Isolation Drills: Jamie Olson (Midnight Singers, Sexton Sideshow Projects, Cowmuddy)

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.

Olson: Right from the beginning, I latched onto a support system. I spent Mondays with Fergie’s open mic. It was my weekly Monday-night (cyber) hangout, hosted by local rockers Meaghan Kyle and Jonas Oesterle (writer of the greatest quarantine open-mic theme song of all-time), who are awesome for keeping it going and engaging.

It has been a great way to share new tunes and stay creative, either with a song or the video/streaming set-up. I became known as “Boxcar” for my low-lit, outdoor, fingerpicking performances. I definitely felt a lot of love in those good times and great tunes online Monday nights.

As a performer with the Midnight Singers, Sexton Sideshow Projects and Cowmudd—along with my own solo performances—I have the spirit for jumping up on the stage and going for it. It definitely has always been a thrill, whether well-rehearsed or an impromptu jump-in to the set of a friend. I assume I am probably a “ lifer“ at this point. I long for performances and keep them in a romantic place.

Once I complete a recording or performance—and once it is out of my system—I typically begin working toward dreaming and realizing the next one.

I identify and feel for the artists and working musicians who are out pushing all the time; you know, the ones who really truly live it. They are working for the bigger dream, the independence, challenge and satisfaction of a career based on their work. I hope they still have the fight.

This past year-plus, I sincerely miss all the folks involved in my projects. I feel I’m in touch (as well as we can be) and believe things will eventually work their way back again. That will be the most special thing!

As a songwriter and guitar player, I’m constantly at it—you can ask my wife, Holly McAndrew. It is my unending passion. For me, it is just about having free time to really give yourself over to it. I’ve learned it takes that commitment to come up with something really inspired, at least for me. Songs may come fast, but it’s a lot of time casting into the sea.

So, when the college I work for went on lockdown last March and I was laid off, that meant opportunity. I embraced backyard time with spring weather, friendly social-distant neighbors, all day with my dogs, fish-fry suppers, snacks and beer and wine in the evening. Suddenly. I had the free time to learn every Townes Van Zandt song and make up my own tunes with coffee in the morning. Initially, I wrote a lot of songs.

A year-plus later, I feel it ended up being the shortest, short-lived dream there ever was. I’ll quote Vic Chestnut here: “The gravity of the situation came on us like a bit of new knowledge.” Day after day of heavy news and knowing folks who struggle, you can start to challenge your belief in things like making up songs. I shall always believe in its value in the end. This process has nurtured and “saved” me many times.

I am happily back to work these day, and I am grateful for it. So, next up: I am looking forward to singing some new tunes with friends and folks on a beautiful night soon!