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A full-time musician’s trials, triumphs during social distance age

It’s not every day a politician calls you to gush profusely about the talents of a local musician. That’s what happened to me last week when I returned a voicemail from Assemblyman Sean Ryan and was treated to 10 minutes of enthused chatter regarding the musical talents of Dave Ruch.

Ruch has been a full-time musician for decades, and though denizens of the local music scene have grown accustomed to basking in his talents, the core of Ruch’s earning power as a musician involves educational settings.

“My bread and butter is performing for audiences of adults and kids across the state and beyond in schools, museums, historical societies and other ‘off the beaten path’ venues, where I offer themed music programs on a variety of different – but mostly historical – topics,” Ruch said.

Within this well-stocked calendar of engagements, however, Ruch finds time for what he calls “the fun stuff” – playing a variety of stringed instruments with the Canal Street String Band, Wild Knights, and an array of solo, duo, and trio configurations.

Ruch’s latest venture finds him playing guitar with a trio that demands to be called a supergroup, even if that descriptive has become an oft-abused cliché. As Organ Fairchild, with drummer Corey Kertzie and keyboardist Joe Bellanti, Ruch is putting a new spin on the organ trio format, marrying strong, hook-laden instrumental themes to abundant flights of improvisational fury.

Last week, the band played a widely viewed show streamed as part of the Band Together Buffalo series. It was a fiery, passionate and deeply musical affair. It also generated a bit of pushback from a shell-shocked populace grown increasingly vigilant when it comes to guidelines for social distancing during the pandemic.

Ruch responded to the suggestion that, by performing together on the same stage, they were violating, if not the letter of social distancing laws, then perhaps the spirit of them.

“Right, and I must say that my greatest supporter, my wife, refused to watch the broadcast because of those concerns and the optics involved,” Ruch said. “I had mixed feelings myself, right up until I got there (Buffalo Iron Works), when I realized that (Band Together Buffalo co-leaders) Dave Guilford and Marc Odien had every safety precaution really dialed in.

“They had hand sanitizer from Buffalo Distilling that we were all liberally applying each time we touched anything that wasn’t ours, and the bathrooms were stocked with good soap. None of us came within 8 feet of each other, which was really bizarre – I’m a big hugger. Of course, there was no audience whatsoever, so it was five of us plus Tyler Westcott, who played before us, in a room that holds 400.

“That’s certainly safer than being at the grocery store right now. If we could spread some hope and cheer to housebound friends and neighbors in the process, well, that’s all good.”

Beginning in 2014, Ruch developed a series of virtual field trips and online cultural arts programs for the educational world, so the idea of moving from the corporeal to the virtual musical worlds was not wholly new to him.

“There are lots of different audiences out there that I thought I might be able to bring some joy to via live Facebook broadcasts – kids who are out of school, housebound adults with an interest in history, and, of course, music fans,” he said.

Since the pandemic forced the closing of any and all venues where Ruch would conduct his business, he’s gracefully pivoted, creating a weekday series that airs on Facebook Live each day at noon, where he combines storytelling with traditional folk songs and some Grateful Dead tunes, tackles the odd request and even engages in some teaching.

“The response has been really great so far – I’ve been tweaking my setup as I go, and people have been very appreciative with their comments and tips/donations, which come in via PayPal and Venmo during and after each broadcast,” Ruch said. “Obviously, this has all been a huge change, and because I handle all my own bookings and office work throughout the year in addition to giving hundreds of performances, I’m used to being in 'constant hustle' mode.

“So what do I do with a little time on my hands? I create a five-days-a-week series so I can keep doing what I love. As it turns out, replace a bit of the lost income along the way.”

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