By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
A local musical duo has found a way to continue performing for the public while still practicing social distancing. And their “tips” are benefiting area food banks.
Ryan Hensley and his girlfriend, Susan Bright, have started livestreaming concerts at 8 p.m. Saturdays. Their first online performance was held last week.
“It was way bigger than I thought it was going to be,” said Hensley. “I thought our family and a couple of friends were going to watch, but like 40 people shared it, and I think it had over 900 views.”
The duo plans to continue offering the weekly concerts for the foreseeable future.
Hensley has always had an interest in music. His father, Virgil Hensley, had 13 brothers and sisters, all of whom played music and sang.
“It’s kind of like osmosis. I was around it so much, I couldn’t help but do it,” he said. “And my father, up into his 30s, he was a semi-professional musician. That’s what he did for a living.”
Virgil died in a traffic accident in 1997. Hensley was just 11 at the time. “So when he passed, there was all of this music equipment laying around, so I just started picking up the drums. I’d picked up his guitar and plunked around. So for the most part, I’m self-taught.”
Hensley previously worked as a full-time musician, giving lessons in guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar and even ukulele. When he went to work at Kohl’s Distribution Center about a year ago, he kept a handful of students and continued performing on the weekends.
Bright also grew up around music. Her mother was a classically trained pianist.
“So music was just always in the house for her,” Hensley said.
Bright joined the Reunion Band about 20 years ago. That was the first time she’d performed live music.
The duo now performs once a month — including every New Year’s Eve — at Fins Seafood and Grille. They also appear at Gillig Winery, The Bourbon Affair, Anvil Whiskey Bar above The Gathering, and in Bluffton at Luke’s.
Hensley said they play a wide variety of music, and harmony is emphasized.
“Not a lot of groups harmonize, so we try to really capitalize on that,” said Hensley. “Susan’s a fantastic singer. She taught me how to harmonize, so we try to focus on that.”
All of their scheduled gigs dried up when COVID-19 restrictions caused restaurants and bars to close, and Hensley said Kohl’s Distribution Center also shut down operations for two weeks. (Bright is continuing to work during this time, as an administrative assistant at Hancock Public Health.) That’s when Hensley got the idea to do some musical livestreaming.
“A couple of friends of mine, they’re more tech-savvy than I am. They were able to pull it up on their big-screen TV and watch it in their living room,” he said of the first concert.
His mom, who lives in Hawaii, also tuned in.
The couple also thought it would be a good idea to donate any “tips” they received to a food bank. The concert was advertised as a stay-at-home event.
“We kind of built it up, like, ‘Hey, this Saturday night, get takeout dinner and tune in at 8 o’clock. We’re going to take requests, and we’re going to raise money for a food bank.’ There’s going to come a time where we’re going to need help, so our idea was to help get in front of the problem,” he explained.
Saturday’s concert generated $170 which Hensley sent to the Northwestern Ohio Food Bank in Toledo. This week’s concert will benefit the West Ohio Food Bank which provides for Hancock County.
Viewers can go to Facebook and search for his public profile, Ryan Hensley, to watch the performances.
“They can friend me or they can go to my page. If it’s live, it will pop up so they can watch it from my page,” he said.
Bright’s daughter, Sylvia, will be doing guest spots with them during the Saturday performances. The 19-year-old attends Clarion University in Pennsylvania, where she studies social work counseling. Bright’s son, William, is studying music production at Ohio University.
Hensley said he’s glad that people are enjoying the music. Requests will be taken for the April 4 concert.
“This whole thing can feel very lonely. I’m fairly reclusive on a normal day, but even this is a little much for me,” he said.
Donations to benefit the food banks can be made through Hensley’s PayPal or Venmo accounts, or sent directly to the food banks.