MUSCATINE, Iowa-In March of 2020, Chad Bishop had all the pieces in place to produce Muscatine’s first noise opera. Set for the evening of March 21, the much anticipated event turned into one of the first casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic, as restrictions on large groups came into place only a few days before.
For several months, Bishop put the idea of holding a live performance aside. However, as he thought about ways to give local musicians a way to continue making art, and for him to debut the rock opera he wrote about famous Muscatine resident Norman Baker, he started to wonder if he could use Public Access Channel Nine as a platform for virtual concerts. “I thought, why not roll with the ‘virtual concert’ approach, and just invite bands to come to the studio to perform live, but without an audience,” he explained.
Beginning late in 2020, Bishop began having bands come out and perform in Muscatine Community College’s studio using a setup he dubbed the Aural Xam Soundstage after his own band. Following their recording session, each concert has a debut on Channel Nine. Later, anyone may watch it again either as a rerun on Channel Nine or on the Channel Nine YouTube page.
In the most recent Aural Xam Soundstage concert, one of Muscatine’s favorite bands, Eugene Levy performed. Bishop considered it an excellent production, both because of Eugene Levy’s skill and because of the fun they had with the performance: “They are very talented and professional. We did multiple takes, for example, and each take was almost an exact duplicate of the first take–they have their musicianship dialed in to perfection,” he commented, adding, “in general, though, they are all laid back and fun; we laughed the whole time between songs, and everyone was in a good mood, and really just thrilled to, sort of, be back on the stage.”
In the weeks ahead, Bishop has several more concerts set to debut on the Aural Xam Soundstage. On Friday, March 26, Matt “The HepKat” Hepker, a frequent face in Muscatine’s live music scene, will premier three of his original songs on Channel Nine at 7 p.m. Just over a week later, a pair of Pearl City Records’ artists Noryli and Conscious will perform several of their hip hop, R&B, and pop fusion songs Saturday, April 3.
As an added bonus, Public Access Channel 9 has recently upgraded to HD, making the concert series more lifelike than ever before. As Bishop explained it: “I am so proud to have a channel that looks more professional and doesn’t have such a quality gap from the neighboring HD commercial stations. Now the information and programming that is broadcast on the channel will be much more professional and effective.”
With the prospect of easier access to COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon, Bishop looks forward to the time when he, and other musicians in Muscatine, can return to live concerts with a full audience. Until that time, he plans to keep the Aural Xam Soundstage concerts coming, and he hopes music lovers will continue to tune in and support Muscatine’s up and coming artists virtually.