By Lee Noles
Performing has always been a part of Union County resident Pete Lents’ life.
It all started by telling jokes to his friends as a child and grew in high school with singing in the choir and playing in the band. College brought the performer out even more in Lents, and after graduation, he built a reputation as a diversified musician who traveled more than 100 times a year through the Southeast.
When COVID-19 struck several months ago, though, Lents’ career and income immediately stopped.
“It destroyed my economy, there are so many dates that have been scribbled off my calendar,” Lents said. “I have dates that I have in the future that have been scratched because they weren’t sure if they were going to be able to have a show or not.”
Lents says he has lost upwards to $8,000 in just two months because of cancellations. The financial turmoil has the father of two using the live video platform Twitch to supplement his income by performing his music while supplying needed relief to others.
“We are out of work with no signs of when we are going to start again because our work depends on social gathering,” said Lents of being a professional musician. “So I turned to live streaming on Twitch to bring music to people because they still like live music and to make some money for me.”
Twitch is a subsidiary of Amazon and originally started as a way for people to live stream video games. The free platform started in 2011 and grew to include 15 million active users in 2018. Twitch now offers an assortment of content that people can view either by creating an account or through a browser window. Lents was introduced to Twitch a couple of months ago by a neighbor and has since created a channel where people with accounts can request a variety of songs.
“You come into my channel and into my chat room and I can see who is interacting, who is in the chat and then people will type a song request into the chat or into the song streamer page and I will play it for them,” Lents said. “They can donate money if they want.”
Lents said requests range from AC/DC to Billy Joel. He performs live three days a week with shows on Monday and Wednesday starting at 5 p.m. and lasting for an hour or more. Friday’s show starts at 7 p.m. and last for two hours depending on the crowd and the number of requests. Lents recently finished a four-hour set where he raised $3,000 for Walk to Cure Arthritis for the Arthritis Foundation. His 5-year-old niece has juvenile arthritis. Lents gave the money he raised to the team that walked for his niece in the fundraiser.
A challenge Lents faces on occasion is getting requests for songs he has never played before. He uses a technique he developed during his 25 years of performing to help manage the 300 songs in his catalog on Twitch. Over the years, Lents notices songs follow similar chord shifts and melody lines. Using the similarities, Lents takes attributes in one song to figure out the progression in another.
“You start learning songs really, really quickly,” Lents said of his technique. “And when someone asks you ‘Can you play that song?’ You say, ‘Let me listen to this really quickly’ and it gets easier and easier to learn new songs.”
Lents’ musical career has taken him to Chicago and much of the Southeast. He currently performs in three acts. One is a Genesis tribute band while the other is a soft rock musical group called Thurston Howell. The latter has Lents wearing a sailor cap and a white party suit much like the group’s namesake all while performing songs by Michael McDonald, Hall and Oates, and Toto. Lents also performs in an act where he and another piano player take requests from the audience.
“It is game of cat and mouse to try and get them to sing along,” said Lents of finding what the audience likes. “Whether it is Bon Jovi or if it is Queen. Whatever that carrot is, when you find it, you go with it.”
Lents is ready to get back on the road with his bands but the concerts on Twitch have not only supplied a place to perform and a way to financial stability, but an oasis for his listeners during difficult times.
“It is a great feeling because something I am doing is giving someone enjoyment,” Lents said. “Yeah, so it does make me feel good. … It’s a good experience and I am glad I can make people happy.”
Want to listen?
Learn more about Pete Lents and his Twitch show by going to www.facebook.com/BrookstoneBards. His other bands’ websites are https://thurstonhowellband.com and www.abacabtmog.com.