Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 21/8/2020 (518 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Livestreamed performances have been the tricky new chord every musician and event organizer has had to learn in 2020.
While the vast majority of these online concerts have been free of charge — a small way for an artist or an event to connect with their music-starved audience — the Winnipeg Folk Festival is taking livestreams to the next level.
Its organizers believe people will spend a few bucks — $20, to be specific — to watch a performance at home on their TVs, laptops, tablets or cellphones.
The organization will test its hypothesis on Wednesday at 7 p.m. when it hosts an "online and unplugged" performance by Emmy Award-winning actor and folk singer Jeff Daniels that will be followed by a 15- to 30-minute Q&A session with the 65-year-old celebrity who has been in films and television for 40 years. Visit wfp.to/jeffdaniels to purchase tickets.
Some may say the festival is foolish for assuming Manitobans will spend cash for streamed concerts. Others may argue that waiting out the pandemic without trying something different would be even more foolish.
"We’re going to try this one and see how it goes, but we definitely want to explore a variety of models going forward," says Lynne Skromeda, the folk fest’s executive director. "It’s worth an experiment and it’s worth seeing what’s it’s like here."
The folk festival is seeking ways to reach its diehard audience after it had to cancel the 2020 edition of the fest, owing to COVID-19 and government regulations that restrict public gatherings.
It has streamed some free concerts, including the three-hour Winnipeg Folk Fest at Home show that was posted to Facebook and YouTube on July 11, which would have been the Saturday night of the originally scheduled festival at Birds Hill Provincial Park.
Asking people to pay for a streamed show is new territory, though.
A poll released in May by Business/Arts, a national charitable organization that seeks to combine the talents of both sectors of the economy, suggests testing the waters of paid streaming concerts could be a good bet.
The report, called the Arts Response Tracking Study and conducted by Nanos Research, found nine in 10 culture-goers "are willing to pay at least part of the ticket price to see cultural performances digitally that they would normally see in person."
However, the survey also revealed that only four in 10 could figure out what they would pay for the online experience.
Skromeda recognizes there is no guarantee people will buy in, but she remains optimistic.
"We really don’t know because it is something so new and different for us," she says. "Anything that we get, it’s going to be a real telltale sign for us as to whether or not this is something we should try to continue to explore or maybe look at it in how to do it in a different way in the future."
"There’s some opportunity here. You can’t figure it out if you don’t try."
“There’s some opportunity here. You can’t figure it out if you don’t try.” –Lynne Skromeda
Skromeda says the success of Winnipeg Folk Festival At Home, which she says has been streamed more than 75,000 times by viewers from as far away as Brazil, spurred festival organizers to try a paid online concert.
The folk festival and Daniels are splitting revenue generated from the show, but Skromeda refused to say what percentage of ticket revenue the folk fest would receive.
Daniels arrived on the movie scene in the 1980s with a supporting role in 1983’s Terms of Endearment, which won the Oscar for best picture, as well as leading roles in The Purple Rose of Cairo and Something Wild.
His most famous silver-screen role, though, is the lame-brained Harry Dunne in the 1994 hit comedy Dumb and Dumber, featuring Daniels and Jim Carrey in what has become one of the most notorious comedies of all time.
He returned to dramatic roles and went to television in 2012 to star in the HBO series The Newsroom, where he played outspoken television news anchor Will McAvoy. Daniels won the first of his two Emmy Awards for his performance in the series.
"Jeff Daniels knows Winnipeg and likes Winnipeg, having been here to film The Lookout a number of years ago," Skromeda says, referring to the 2007 Manitoba-shot heist film co-starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. "He’s always had a bit of a soft spot (for the city)."
Daniels is less known for his side career in music. He showed off his guitar and singing in the finale of The Newsroom, but he has performed throughout his movie and TV career and has nine albums to his credit, the latest being the live record Acoustic Sittin’ Tour 2018, on which he is backed by a band fronted by his son Ben.
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"He’s doing it specifically for this market and this audience and the Q&A is a really nice touch to it all," Skromeda says. "To have somebody who is a Hollywood celebrity who we have access to is something that is new and different for us."
Daniels usually performs in clubs, restored theatres and opera houses across the United States, but this summer he has pivoted to online concerts, including virtual fundraisers for the Purple Rose Theatre Company in his hometown of Chelsea, Mich.
He founded the troupe in the 1990s to give the next generation of actors an early chance to to take the stage, but like all performing arts groups in North America, it is closed as actors and staff wait out the pandemic.
He writes songs, some of which are based on his experiences in Hollywood, such as working with actor-director Clint Eastwood in the 2002 movie Blood Work. This spring he released a new song, Al Kaline, a tribute to his boyhood idol and Hall of Fame outfielder for the Detroit Tigers, who died April 6 at the age of 85.
Winnipeg Folk Fest organizers are preparing for the 2021 edition but those preparations are nothing like the ordinary grind of putting together a July party at Birds Hill Provincial Park.
That means folkies better get ready for the new normal, whether or not a vaccine or treatment is discovered to combat COVID-19.
“I think it’s probably unlikely at this point that we’re looking at the festival as it was presented in 2019, but we don’t know, so we want to try to look at different capacities, different models so we can be prepared to do something that is different than we’ve ever done before,” says executive director Lynne Skromeda.
An advantage organizers have now is more time. All summer events in Manitoba had to scramble in March and April when the coronavirus pandemic was declared and they were left with few options but to postpone or cancel shows.
“We’re learning. We’re constantly on webinars, we’re constantly talking to other event producers and seeing where the industry is going as a whole so we can be best prepared to make something happen,” Skromeda says.