The coronavirus shutdown of the concert business grounded the Philadelphia band Courier Club.

The four-piece rock group’s hometown show scheduled at the Voltage Lounge was nixed, as was a tour planned in support a new EP called Drive Like Your Kids Live Here.

“It was really disappointing because it was the first time we were going to be doing a full headlining tour,” said Michael Silverglade, 21, who’s a senior in the music industry program at Drexel University.

“But we’ve kind of quickly turned it around,” said Silverglade, the Courier Club bass player, speaking from his parents’ house in Maryland. “What we have now made the most of a bad situation. And now it’s a good situation.”

That situation happens Saturday, when the band hosts Block by Blockwest: A Minecraft Music Festival, a virtual multistage gathering that the band has designed and is staging on the platform of the popular video game Minecraft.

The fest will feature more than 30 bands, including name-brand acts such as Pussy Riot, Cherry Glazerr, Sir Sly, Grandson, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, Cowgirl Clue, and Nothing,Nowhere.

Proceeds from the festival go to the CDC Foundation’s Coronavirus Emergency Response Refund.

Poster for Block by Blockwest, the Minecraft music festival being staged Saturday, April 25.
Block by Blockwest
Poster for Block by Blockwest, the Minecraft music festival being staged Saturday, April 25.

During the coronavirus lockdown, many musicians have been singing, playing, and DJing from their homes, sometimes grouping performances in festival-like lineups like Lady Gaga’s recent One World: Together at Home. (Or, coming May 1-3, the Love From Philly fest, starring Kurt Vile and more.)

Block by Blockwest is different. It offers fans an opportunity to enter a virtual world and choose between multiple stages, browse virtual art galleries, play paintball, buy merchandise, or dive into a mosh pit.

“I’m very excited about it,” said Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, the Russian punk-rock collective that gained worldwide fame when she and a bandmate were jailed in 2012 after an anti-censorship protest performance in a Moscow cathedral.

The Minecraft avatar for Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot.
Block by Blockwest
The Minecraft avatar for Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot.

When she heard about BXBW from Courier Club manager D.J. Sutera, Tolokonnikova thought the idea was “incredibly sick. And I wanted to be a part of it,” she said, speaking from a location she didn’t disclose because of safety concerns.

“It’s cool. I think we should use technology to share our passion and political agenda. It allows people to see musicians without traveling far, or without getting out of their houses. As an introvert, I totally support it.”

“When Pussy Riot hit us up, that’s when I knew this was going to be something,” Courier Club guitarist Ryan Conway said of BXBW, which he says in on track to draw over 10,000 participants Saturday, starting at 3 p.m.

Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, who will play the Block by Blockwest festival on Minecraft on April 25.
Sasha Sofeev
Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, who will play the Block by Blockwest festival on Minecraft on April 25.

The attraction has to do not only with the bands, but also with the depth of the experience.

“A lot of people are doing these live streams from their living room, and that’s cool,” said Conway, talking from his home in Old Kensington in Philadelphia.

“But it doesn’t have the same interactive feel that this is going to bring. People can actually simulate going to a festival and engage with other people through the character of the game. It’s an actual interactive, immersive experience.”

Here’s how it works: To log on to BXBW as a full participant, you need the Java edition of Minecraft, a “sandbox” survival game, which allows gamers to build custom environments, making it well suited for staging virtual music events. Earlier this month, emo band American Football headlined its own Minecraft fest.

If you want to experience BXBW in full glory, you must have Minecraft. The game retails for $26.95. But you can also watch the fest for free, without interactive options, on Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and Instagram Live. Go to blockbyblockwest.com for more info.

“I got a message from my manager saying, ‘Hey, there’s this virtual festival happening,' ” said Joe Mulherin, the singer and rapper who performs as Nothing,Nowhere. He’s a top-line attraction on the BXBW poster, along with Pussy Riot and Canadian singer-songwriter Jordan Benjamin, known as Grandson.

“Then I saw it was happening in Minecraft, and I was like, ‘Hold on, sign me up!’' ” said Mulherin, 27, speaking from his home in Vermont. “It’s awesome because it’s essential right now for people to hear live music and feel like they’re part of something. And Minecraft is the perfect creative world to do that in.”

That’s because, “you can create your own world,” he says. “It’s a survival game. You’re gardening. You’re building a home. It’s just a great escape from reality. And I think that’s what kids need right now. An escape from inside their rooms, inside their home. And just the fact that you can jump into a virtual mosh pit: I’m in.”

Philadelphia band Courier Club will present the Block by Blockwest Festival on Saturday, April 25, with over three dozen bands performing. The virtual festival is being staged on the platform for the online video game Minecraft.
Courtesy of the artist
Philadelphia band Courier Club will present the Block by Blockwest Festival on Saturday, April 25, with over three dozen bands performing. The virtual festival is being staged on the platform for the online video game Minecraft.

“We’ve built the world in the game to be a real festival,” said Conway, 24. In designing BXBW, Courier Club, which also includes singer Timothy Waldron and drummer Jack Kessler, borrowed stage design ideas “from Lollapalooza, Coachella, places like that. You can walk up to the merch stand with your character, click on the merch you want, and it takes you to the band’s page.”

BXBW “started as joke,” Conway said. “But then we thought about it, and realized it might actually work.” To check if it would, they sent a text to Steven Silverglade, Michael’s computer-wiz 18-year-old brother. The band shared his profane response on their Instagram: “Lmfaoo.” But he came aboard to help design the fest.

Artists’ 20-minute sets will be prerecorded, but they’ll control their avatars onstage and off. Tolokonnikova says she’ll debut a (fictional) previously unheard Pussy Riot song about killing a rapist by sticking a stiletto heel into his neck.

Benjamin, speaking from Los Angeles, said he’s looking forward to engaging with gathered gamers. “There are two ways you can connect with people,” he says. “You can try to attract them. Or you can go to where they already are.”

BXBW could be the first of many Courier Club virtual fests.

“So, let’s say this goes really well, we could do events with different vibes, like a BXBW 2, or a DJ-focused one,” Conway says. “If these rumors about large concerts being canceled until 2021 are true and virtual spaces are the only places people can gather, this is an opportunity to build a sense of community.”