Photos by Kellyn Vuchetich
Jan. 15, 2021

It’s no secret that the outbreak of COVID-19 has taken a toll on the local music scene. Beloved venues have closed their doors, social distancing measures have limited audience engagement, and performers have had to deal with the loss of a crucial aspect of their lives.

With no other choice, Lincoln musicians have spent the past 10 months applying their creativity to finding new ways to perform, rehearse, and interact with the community. 

The Midnight Wanderers, a Lincoln-based bluegrass and folk band, have been playing together for seven years. Their fiddle player, Thad Miller, was welcomed to the group just about a year and a half ago, with the majority of his time spent getting to know his bandmates from a distance. The group regularly rotates instruments, lead vocals and supporting vocals, so it’s important that they’re in tune with one another’s musical strengths, musical interests and personalities in order to successfully take on new music.

The Midnight Wanderers

“It is interesting how bands can be like an extended bit of family,” said Miller. “But it’s just hard because those times of getting together you build your relationships, you learn how to work with each other, and you learn the songs, and obviously we’re all experiencing that on Zoom. As a band, we have to play together to stay together, as in to stay tight as a band.” 

Pre-pandemic, the Midnight Wanderers could be found at local vineyards, bars, and festivals, as well as various out of town gigs. Nowadays, gigging opportunities are few and far between. Any gigs they have had since last March have presented unusual challenges, such as figuring out how to sing while wearing a mask.

“It’s hard to project as much and makes you aware of how big of breaths you take because that mask is constantly getting sucked into your mouth” said Miller.

The band also noted that wearing a mask not only affects vocals, but limits onstage communication by concealing facial expressions. 

“You don’t really realize how much you depend on looking at other people’s faces for like, nonverbal cues,” said Lia Havlena, who lends banjo, guitar, and vocals to the band.

“Instead all we see is just panic eyeballs,” added Jenny Richardson, the Wanderer’s bassist. 

The group has had to adopt new safety precautions for their rehearsal process and has reduced rehearsal frequency due to the lack of gig opportunities. 

“We try to [rehearse] outside because if you’re distanced enough you can take your mask off,” said Matt Richardson, who alternates playing guitar, banjo, and vocals for the band.

In addition to these new inconveniences, the financial impact of the virus has been one of the most significant hurdles for local musicians to overcome.

“The loss of income has been a lot, we didn’t realize how much we used it,” said Jenny Richardson.

The Midnight Wanderers unanimously miss the sense of community that the Lincoln music scene offers, but they try to maintain that feeling of connection by participating in virtual music events when possible. The band has had to learn how to livestream gigs, and notes that while this technology is helpful, it’s just not the same as performing in person.

“It’s weird not playing to an actual audience and finishing a song and just having dead silence,” said Havlena. “I miss just in general being able to interact with the audience and see people and have them be close. Indoor gigs. I miss indoor gigs.” Havlena also notes that she misses interacting with other bands and attending their live performances. 

“I really miss going to those local shows too, feeling that sense of community here in Lincoln,” she said, adding, “I miss shows, bad.”

Despite the difficult circumstances, the members of the Midnight Wanderers noted a few benefits to having some extra downtime where there were once gigs.


“I practiced more different things than I would normally, because I’m usually preparing for this and that, but I actually went into more things I wanted to do,” Matt Richardson said.

“I feel like I’ve been writing more out of sheer boredom,” said Havlena.

“It’s made it easier to revisit some old fiddle tunes I like,” said Miller. “Some musicians have really been productive, or it appears based on the internet. But it’s hard, it takes a lot of effort,” 

While the Midnight Wanderers have been able to gracefully take on new challenges, they’re longing to get back out in the community in person.

“I want to go to a big huge jam session,” said Miller. “It could be at the Zoo Bar, it could be anywhere, a warehouse…and maybe some venues will be able to have a successful open mic night. I didn’t go to a lot of the open mics in the last 5 or 10 years, but that’s something I hope I can support after this is all over.”

Lia and Jenny agree that they’d like to travel to Missouri to play the Steampunk Festival again in the future. 

Matt looks forward to, “Getting back into the groove of gigs where you don’t have to think about the old songs because you’re playing them at gigs, you can work on the new songs.”

The Midnight Wanderers have remained true to their name, embracing the uncertainty of this time as best they can, and looking forward to when the darkness has passed and they are once again able to safely engage with the Lincoln music scene.

Kellyn Vuchetich is a journalism intern with KZUM.