The Friend Jam – A Virtual Festival with Music, Gaming, Comedy, Poetry, Created by Skye Zentz

Words by Aliki (Aly) Marie Pantas Semones.
Photos courtesy of Skye Zentz.

Meet Skye Zentz: singer, songwriter, producer & music educator.  She would also describe herself as “a mega sensitive Hufflepuff, proudly embracing her weirdness and working to adapt and evolve whenever possible!” She is also the “ultimate extrovert” and an Aries. I have to agree that Skye is absolutely incredibly passionate, motivated,  and she truly builds our community with her very cheerful disposition! (remember when she did this song for Norfolk called “The Tide” and this one for Naro Video?!) It’s no surprise to me that she came up with not only a way for her to celebrate her birthday with her friends, but to share her friends’ art with anyone who tuned in to a festival that she calls “The Friend Jam”.

During this weird time, everyone is finding new and creative ways to celebrate with friends and family in a healthy & safe way. Some people are doing virtual group video parties, some are doing drive-by parades. Skye decided that despite being shut down one week before her birthday, she was still going to celebrate with her friends! Needles to say, when she was told for her birthday “#1: I can’t go anywhere, but #2: I also can’t hug my friends [it] was very very weird for [her]”. 

Skye Zentz playing a stringed instrument.

When I asked Skye what inspired her to create The Friend Jam, she said  “I knew early on that with the shutdown I wasn’t going to be able to go anywhere and do any work. I wasn’t going to be able to go to The Muse where I teach, see people out in the world. I knew that I needed something to stay busy with and to work on. Also I knew that so many of my friends in the creative community were losing all of their work for the foreseeable future. So, what is a way that A: I can have something to work on, B: I can still see my friends on my birthday, and C: I can put some money into my friends’ Venmos and PayPals from the music community that’ll want to get out and see entertainment.“ 

She describes it as a three fold thing. First she thought about a facebook livestream, but she wanted to see people as well. Then she considered that she would “invite a few friends, we would all do things”. Suddenly she realized that she had “a lot of friends to ask! I know a lot of amazing, talented people! So I just, you know, I started sending messages to people.” She received a lot of positive responses – so many, that it made her decide “well, this is gonna have to be a festival!” 

Next, she had to decide the logistics of everything – “where it all happened.” Zentz decided since so many people are out of work and are at home with nothing to do so everyone’s on their computers, going virtual was the key. Everyone plays from the “stage” of their own page/ profile, but, the lineup is posted in one place, with links directing viewers where to go to see each artist. Instead of having an emcee, the previous act introduces the next act, along with the info on where to watch them.

Her first “The Friend Jam” was on March 28.  It was filled with music, comedy & poetry from the East Coast and beyond. She decided to do a second one this Saturday, April 25, called “The Friend Jam 2.0”. This one will be all new acts (except for one: Southern Charm Comedy). Skye will again open and close the festival. Last time she created a theme song for the festival with the audience at her wrap party- you can check out the first video here so you are familiar with the song for Saturday!

Zentz brought in a 4th component for the second festival that she is “really excited about because [there will be] a live role playing game” that her husband, Gabriel Robinson will be running. “So the world gets to see me and my husband be our nerdy selves, and gets to watch me act for the first time in a very long time.” Skye, Akie Bermiss from New York, and Logan McNeive from Indiana will be playing, and Gabriel will be the Game Master.  The game will  have a buddy-comedy-fantasy sort of vibe to keep with the friend jam theme. It will be played live from 2:30-5pm here.  When asked “what inspired her to add this?” she replied “When I’m thinking of who are my friends, my husband is the best of my friends. He’s been doing a lot of cool writing stuff [for role playing games]. And in quarantine, we have been playing a lot of role playing games online.”

The Friend Jam 2.0 Lineup. This can also be found on their Facebook page.

Some other acts at the festival include: Ally Klayr Tarwater with a fun singalong that is designed to get kids singing and dancing (12-12:30pm), and Ann Gray, who is one of Skye’s students (12:30 pm-1pm)- she is the youngest participant at 13 years old. Also participating, The Heart Stompers, (formerly known as Gina Dalmas and the Cow Tippin’ Playboys), an Alt-Country band and recipient of Veer Magazine’s Best Country artist from 2012-2017; Zentz’s cousin Tyler Warnalis, a DJ and musician that goes by the name Tmobyle; and The Mammals, with members Ruthy & Mike. Mike was Skye’s songwriting teacher at age 19 and was the first person outside of family and public school educators to encourage her as a songwriter. “I look up to him as a songwriter and mentor. In the folk music world, I think so much of what we do is being activists while being artists, and [Mammals] marry those two things really really gracefully.” 

Skye is excited to do a second jam because “the energy of the first one was so great and the response was so great. We’re all shut in together right now, and I think we need little bursts of serotonin. We need little ways to still have something to be excited about or worked up about. What was amazing to me was seeing the engagement level because it wasn’t just people playing concerts and everybody quietly watching. It was people commenting, people seeing that their friends were watching and then talking to their friends in the chat. It was the best kind of virtual amalgamation of what you would want to do at a festival, which is run into people that you know and share your picnic blanket with them.” Thank you, Skye, for helping us find a bit of normalcy in this virtual-only interaction period of time that we are currently in.

Friend Jam is this Saturday, April 25 starting at 11:30am and will end at midnight. You can find the festival lineup here.  Everything will be family friendly until 11 pm. Finally, Skye wants “people to know that it’s a FREE festival to watch and attend, but that tipping the artists as your budget allows is very much encouraged and appreciated. No tip is too small, but do consider what you would pay for a ticket to see this artist live, and keep in mind that they can’t do that at all right now, and they are bringing the concert directly to your living room!”