It was July 6th, 2020. With active COVID lockdowns, and fear mounting over a rising global pandemic, Tim Bartsch woke up with a renewed hope. AIDS 2020: 23rd International Aids Conference had gone live, and with it the Southern Time Band was performing live, on demand in their first ever virtual album launch.
Okay, so their performance wasn’t technically live; It was a 30-minute staged video performance, available on demand for virtual conference attendees. It cannot be denied that COVID made things complicated. However, this was the official release of an HIV positive band’s first album, Lost in Love No More, and that signified something significant to Tim.
With this release, Tim knew he was one step closer to fully sharing the depths of his emotional journey. The album uses the poetry of music to illustrate how a viral infection like HIV is not, in fact, a death sentence. Lead singer T (aka Tim Bartsch) can attest to that reality as he himself almost died in 2009 when his untreated HIV infection pushed him into a literal fight for his life against the final stages of an active AIDS infection. As an AIDS survivor, Tim’s onstage persona, T, gives him the courage to stand up and fight back against a system that has failed him.
Understanding that the weight of this story had to be reflected in this virtual performance, we marked this unique moment with an offer of support for UNAIDS. With no working budget, we managed to deliver an audio-visual journey that stands as a poetic expression of overcoming, even after all realistic hope has died. It stands as an invitation to a community where we can come together in mutual support; where we can agree to disagree and still empower each other to thrive. Each song in this debut performance carries its own unique story. Each piece designed to be appreciated independently, while also illustrating an overarching story line with a single, cohesive message. If you will allow me, I would like to explore that journey with you here, as I enjoyed directing, filming and editing this project. Paying homage to David Bowie, the performance opens with Lost in Love. It is here we are first introduced to T in a sterile environment, isolated and alone. Reflecting the gateway to isolation his viral infection, as a member of the HIV positive community, represented in his life. Desperate for love, hidden behind a mask of makeup, T initiates a journey of self discovery. Beginning initially with theatrics, establishing a persona to help him tell a difficult story. Time. Lost in Love leads us to Time, where we enter another reality with T. This other worldly being, T, is asserting his influence, reshaping the broken world around a young dreamer to shelter him from his own pain. A beautifully eerie piece that always left me with an unsettled feeling. At this point in the performance we take a step back, allowing the viewer space to breath, as we officially introduce T. Lead singer of Southern Time Band, T shares some context for the emotional journey driving through the album. It is here that T confirms that he is HIV positive, and offers some insight into how that positive diagnosis overturned his world and sent him on a path to seek hope in some of the darkest places. This brief interview prepares us to truly appreciate Desert Moon, T’s personal experience with deep despair as a result of his original diagnosis. Here, once again T is alone. This time however we can see T’s struggle with lost hope projected over his entire performance. In isolation, T is no longer in a sterile environment, and his own inner turmoil has overtaken everything he knows. At this point hope feels out of reach for this struggling AIDS survivor. With the weight of that pain still hanging in the air we meet Justin; another HIV positive member of the Southern Time Band. He speaks to his own personal hope as it is manifested through his HIV activism, and then discusses his personal struggle to find love in a world where people still don’t understand the realities of HIV. Justin’s personal story sets the stage for the love ballad that stands as the climax for this virtual performance. In Searching for Love, paying homage to Freddie Mercury, T takes us through a young dreamers journey from self doubt and anguish through to a hope that love might actually be real. Neville represents a celebration of reconciliation that gives the audience opportunity to wind down after the artistic pain expressed throughout the performance so far. Vibrant and lively, T serenades the audience with his poetry in this piece. And as we come to the end of the performance, the audience is afforded opportunity to enjoy When the Fire Dreams as the credits roll. For those who hang around to enjoy the music, a special treat in the form of an invitation into the recording studio with the band brings us to the real end of the story. Remember, we began the concert performance in sterile isolation, hiding T behind a mask of makeup. But Southern Time exists with a vision to foster equitable community, and the full journey is only completed after the credits roll, because that’s when we return to real life.
In the end, you are invited to participate. To stand with others in your life, holding onto hope for a brighter future.