Starlit Ways embraces the new normal of virtual gigs

Joel Oliphint
Starlit Ways

Before she even reached school age, Rose Nkechi Onyeneho would sing along to songs on the radio in her home country of Gabon in West Central Africa. The experience introduced her to a hugely diverse range of music, from songs popular in countries across the continent to classic French pop by artists like Jacques Brel and Francis Cabrel.

Expanding that range even further was Nkechi’s father, a native of Nigeria and a big fan of American country and folk music. “I was exposed to Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers. It was a mix of all those different genres,” said Nkechi, speaking by phone alongside Columbus native Chris Glover, her musical partner in Starlit Ways. The duo will take part in the virtual “Steadfast and Friends” event on Saturday, Oct. 16, held in lieu of the annual Steadfast Festival.

After moving to the states about 10 years ago, Nkechi met Glover at church. A guitarist, Glover was raised in the church and grew up with the gospel music of Kirk Franklin and Richard Smallwood, along with a dose of modern hip-hop. “In school, if you weren’t listening to 107.5 you weren’t cool,” he said.

Nkechi and Glover began playing together in 2014. In the beginning, the duo would busk for three to four hours during Gallery Hop, pulling from an ever-growing, genre-defying catalog of cover songs, from European pop and jazz standards to modern classics. Those busking sessions led to gigs at coffee houses and other Columbus venues, gradually growing the profile of Starlit Ways.

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When the pandemic hit, Starlit Ways hunkered down and continued working on some original songs for a future release. “The good thing about everything being a little bit more quiet with the pandemic is that it's given us more time to practice and hone our craft,” Glover said. The duo also quickly pivoted to virtual gigs, performing online for Java Central and Streetlight Guild. From there, other gigs followed: CAPA, Natalie’s, Rambling House.

The new way of performing, though, required a change in mindset. “We had to find an avenue to get back that energy that comes from a room filled with an audience. It’s a different feel when you have to sing looking at the camera. But that's when we look within ourselves,” Nkechi said. “It’s making those lyrics stick to us first, and then what we're feeling when we're performing, … our hope is that those who listen to us will also feel the same. And that makes it just like we’re in front of people.”

“It makes you think of what you're in it for. Are you in it for the love of the music? For us, it's our genuine passion for being able to play for others, whether it's virtual or not. It keeps us motivated, because even when we're playing a set live, in person, we think about how whoever is there is meant to be there, whether it's a fully packed house or two or three people passing by on the street. Whoever comes to enjoy it is meant to be there,” Glover said. “The same concept goes for virtual. ... That's what keeps us moving. If it brings a smile and encourages whoever is listening to it and makes their day a little better, then we've done our part.”