GREEN BAY — Facebook Live, selfies, videos, live streaming ... That’s never really been Paul Hanna’s thing.
As the frontman of longtime Green Bay rock band Annex, he’s all about the rush that comes from commanding a stage at a club with crowds at your feet. He’s a huge KISS fan. He lives for the thrill of the show.
So when the coronavirus pandemic silenced live music across bars, theaters and arenas, he wasn’t that guy who immediately thought of taking his talents online. It took friends telling him how much they needed some kind of escape from this new reality to get him to try it.
He learned Facebook Live literally overnight, studied YouTube tutorials, ordered a tripod with a light and pieced together whatever other equipment he could find to make it not just work but sound as good as it could — “not just an acoustic guitar through your phone,” Hanna told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. He played for four hours that first night of March 27.
He knows four hours for his first outing was insane, but it went by in the snap of a finger. It felt good, even if he was in his pajama pants.
“People are shouting out requests. People are picking on each other. They’re talking about stories. I did feel like I was in a social setting. Yes, it’s weird to look at a computer screen and I’m looking at myself and there’s a bunch of comments next to it. It’s crazy chaos, but this is the new normal,” Hanna said.
“This is what I have to embrace. This is how it’s going to be done, because how else do I get to everyone’s living room right now? How do I get to everyone’s house right now? How can people hear this music? How can people have fun? How can people get away from watching ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ 9,000 times with their kids?”
The first streaming concert racked up more than 10,000 views and a lot of thanks to “Pauly” for a little sense of normalcy on a Friday night. People asked for it to become a regular gig.
Hanna now plays three Facebook Live shows a week, at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Friday and a short set at 2 p.m. Sunday to get people through the weekend and ready for another Monday. It’s a mix of original music and feel-good covers ranging from Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” to The Beatles’ “Let It Be.” Sometimes there’s a shared pour with those watching from home. Sometimes there’s a surprise dog cameo.
Each show also has a link for listeners to tip via a virtual tip jar. As a touring musician who has also played with Flipp and Hairball, music is Hanna’s livelihood. He’s been heartened by the generosity of those willing or able to tip during hard times, but it’s about more than finding a way to pay the bills.
“This affected my income 100 percent, and it scared me when this all happened. It’s a scary time, but I didn’t start doing this thing as a way for me just to make money. It’s also a way for me to keep sane being cooped up,” he said.
“Some people are terrified at the idea of walking up on a stage and playing music. Well, that’s just what I’ve done my whole life. Now that gets taken away from me. I have to find another way to still feel human, and this is the way that I have to do it.”
He feels for everybody who suddenly finds themselves sidelined by the pandemic, including so many in the bar and restaurant industry. He hopes rocking out and virtual socializing for a couple of hours each week is a little bit of a release.
“There are a lot of people out there right now who are just struggling to get through this whole thing and if this makes their day a little bit better, so be it. I feel like that’s my purpose. That’s what I need to do,” Hanna said.
Quick quarantine questions with Paul
Go-to boredom snack: “I’m obsessed with those Dot’s Pretzels. We had a little port wine cheese (with them). Absolutely ridiculous. But you can’t be eating all those snacks. You get a little round in the mid-section.”
Recent binge watch: “Tiger King” on Netflix. “I watched it because it was literally like driving past an accident where everyone slows down and they’ve got to look at everything. Just a train wreck.”
Favorite quarantine movies: Anything with Eddie Murphy. “I’ve been going really light as far as movies, because I want to laugh. You can’t go wrong with ‘The Golden Child’ or ‘Coming to America.’”
News junkie or no news junkie: It’s normally coffee and news to start the day, but with a mom who is a retired ICU nurse and a sister-in-law who works at a local hospital, coverage hits home for him, so he’s been watching more. He likes New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “I could watch that guy talk and deliver his conferences any day. His little bickering with his brother (CNN anchor Chris Cuomo), I love it.”
Recommended place for takeout: Timsan’s Japanese Steakhouse, with locations at 1654 E. Mason St. in Green Bay and 1773 Cardinal Lane in Howard. Owner Tim Long has been a longtime supporter of Hanna’s music and countless projects in the community. “He’s just a great human being in that aspect. He supports so many things” Hanna said. ”... Now he needs our support.”
What he misses most about playing in front of crowds: “For two hours they get to go out to a show and let loose. I feel like that’s what I miss most, because I feed off that. That’s my energy drink, if you will. When you get done with a song, when you hit that chord and the whole band ends, you’ve got a big ending, and you hear that roar of the crowd, I wish I could explain that to people. I miss that dearly.”