Isolation Drills: The 29ers

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich (taken at Shady Dog Records in Berwyn, Pa.).

Mike Balitsaris (vocals, guitar): The 29ers have been fortunate to get back to work, though it has been different—to say the least. We play outside, so I look at my weather app a lot more than I used to.

We’re using my pickup truck as a sort of flatbed bandstand, creatively maneuvering our country/folk/Americana four-piece into a parking space near the places where we used to play inside. I’ve seen how a little live music can lift the COVID-addled spirits of those who hear it—and play it. It’s among the many things folks took for granted before this mess. I certainly did.

I feel very fortunate that I have music as an outlet. I’ve turned my guitar into my own little mindfulness tool, spending a little time each day strumming with no particular song in mind. It seems to help me relax a bit—even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Brian Dusinberre (vocals, guitar): I’ve always hated the month of March in Pennsylvania. It will tempt you with signs of spring and often kick you in the rear with a significant snowfall. And for the first time in my career, I was out of work. Then COVID hit.

I’ve spent more than 25 years in the commercial furniture industry. Thanks to the pandemic, layoffs have been widespread in my field. Before March, I’d think about my future and wonder what I’d do if I lost my job. My answer was always, “Play more gigs.” But that didn’t pan out, either—at least for a while. The 29ers’ healthy yearlong run came to a screeching halt in March, along with the rest of the live-music scene.

It wasn’t long before I found myself busy again, tackling home-improvement jobs I thought would never get done. During a weak moment one Sunday morning, my wife asked about getting some chickens for the backyard. She’d been posing the same question for 23 years, and I’d always brushed it off. Two days later, we were buying a chicken coop. As for the chickens, we took a drive out to Lancaster, Pa., and started asking around. We stopped at a farm stand run by a friendly Mennonite guy who suggested we talk to Edna down the road. He drew us a crude map, and we were off to Edna’s farm, where we purchased five birds. 

We made arrangements to come back in a month, once our coop was ready. In the meantime, I read everything I could and watched endless YouTube videos on raising chickens. After the coop arrived, we set off for Lancaster with two large cardboard boxes I procured from a dumpster. I’d punched holes in the sides to give the birds air. My wife asked the seller what to do if the chickens escape. “Well, you go catch ’em,” was the response. My backyard coop has been producing five eggs a day since May, and we’re thinking about adding more next year. 

Meanwhile, I have a new job, and things have picked up substantially for the 29ers. We’re putting the finishing touches on a debut record, which should be complete by the end of the year. The band is playing shows out of the back of pickup truck, which allows for mobility and social distancing. For our standing gigs on Wednesday and Thursday nights, we basically park it and play. I’m not sure what the future holds once it gets cold. Then again, none of us are.