Thursday nights at home with Joshua Davis: Live music in the time of Coronavirus

By Sonya Shoup

Sun contributor

Comfy chairs, soft lighting and the tuning of a left-handed guitar set the scene. As fans pour in to watch Joshua Davis play, he welcomes them individually with a smile.

“Hey, you guys. Alright, Ann Arbor,” he says, “Happy to be here on another Thursday.” As Davis noodles around on his Waterloo guitar, he checks the focus on his video camera, bringing his “I miss hugs and live music” t-shirt to the foreground of the shot.

“Here’s to you,” he says, raising a glass of whiskey on the rocks to the audience, “Thanks for being here.” Though hundreds of people are watching this concert, Davis is the only one in the room.

You may recognize Davis from NBC’s show “The Voice.” He was a finalist in 2016, winning third place and America’s hearts as he played to millions of viewers. Now he plays for a much smaller crowd, on a smaller screen. 

It hasn’t been easy on performers since the Coronavirus pandemic took deep hold in March, and Davis is no exception. “It was a Wednesday and I had all my gigs canceled on me,” he told me during an interview over Zoom. “My booking agent called me up and they were like, ‘Everybody’s canceling.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, not only is that all my income, but it’s also my creative outlet and it’s my joy.’ So I’ve gotta figure something else out.”

With live concerts shut down for the foreseeable future, some musicians like Davis are turning to the internet for substitutes. On Thursdays at 7 p.m., he hosts a live steam on his Facebook page, “Joshua Davis Music”. These concerts usually attract a crowd of 150 to 250 people and have even reached 600 concurrent viewers once or twice. Despite the numbers, Davis manages to keep up a laid-back, house-concert mood. 

“I feel like I’ve made it so that it’s an experience that people feel comfortable talking to one another, people feel comfortable talking to me, and it’s not a stuffy situation. It’s an open, very community-based kind of scene.” It’s true; people don’t just comment in the chat, they talk to each other, often seconding a song suggestion or saying hello to a friend. One viewer wrote, “Cheers to another fabulous Thursday. Your music Is very soul-fulfilling.”

These shows are a steady source of fun and comfort during this chaotic year, and that is exactly what Davis hoped to provide. “The thing that I love about shows is I love the community aspect of it. I love that feeling of creating community and having a back and forth with people and feeling like a part of something. That’s what I was missing.”

Usually, he takes song requests “off the cuff” or during the week, but from time to time his shows have themes. October 29th’s “All Hallows’ eve (eve eve)” performance was full of murder ballads, kid-friendly jams, and eerie Tom Waits classics. But the spook-centered setlist didn’t keep him from laughing with friends in the audience or joking about the guitar he knocked over (“Good thing it’s built like a tank, out there in Saginaw”). 

Those wholesome, genuine interactions define his shows; they create an authentic atmosphere that draws listeners week after week. “I’m hoping to just give people a spot to be,” Davis said, “It’s something that people can depend on. There’s people that come every week, and there’s people who’ve met each other through the stream, or who have reconnected through the stream. People have watch parties and it becomes this thing where that’s just what’s going on Thursday nights for some people.” 

As these weekly shows have grown to comprise his entire performance schedule, Davis’ set-up at his home near Lake Leelanau has had to evolve. Originally, his recording setup reflected the relaxed tone of the concerts. He started with just an iPhone balanced on a pile of books in his living room, then graduated to a small ring light and tripod. A look behind the scenes now shows a “pretty sweet” studio. He uses professional mics, studio lights, streaming software, and a fancy new video camera.

“That last step was for people that I knew were watching on the big screen,” Davis said. “What I’m doing is I’m trying to push the best audio and video quality so that people are getting a decent experience from their end. I feel like it’s only right for me to spend a portion of the money that comes in on these Thursdays on making the experience better for everybody else. It’s a pretty hefty setup.” His audio and video may be more professional, but the venue is still cozy and intimate.

Though Davis is the only Leelanau County musician that we know to have a weekly live stream, other local artists have also been working hard to make ends meet during the pandemic.

Elizabeth Landry from Lake Leelanau has held a few outdoor concerts since March and will soon release a short series of cover songs with Joe Wilson and Caul Bluhm.

Traverse City’s May Erlewine has been hosting down-to-earth, folksy live streams she calls “Mondays with May.” They have been sponsored by quite a few local businesses, including Oryana Community Co-op, Yana Dee, and Shorts Brewing Company. Erlewine also recently released the single, “For The Change,” which Bonnie Raitt shared on Twitter alongside other election-related songs, calling it ‘extraordinary.’

Musicians have really struggled during this time of the Coronavirus, but are re-inventing performing to support themselves and to continue cultivating community. Many have virtual tip jars via Venmo or PayPal. Davis even has a Patreon page, which gives viewers the option to donate monthly.

“If I didn’t have these Thursday nights I might go more crazy than I’m going right now,” said Davis. “It provides some much-needed interaction and warmth and feelings of togetherness that I didn’t realize could be possible virtually.” One look at any live stream chat shows that the feeling is mutual. “Thank you for sharing your music with us!” wrote one viewer. “So happy I ran into this today.”

Davis sings one last song as the night nears a close. Audience members say their goodbyes, thanking Davis and each other for a wonderful evening as he strums. As the last chord rings out, the chat fills with a chorus of clapping and heart emojis. “Be excellent to each other,” he says with a wave, “Love you very much, see you next week!” He signs off until next Thursday, ending the live stream but continuing to foster love in the community.

You can find Joshua Davis’s live stream at, May Erlewine’s live stream at, and Elizabeth Landry’s music at