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Brightening the neighbourhood with a concert from the porch (8 photos)

In this Arts and Culture feature we go live from the front porch and the backyard of local musicians finding new ways to hone their crafts and reach their audiences

A section of Elora Street was alive with the sound of music last weekend as neighbours and friends gathered for the Play Music on the Porch Day Worldwide concert.

“I did this at the very beginning of the pandemic and I was going to do it again and I realized we have to watch for social distancing and that sort of thing,” said event host Bob MacLean. “I decided to put it on again now and expand it a little bit with some friends.”

The free concert raised more than $300 in donations for the Guelph Drop In Centre and drew dozens of people from the community to watch local musicians perform from a safe distance on MacLean’s front porch.

“It didn’t take a lot of promotion to make this happen and it is a pretty good turn out for a Saturday afternoon street event,” said MacLean. “These are all neighbours and friends. The Sunny Acres Park community has a presence on Facebook so, you just post something there and everyone in this area hears about it.”

Among those present were Evelyn Gould and her 90-year-old mother Alice McNeish.

“I was ready to take my mother home but then Bob and Carol started playing and she dropped her walker and started dancing,” said Gould.

“I have never had so much fun in my life,” said McNeish.

Many of those present had not been to a concert since the start of the pandemic and the same was true for some of the performers.

“People are looking for anywhere to play,” said MacLean. “For those who make their living at it, they’re having a really tough time.”

MacLean and Carol Pines performed as the duo MacKella Road followed by Peter Light, Rob Witherspoon and duo Tannis Slimmon and Lewis Melville.

Slimmon and Melville have been taking the porch concert concept to the next level by live-streaming concerts from a shed Melville built in their backyard.

“It’s the shed of dreams,” joked Melville. “Build it and they will come.”

He originally planned to use the shed as a painting studio.

“When he was making the deck, he realised we could actually have concerts out here in the yard,” said Slimmon. “That was about two years ago and the idea kind of sat in our heads.”

The pandemic has forced concert and festival organizers to cancel live events and many are turning to live streaming to reach their audiences.

“We were asked to do a concert for Hillside and the National Art Centre,” said Slimmon. “We hadn’t played since January and one of our friends suggested we do a concert before that concert to get your chops up. So, the week before that concert, we did the first one. That was mid-June and we have done seven or eight since.”

Live streaming is a new thing for the veteran performers, but they approach it with a measure of pop-culture nostalgia.

“It’s like the old Ed Sullivan Show,” said Melville. “We are trying to get back to that old live variety show format.”

They have enlisted the help of someone familiar with the technology.

“We have been stumbling along and we have this assistant Zhyfhs,” said Slimmon. “She has been really, really helpful in learning the live-streaming technology and she monitors the live comments during the performances. The feedback has been really encouraging and heartening.”

Slimmon acknowledges that live streaming is no substitute for being at a concert.

“I still don’t feel connected to the live stream,” she said. “It’s a bit of a foreign feeling. We tried a couple live streams with nobody here and it just feels so strange.”

They can only accommodate a small number of people in their backyard but having a live audience makes a big difference for everyone.

“To have people here close enough to the stage, I really feel like I am a performer again,” she said. “People have been really emotional just because they are able to hear live music again.”

They have a website where people can sign up for notifications and get a link to the live performances.

Many of the shows are recorded so people can watch them anytime on Facebook

The next live show featuring Anita Cazzola and Sam Boer as Samson Wrote will begin streaming at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sep 5.

“The initial thing is live with all its warts and flaws, which is like early television,” said Melville.  “We have to practice and make the mistakes to learn how to do it. It is hard but we have to learn how to be fearless.”

They are relying, for now, on donations and tips to cover costs.

“It’s not about the commodification of music,” said Melville. “It is dealing with this change that is happening certainly with the world of art and creativity. It becomes a new art form and it’s not one I am familiar with. We have the occasional dark night of the soul as we wonder how we are going to navigate these turbulent waters, but in the end we just have to get down to it.”