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A Nightly Zoom Party of Music, Laughter and Generosity at Inside Lands

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The nightly Zoom party Inside Lands unites the movers and shakers of Bay Area food, cannabis and nightlife. During shelter-in-place, it's become a much-needed space for laughter and relief when many are struggling to cope with isolation. (Inside Lands )

Every night, dozens of people separately sheltering in place log on to Zoom for a variety show that brings together the movers and shakers of the Bay Area’s nightlife, restaurant, wellness and cannabis industries for two hours of carefree fun.

Some conduct drunk makeup tutorials. Others lead the group in yoga sessions. And still others teach viewers how to roll lumpia and mix craft cocktails. Live performances alternate in 10–20 minute spurts while the chat blings with viewers’ commentary and shout-outs. And when it’s time for DJ sets, the screen lights up with videos of guests cooking dinner, dancing or hula-hooping in their homes.

That’s the scene at Inside Lands, a grassroots virtual party founded by J Tran, Jenn Lui and Kat Reyes, three friends who met in Oakland’s nightlife and bring together a breadth of expertise from different fields. Tran worked in music festivals and is part of a fashion and cannabis startup, Sundae School, which seeks to destigmatize weed in the Asian American community. Lui is the manager of the popular Oakland bar and venue 7th West, known for rap DJ nights, patio concerts, Filipino food and colorful murals visible from BART. And Reyes is an ambulatory care nurse for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Together, they curate programming that resonates across subcultures, and 100% of proceeds go back to the performers. “We realized it became a safe space, and it became more than just music,” says Tran. “It became a program about mental wellness, learning new things, checking up on your friends.”

With Mental Health Monday and Wellness Wednesday happening weekly on Inside Lands, self-care is a big focus on top of the entertainment. “Because of the shelter-in-place situation, we’re coming across really serious issues of depression, feeling isolated, feeling like you’re going through this alone,” says Reyes. “And I think that’s why we value Inside Lands so much and why Inside Lands has been such a help for people.”

Indeed, prior to shelter-in-place orders to stop the spread of coronavirus, medical experts already considered loneliness an epidemic that affected 47% of American adults. Because humans have evolved as social creatures, chronic isolation can trigger a stress response that increases blood pressure and is linked to early mortality. So social gatherings really can be a form of medicine.

Fortunately, daily Inside Lands events have created a tightly knit community, namely because Zoom software allows for interaction, enabling guests to keep in touch with or make new friends. One performer, for example, recently reached out to Tran, Lui and Reyes for tips on how to send money to a family member who was in trouble in the Philippines, which is currently under a strict lockdown.

“The idea of community and us jumping on when we need each other is the coolest thing I’ve seen so far,” Reyes says.

“Even if you’re quarantined alone, you have us still,” adds Lui. “And even if we don’t know you, we can get to know you.”

Financially supporting the creative community is another major driving force of the event. The Inside Lands team, which also includes sound engineer Alan Chen and graphic designer Jordan Yee, tallies up each week’s Venmo donations and splits them equally among the week’s performers. That means those performing on a more low-key Tuesday evening make the same amount as those who share their talents more high-traffic days like Friday and Saturday.

The pay is typically modest, enough to cover about a week’s groceries, and organizers say they’re inspired by the fact that artists who are still employed at their day jobs often forgo their tips so the unemployed or furloughed can have more. Indeed, recent research from Data for Progress shows that as many as 52% of people under 45 years old have had their work hours reduced or have been laid off since the start of the pandemic. “A lot of our friends are in the gig economy or restaurant industry so they were hurt first,” says Tran.

That spirit of generosity is a guiding principle of the event: some of the performers have plugged nonprofits during their sets, encouraging viewers at home to donate, and proceeds from a recent evening went entirely to the Alameda County Food Bank.

For those who miss going out, Inside Lands serves as a fun diversion. But Tran, Reyes and Lui see their mission as much deeper. They record each virtual gathering, creating a real-time archive of how people are adapting to the world’s drastic changes. Without a coronavirus vaccine in sight, it’s unclear what shape social interactions will take in the months to come. Years from now, Inside Lands will be a chronicle of this transitory time, from the old ways of the world to the new.

“During a global pandemic, the creatives are the historians,” Tran says. “And we’re documenting that everyday.”


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