would refuse to perform unless everyone was wearing a mask and tried their best to stay six feet apart. 

Today, drive-in concerts have become the new norm for large bands to continue to hold gigs. 

“Drive-in concerts are becoming the wave. And this isn’t just for your small garage bands, it’s big bands too. These are concerts holding more than 400 people and they are still following social guidelines. It’s the loophole!” Perry says.

Fans, notified by social media, are able to sit either on top of or in their cars to watch their favorite bands perform. As this does take away the fun of a moshpit, it is a safe way for artists to continue to make money and give their fans the music they love and deserve. 

In regard to young artists getting an education, COVID-19 restrictions are continuing to make that difficult. Due to the fact classrooms can only be at half capacity, the Music Production and Recording Arts classes at Mercy College are moving at a different pace. Another issue for these students this semester is the incapability for an entire class to be in the studio at once, as all students must always be six feet apart from one another.

“To have your hands on the equipment every week, that’s memorization skill right there. We’re being provided videos, but it’s like we’re back in high school doing our own research. Everyone just looks a little bit awkward trying to learn how to be in a classroom in these conditions. It’s mad weird.”

Music students, like many others at the school, are expected to comply with this new type of learning environment. After having only ever learned in regular classroom settings with hands-on lessons and group participation in close quarters, it can be tough for students to get used to it. Adaptability during this tumultuous time is key for students to continue to strive and keep up with their goals, according to Mercy officials.

Hilltop NY continues to adapt and is performing live gigs practically every weekend. The band is determined to get back on its feet and be a model of a fighting spirit against adversity. 

Hilltop’s next performance is on Oct. 3 at Nanola Brewery in Malta, New York. Social distancing guidelines will be enforced.

Rocking hard and all night long will also be in full effect.