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This article was published 14/8/2020 (426 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If the audience can’t go see bands, then why not take the bands to the audience?
That’s the question the new venture Curbside Concerts aims to answer. Its roster of eight Winnipeg artists have been travelling around Winnipeg, and even to Manitoba’s cottage country, to perform on the curbs and sidewalks in front of homes to physically distant audiences who are starved for live music.
"It’s almost surprising no one’s done it before," says Romi Mayes, the singer-songwriter and promoter who is producing the Winnipeg-region shows. "What’s amazing is that for birthdays and anniversaries is to bring a show, an artist, to the people rather than them coming to the bar."
On Wednesday night in Wolseley, Double the Trouble — 16-year-old identical twin fiddlers Luc and Aidan Wrigley and their father Rob backing them on guitar — transformed a grassy boulevard between two large elm trees into a stage. A couple of dozen people sat on lawn chairs, their front steps or on blankets, folk fest style, and enjoyed the trio’s covers and original songs performed with a Métis twist.
Calgary country artist Matt Masters launched Curbside Concerts in Alberta in the spring, and the success there led to branching out the concept to other Canadian cities and regions, including Winnipeg. Not only did Curbside artists entertain audiences in a safe manner, it got singers and musicians performing again when the first Manitoba concert was held on June 19.
"When he called me and he asked me to work for him, to produce in Manitoba, I was pretty excited about it. It sounded like a great idea, especially during these times," Mayes says. "I was really sympathetic and empathetic to the reality that we were all losing work. So it became a perfect fit."
Curbside performers have played at business events, at ice-cream shops to entertain those lining up, and even bonfire parties in rural Manitoba.
Paula Henry is one of those folks who couldn’t wait for concert venues or clubs to open again. So she hit up a bunch of her friends and neighbours at her family’s cottage in Sandy Hook for $15 apiece to bring Mayes from Winnipeg to perform on July 31. The cost to hire one of the performers is $300 plus tax, and the remainder went to Mayes for a tip and gas money.
"We had about 35 people around and Romi Mayes came and she is such a good performer," says Henry, who says she had tickets for four concerts in the spring and summer that were cancelled, owing to the pandemic. "She is funny as hell and her songs are just so beautiful. She’s such a good storyteller.
"She did an online show a couple of months back when COVID started, and it was nice to see her, but it makes you miss the live music more."
The performers bring their own battery-powered microphones to perform with so there is no need to plug in equipment into the host’s home, Mayes says. That helps the artists keep their distance from the audience, for safety’s sake.
"The artist doesn’t have to step on the property," Mayes says. "Especially in this time where we want to protect the hosts, the audience and the artists, we’re finding a way to make this as safe as possible."
Mayes was planning on just arranging the concerts by the likes of singer-songwriter JD Edwards, Sweet Alibi members Amber Rose and Jess Rae Ayre, Papa Mambo founder Rodrigo Muñoz, Fubuki Daiko, Double the Trouble and Jamie Buckboro of the Honeysliders. But Masters and other friends urged her on to bring her songs to the street.
"I didn’t want to wear two hats in this project," says Mayes, a six-time Western Canadian Music Award winner and Juno Award nominee, who was glad she changed her mind. "People are so happy to have you there and they’re so appreciative. It’s probably one of the favourite gigs I’ve ever done."
Like pop-up beer gardens in vacant parking lots and the rise of food-delivery services, Mayes believes the Curbside Concerts could go on after a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is found and the threat lessens.
"Why didn’t we think of this before anyway?" she asks. "It seems like it could easily live on after the pandemic passes."
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.