As the concert industry begins to figure out what social distancing measures look like for live shows once the country reopens, locally, musicians are getting a practice run. Now, six weeks into the stay-at-home order, neighborhood concert series have begun to pop up, as bars and music venues remain shuttered. Musicians are setting up outside of homes, on their front porches and even on sidewalks so neighbors can enjoy music from their front lawns, maintaining 6 feet from other “concert goers.” Here’s a look at a few live music series taking place across town every weekend.
Friday and Sunday, 5 p.m.
“This whole series came about when we found out how many musicians live in the [Sunset Park] neighborhood,” says 25-year-old Wesley Ganey, who’s riding out the pandemic at his father’s house rather than at his residence in Asheville. “Various people mentioned how much they missed going to venues and seeing bands. My father mentioned I should sit outside on the stoop with my guitar and see what happens. To my surprise, people came out and stuck around.”
That was the first week of April. Ever since, Ganey has played every Friday and Sunday from 5 p.m. to sundown, with various musicians in the neighborhood sitting in, too. Jared Michael Cline, Kenna Maude Rock, Ciara Rose, Taylor Salvetti, CB Johnson and Big Al Hall all have joined. Ganey has played guitar for 15 years and is in the Blue Ridge Pistols back in western NC. He posts on Sunset Park’s Facebook page about his upcoming sets, which have so far included covers songs ranging from Tom Petty to Ralph Stanley to Blink-182.
“The most popular have been fast bluegrass tunes,” according to Ganey. “People love to get up and dance.”
Originally, he and the other musicians didn’t play for money. They just wanted to jam and utilize all this extra pandemic time creatively. But folks started asking for their Venmo accounts. “Audience members implored us to make one,” Ganey says.
Anyone in the neighborhood is welcome to play, but they must bring their own equipment. Ganey makes announcements throughout the set to encourage people to maintain appropriate distance away from others.
Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Behind New Hanover Regional Medical Center, at Parham and Granville in the Glen Meade neighborhood, folks are spreading out 6 to 10 feet, and some are even tailgating in their cars to enjoy the “Park on Parham” series. Local band Kennedy Park began the series in their yard after the majority of their gigs were canceled due to the novel coronavirus. Made up of John Michael (guitar), Jordan Hope (vocals), Brian Witted (piano, vocals) and Thomas “TK” Klinger (guitar, bass), the band decided to dedicate the music to the heroic health care workers showing up for work during such stressful times.
“The medical professionals are on the front lines risking their lives,” says Tracy Pope, fiancé to John Michael and manager of the band. “We celebrate their bravery, empathy and compassion.”
Since April 11, every Saturday at 4:30 p.m., weather permitting, the family band plays through rock, pop and American standards. In fact, they can play upward of 300 songs, so curating a set each week has come rather easily. Michael even has encouraged neighborhood musicians to join them “onstage,” if they are so inclined.
“We have the room and equipment to safely accommodate an expanded band, each with their own space,” Michael assures. “We see anywhere from 50-75 people in person at our shows, and hundreds watch our Facebook livestream from around the country!”
They usually begin playing a few of their fave tunes before letting the audience engage and lead them the rest of the way. The shows have become a nice respite while the stay-at-home order is in place.
“Music combats the challenge of fear and the harmful effects of isolation and loneliness,” Pope says. Folks who have attended the shows have shown appreciation. “We have received two thank-you notes in the mail, and many thank yous in person, hundreds of messages on our live stream, and even a visit from the Wilmington PD! Apparently, there was a noise complaint, so John asked who it was and what kind of music they like.”
Saturday, 6 p.m.
Rather than depend on the audience to risk leaving their homes, Jordan Sutherland (bass, guitar, banjo, mandolin) of Tumbleweed brings music to his neighbors in downtown’s Ardmore/Carolina Place area. Since mid-April, Sutherland has asked musicians nearby—Kevin Earl, Tres Altman and Jones Smith, so far—to join him in a traveling concert series, so to speak. Sutherland puts out feelers on the neighborhood Facebook page for which streets to cover, and every Saturday, 6 p.m. – 10 p.m., he stops at all houses on the chosen streets to sing a few serenades.
“The neighbors stay on their porch and we play from the sidewalk to maintain the social distance,” Sutherland explains. “I have been very impressed by neighbors’ ability and concerns to live up to quarantine expectations.”
Sutherland had a career in mental health/social work for over 10 years before becoming a stay-at-home dad and full-time musician last year. He understands the struggles folks are going through while in confinement. More so, he appreciates his neighborhood’s Facebook group as a great support resource for him, his wife and their 1-year-old daughter.
“Whether someone needs goods, emotional support or a tune or two, the community mobilizes to help others,” Sutherland says. “Playing music is my way to give back during this difficult time, by providing comfort and connection. [It’s also] important therapy for me.”
Sutherland surveys neighbors about some of their favorite music to curate a track list suited to their tastes before each Saturday-night soiree. He has performed both originals and covers, and even takes requests.
“Recently, we lost a great musician and songwriter, John Prine,” he says. “Playing ‘Paradise’ and ‘Angel from Montgomery’ as a tribute to him, with neighbors singing along, has been a real treat.”
Sutherland also has been preparing material for a solo project and has put out new tracks with Tumbleweed. “I also started live streaming my original songs and covers from my studio,” he tells. “But I knew having direct human interactions and live music beyond the screens would be valuable for everyone right now.”
Sunday, 7 p.m.
Over in the downtown neighborhood Winoca Terrace, Beth Crookham, Lisa Rankin and Galen Hunsucker have started “Seven Songs at Sundown” on Sundays beginning at 7 p.m. “Lisa came up with the idea, actually,” Crookham says. “She wanted to use her musical talents to send positive energy out into the world.”
Best known around town as Lisa and Galen, the wife-and-husband duo of Rankin and Hunsucker are Crookham’s tenants. They set up on the upstairs deck, away from the main house, while Crookham stays on her stairs or porch. “We all have small amplification so people all around can hear us,” Crookham tells. On April 5, they dedicated a set to the recently passed Bill Withers, while Lisa and Galen played their own tunes a few weeks later. Crookham joined them last week to sing her originals.
“My songs tend to tell stories of or paint images of people I have encountered,” she says. “My first songwriting was inspired by time spent in Rwanda and two of the songs on the set list, ‘Isabelle’ and ‘So Innocent,’ were inspired by wonderful people I have met there. Another song in the set was written at No Boundaries International Art Colony and started as a funny song about a Macedonia moonshine made from yellow plums, but, as I was writing it, I started to realize the little plums were really the artists and how they inspire me and make me so happy when they come together.”
Neighbors have spread out over the sidewalk or popped up in their own yards to listen. Crookham is clear she doesn’t want the series to “grow,” necessarily. “We don’t want to encourage gathering in any way that isn’t safe,” she says. “I think the most we’ve had actually in the yard is 10, and they were well over 10 feet from one another.”
Saturday, 6 p.m.
Ten blocks east in Carolina Heights, John Hinnant started “Under the Magnolia Concert Series” by happenstance. His pastor, Eric Metts, came by to play a few tunes the Thursday before Easter.
“He was going around to different church members’ homes and doing little pop-up concerts,” Hinnant says. “A week and a half later, one of my neighbors had a back-porch show, and I later learned it was the Boone Brothers—and then my light was lit.”
Hinnant reached out to local musician Mike Blair to see if he would be interested in playing the first official Saturday evening show on April 26. It went off without a hitch, as neighbors posted up from their homes. Some who had moved in recently were able to get acquainted with their new neighborhood—at a safe distance, of course.
“I have a circular driveway, and everybody stays with their family/household unit,” Hinnant says. “It’s been a real community-builder.”
Musicians take the stage under the magnolia tree in Hinnant’s yard at 6 p.m. They publicize their Venmo accounts for tips, and there is a physical tip jar nearby for folks who wish to drop in cash.
“I’m really happy the musicians are able to make a little money,” Hinnant says. “So many people are suffering financially, but when you have a beautiful, God-given talent like music, it is truly meant to be shared with others … in person.”
Hinnant doesn’t publish his address, but says people have parked at nearby Snipes Academy and walked over with chairs to enjoy the concert at a safe distance from others. The Justin Fox Duo will play next Saturday, May 9.
How long all the neighborhood series last really depends on how long the stay-at-home order and business closures continue. Some are guessing it may be summer before nightclubs and music venues get back to business. Hinnant is more eager. “I’m really hopeful the bars will be able to open by Memorial Day and start employing these musicians again,” he says. When they do, who knows what the new normal of concert-going may look like.