Bruce Barker, Neon Cactus' "The Piano Man," performed his usual Thursday night show via Facebook Live March 19 after The Neon Cactus closed over coronavirus concerns. He racked up over 14,000 watchers over the course of the night. He will perform his show via Facebook Live again tonight for students and alumni.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Read the full Q&A in Thursday's print edition.
So, tell me how you came up with the idea for the “Quarantine Cactus,” as it’s been dubbed?
Literally forever, I have tried to come up with a way that I can give back for the 24 years everyone has come to see me. So I thought while we are all a captive audience, why not do a live show from home? I am a people person, so being isolated isn’t something I enjoy, and this is the perfect way to give back. Hopefully it’s not too loud and the video quality is okay, but this is the perfect way to give back to all those alumni. Between the 5K Facebook friends and 6K Twitter followers I have, I hope we can lift some spirits.
Well, you definitely made it past your friends and followers lists.
Picture this, I’ve got my stupid little phone filming and I’ve got my stupid little iPad to keep track off the feed of people. When I hit 3K and then 7k, I wondered how can this be accurate? It’s just me and my wife in my basement, and I can hear no noise, but you read all the excitement, it’s like a tsunami of love, which is ironic because here I am trying to give back, but I end up getting way more than I ever bargained for. My head is still swimming. Someone showed me a screen shot and said I could officially fill Mackey (Arena). I am not looking for any money here, it’s all free. I am so blessed in this life that it feels good to give in any way I can to make people feel better.
Unfortunately I missed out on last Thursday’s virtual Cactus night. How late did the show last?
For four weeks now I have had a cough, and it’s not anything coronavirus-related, but I just haven’t been able to shake it, and when I am at the Cactus I rely on the crowd singing back to me for two-thirds of the night to save my voice, so here at home I end up singing the whole stinking song. When you sing for two hours straight, it’s a little more straining on your vocal cords. I am going to see if I can do better on down the road in terms of lasting longer.
To have over 14K people tuning in is pretty impressive.
I told everyone to leave me a comment of where they are and when they graduated. There were 56K people who typed something. Every time I went to go back to comment No. 1, there were so many comments it would kick me off and I would have to start over, so I went as far back as my phone would let me and I wrote out on two pieces of paper as many names as I could. Someone told me Keith Urban was playing to 12k people while I played to 14k, and I had friends comparing me to other artists who are going live. I had another friend tell me I should think about rescheduling my upcoming show because the Dave Mathews Band will be performing at the same time, but I’m not going to.
What’s that like, to have that many people eager to tune in?
When you’re doing it from your basement, all you’re doing is singing to yourself and to your wife.
I know you typically stick with water while you’re performing, but do you have an adult drink of choice you’re sipping on while performing at home?
I don’t typically drink when I perform, but I was genuinely nervous for this virtual show, so I had a few shots beforehand. Tomorrow I might have a shot with everyone. I’m a cinnamon Fireball guy.