For over 40 years, pianist Bob Egan has entertained at clubs, weddings and churches across Bucks County and New Jersey every single day. But on March 14, when life as we knew it came to an abrupt halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Egan’s worst fear was realized for the first time – an empty schedule.
“I have worked every day since I was a junior in high school,” said the Warminster native and Archbishop Wood alum. “I was literally in shock. I had never been 100 percent unemployed, ever. As a musician, I worked at a bunch of different places. I really was a fanatic about the ‘don’t put your eggs in one basket’ mentality. I always had multiple things going on, so, the whole thought of being unemployed was horrifying.”
But six weeks into quarantine, when his situation seemed bleak, Egan received a welcomed call. Jon Richardson, a longtime friend from Cape Cod, planned to launch a Virtual Piano Bar and wanted Egan to emcee the project.
The first online concert was shown on Facebook via livestream on May 3, and received an unprecedented amount of positive feedback.
“People were really looking forward to it. I couldn’t believe all the messages from people I had known from all over the country who said they were watching it,” said Egan. “It’s not the same. I’m looking at my laptop talking to people that I know are out there, but I can’t see their physical face. But it was great to finally do something.”
The Virtual Piano Bar takes place twice a week on Wednesday and Sunday, at 8 p.m., with each show featuring 10 singers, including Philadelphia’s Eddie Bruce, Paula Johns, Patrice Hawthorne and Kathy “Babe” Robinson, and even Slovak Republic’s Jozef Ivaska and Australia’s Darren Williams. Egan accompanies each artist on the piano.
“I socially distant record a video with each singer. I send them the music, they have to make a video, we go back and forth until we get it right, then we edit it and air it on the show. So, each insert takes a lot of time,” Egan explained. “It was learning a lot of things about filming and shooting and recording.”
Despite the somewhat tedious process of creating the show, Egan revels in the fact that he can perform with long-lost friends, no matter their location.
“The nice thing about this, the positive is, I can reconnect with people from all over. They don’t have to live nearby for me to play music with them,” he said. “Really, there’s no limit to who I can have on the show because of technology. We can work out our song and then feature them on the show.”
According to Egan, the virtual format also allows music lovers from around the world to tune in and discover his stylings. He reflected on a man from Saudi Arabia who watches every night and often makes requests.
Wednesday’s show always has a theme, which have so far included The Beatles, Burt Bacharach, Disney and feel-good songs of the summer from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Meanwhile, Sunday boasts an open format, and can feature anything from Adele and Top 40 hits to Billy Joel and Frank Sinatra.
“From when I was out playing all the time, I was always about breaking the public stigma that piano bars are one kind of music. Younger people think piano bars are for old people, old songs, and it’s just all for the Broadway people. But it’s not. It’s anything,” Egan said. “It’s all over the map, whatever works on the piano, and a lot of stuff does. Sky’s the limit.”
While Egan dearly misses being in an intimate live setting, connecting with listeners in-person, he’s grateful that technology is allowing him to continue what he loves, just in a different digital capacity.
“This may be all we do for the next year, year and a half. While restaurants may be opening on a limited basis, I don’t know that there will be people piled around my piano anytime in the near future,” he said. “All that’s done for a while, so let’s make the best of it.”
He’s also grateful that viewers are choosing to watch him and the guest vocalists rather than binge another series on Netflix.
“These are just real people. These aren’t celebrities,” he said of the singers. “You get some really amazing people, maybe like a lawyer or a doctor, accountant by daytime. But they live for that moment when they can get out, sing their couple songs on a Friday night. We’re all just doing this from our homes. We’re not professionally produced by some studio. It’s fun and there’s a lot of surprises.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org