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In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Diana Thompson noticed at the grocery store the dazed look on nearly everyone’s face. There was panic, too, as people scrambled for such things as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, flour and yeast.

To lift people’s spirits, Thompson and her husband, Thomas (Todd), both INL employees who are active in the local music scene, organized a Facebook page called COVID Concert Series. More than six months later, following a reception neither of them expected, she has been named a recipient of Idaho’s 2020 Governor’s Awards in the Arts. Thompson was selected by Idaho Gov. Brad Little and his wife, Teresa, for the Innovation in the Arts category.

“Without Diana’s site and endless encouragement, (local) musicians might never have played a show for more than a handful of people. But now, despite stay-at-home orders, they are consistently playing global shows on Facebook, which for the time being is quite likely the biggest stage in the world,” the award citation reads.

While the Thompsons have careers with INL – Todd works in inventory management while Diana is a software analyst and integration engineer – they were mindful that with bars and small businesses shutting down, many of their friends were likely to be behind the financial eight ball.

“I knew that for a lot of musicians, this was going to be devastating,” she said.

Hoping to harness the power of social media, they turned to Facebook Live, a platform to webcast events, talks and, in this case, music. “I saw the opportunity to use it in a way that could benefit musicians whose gigs were being canceled,” Thompson said.

It took them about a day-and-a-half to set up the COVID Concert Series group. In addition to providing people entertainment, the point was to offer friends a way to keep doing what they loved and get support for doing it.

What she didn’t expect was for the COVID Concert Series to take off like it did. Within two weeks, it had over 20,000 members in more than 80 countries. More than six months later, the group has more than 34,300 members and has posted shows from Uganda, England, Scotland, Australia and Costa Rica.

Any musician, regardless of skill level, can go to the page and click, “go live.” Because it is live, performers can interact with fans in real time. No payment is required, but artists are encouraged to post links to sites where they can receive payment through such platforms as GoFundMe, Venmo, Patreon and Bandcamp. Thompson has received messages from performers telling her they were able to pay rent and buy groceries thanks to the donations they received.

Sets on average are five or six songs. Participating musicians didn’t need expensive equipment or an elaborate soundstage. While some shows have featured pro gear and lighting, other artists have submitted performances made on laptops and cellphones.

Thompson stresses that she and her husband are not doing this to make money. “I think people understood we were in it for them and not for ourselves,” she said. “Others have tried to do what we’re doing, only for profit.”

The most rewarding show so far came after they were approached by a person from Costa Rica who was seeking to organize a fundraiser to buy food for his village. While they had misgivings about working with people so far away, they helped sponsor the show and the outpouring was exceptional. “They later sent us a video of them going to pick up flats of food,” Thompson said. “It’s not every day you get to help people like that.”

Despite its global reach, Thompson continues to focus on local Idaho bands by helping them set up events, working through technical issues, and mentoring them on getting the most views for their videos. Besides her husband and his band, Almost a Trio, a fair share of INL employees submitted sets for viewing. They include Cody Scheer (2AM Logic), Dalton Dummer (Backroad Static), Michael Rolfe (Break the Broken), Kenny Nelson and Dan Prentice (SCRATCH), and Ryan Ballain (County Line).

“It might be worth mentioning Christopher Dailey from NerdsWeek as well, as he helped with some technical issues early on,” Thompson said. “It’s been a really neat experience. It really struck at the heart of a lot of people.”

Hobbies are fulfilling, and fulfilled people make more productive employees. Hobbies unearth hidden skills, alleviate stress, unite you with others, and improve quality of life — all things that will help you function better at work. See other stories about Idaho National Lab employees.

Posted Nov. 12, 2020

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