Washington D.C. five-piece band Bongo District brought their mix of reggae, ska, Latin, and funk music to Vienna to play their second show at Jammin’ Java last weekend. Bongo District has been one of the few bands to play live shows since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and has had to make adjustments for that to happen. 

Fairfax Times spoke to the band’s lead singer and guitarist Dros to get the band’s thoughts about performing during the pandemic and what may come about with the vaccines now in distribution

You played a show recently in Vienna, how’d the show go? How did social distancing rules affect the show?

We did, it actually has been our second show at Jammin’ Java.  Our first one in December received such positive reviews that they had us back fairly soon.  Last Friday the 15th was our second one and it was full to “COVID” capacity, which is 25% of the max allowed, which means around 60 people.  

Social distancing rules did affect the show, but given the situation the world is living, we felt it was a success, and served as an escape for those of us who need music to keep a positive view of reality.  The show never felt unsafe given the strict guidelines Jammin Java is following.  

It is by far one of the few indoor venues we have seen operate successfully following the guidelines.  There were six-foot-long tables were set to separate each “cluster” of attendance, giving you the space necessary for the guidelines to take effect.  

No mask off unless you are eating or drinking.  Controlled access and must wear mask when going into bathroom.  Overall, they aced the COVID guideline test in my humble opinion.  Also, we were witnesses that the strict measures were welcomed by those who attended. 

Was this the first live show you’ve played since the pandemic began? If not, when was the last live event?

It wasn’t actually.  We managed to survive as a band by playing a summer acoustic series of shows at Clare and Don’s Beach Shack in Falls Church.  We played there once a week, for tips only, throughout the whole summer.  All shows were outdoor at their patio, we thought we would try it out for a month and see if it worked.  

After the first month we had a crowd gathering at every show to enjoy music and encourage us to keep coming back.  We ended up playing all summer until November when it became a little chilly to go outside.  So yes, we have been active, maybe not as much as we used to play, but definitely enough to keep the flame of music alive inside all of us!

How have you had to adapt to the new reality of the pandemic? What are the positives and negatives?

Well, as most of us, we are still trying to adapt as people.  Our shows depend on the reception of the energy our music portrays.  We feed off watching people letting go, getting up and dancing.  

Before the pandemic we used to be a heavier band.  With electric guitars and drums, now we are an acoustic ensemble and our music has taken a slightly different path.  

Since people aren’t allowed to stand up, gather and dance, we have had to change our set to be more pleasant to listen to sitting down. So, the format of the songs has changed, but we managed to keep the groove as a backbone.  

We personally feel there are definitely more negatives that came from this pandemic than positives.  But there is one positive that, in our view, outweighs any negative and it’s the approach we took with our music: the richest most fulfilling things in life are usually in front of us and free. We just had to re-learn to appreciate them and give them the value they deserve in our lives. 

I guess that not only goes with our music, but with everything.

With the vaccines rolling out when do you think live shows will be more prevalent again? What do you think will be long-term changes for live shows going forward?

I am a full-time musician and Audio Engineer too.  So, because of some of my Engineering clients I know for a fact the live music will attempt a slow comeback in the Summer, gradually scaling up hoping for a full comeback by the end of the year.  Again, it is still difficult to plan out ahead of 6 months but it is what I personally know from my experience.

Long term changes are something I wouldn’t know how to address because we feel it will be dependent on how effective vaccines are to control the virus.  Until we have any data of the sort, it will be very hard to address that issue for musicians and venues.  A wild guess might be some sort of COVID vaccine log at show entrance, but again, too far out to predict. 

Will you put on more live shows as the vaccine rolls out or are you going to wait a little while?  

As long as there are souls that need music to heal or dream, we will continue to share our music.  Having said that we do work with every venue we play at to ensure that the strictest COVID guidelines are followed.  

It seems to us that masking up, keeping our distance, and following the guidelines is a small price to pay to enrich your soul with flashes of a better life to come by enjoying music.  We want to keep that hope up and share that feeling with everyone who joins us. 

Bongo District are currently working on their EP, which is scheduled to be released in the summer of 2021.

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