OPINION: THE PANDEMIC — ONE YEAR LATER

It was just after last year’s Original Marathon Seafood Festival that the world, as we knew it, ceased to exist. COVID-19 was a real honest-to-badness worldwide pandemic, and our lives changed in an instant. Gone were all the normal things about living that we took for granted — and gone were a lot of our jobs and incomes.

As the world shut down, and our Keys were closed to visitors, I found there wasn’t much demand for either live music or a visitor-oriented magazine. As bad as things might have been for me, they were a lot worse for so many others. While I might have had reason to complain, I still had food to eat and a roof over my head. Others weren’t so lucky.

When confronted with disaster, our island communities always bounce back. One especially bright light in those dark times was Mangrove Mike’s Endeavors. Then Islamorada Mayor (and now County Commissioner) Mike Forster saw his restaurant shuttered by the pandemic. Instead of griping, Mike went to work. He organized groups of donors and volunteers and went to work feeding the hungry in the Keys. Nearly every day, Mike and his team were feeding people in all parts of the Keys, both hot meals and boxes of produce from South Florida farms.

I, along with several of my fellow Marathon Council members and other volunteers, spent many days helping to make sure our Keys residents were fed. While it was hard work at times, it was a lot of fun — the camaraderie and fellowship of those days is something I’ll treasure. It’s hard to wallow when you’re busy making a difference. Forster had the vision and wherewithal to make Mangrove Mike’s Endeavors happen; he is certainly one of the heroes of the pandemic.

I’d also like to recognize the efforts of elected officials and staff members of local governments. COVID-19 was and is a disaster that hardly anyone was prepared for, and a lot of tough decisions had to be made. There really wasn’t a blueprint or disaster plan for this, and kudos to all who serve the public and try daily to keep everyone healthy. And major kudos to Dr. Jonathan Guevarra and the nursing staff and students from the College of the Florida Keys — you are making a real difference in helping all of us get past this pandemic.

A little over a year ago, I had just finished setting up my recording studio. With the closing of the Keys and all non-essential businesses, and every one of my live shows on hiatus for who knew how long, I had to do something. I’d had a little experience with Facebook Live events, so I decided to do an online concert from my studio that first Friday into the shutdown. I figured it would give me an excuse to keep up my live chops for when we could all go back to work.

I posted that I was going to perform the first Social Distancing Concert and shared it in a lot of groups and on a lot of pages. 3,000 people tuned in that first night — it seemed a lot of us needed some music as well as an escape from the virus that had taken over the world.

But what happened in these concerts was so much more than just music. Through those worst of times, a community came together. I reconnected with old friends I hadn’t seen or heard from in years. A lot of new friends also stopped in, and we really enjoyed each other’s virtual company. And I scored the services of a really great Executive Producer (I love you, Sarah)!

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At first, I had no idea how long these concerts would go on. But here we are one year later — although I’m back playing live shows again, I don’t imagine not doing these Social Distancing Concerts. They’ve become as important to me as my other shows, and I absolutely love the sense of community we have each Friday night. This Friday is our one-year anniversary of these Social Distancing Concerts. I’d like to invite you to join our weekly gatherings this Friday night at 7:30, and become a part of our musical family as we celebrate our resiliency and survival together.

On another note (pun intended), I’d also like to invite you to join me this Sunday, 4 p.m., at the Marathon Elks Lodge for their Elks Extravaganza! Local legend Freddie Bye will join me for an afternoon of fun, food and drink, music, and good times. They’ll be raising funds for scholarships, Elks Charities, Children’s Youth Camp, and veterans assistance — it’ll be a good time for a great cause!

– Catch John Wednesdays at Herbie’s, Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, this Friday on Facebook Live for his Social Distancing Concert, Saturday afternoon at Boondocks, Saturday night at the Key Colony Inn, and Sunday afternoon at the Marathon Elks Extravaganza. Music available wherever you get your streaming.  www.facebook.com/john.bartus

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