The First Covid Concert Evah
Or, kids from Boston help save the summer. It's hard to say if it was the first legal concert of the shutdown, but first a little backstory. We had just finished our last show in February of 2020 with Youth In A Roman Field, when the inklings of a virus issue started growing. Within a few short weeks, it hit Connecticut, and close to where I was working in Fairfield County. At about the same time, there was a party in Westport and a bartender at a bar in Rowayton that acted as super-spreaders. People got sick, and fast. A bunch of them were hospitalized, and a friend of one of my customers was in the hospital on a ventilator for three weeks.
I was lucky to live where I do, and many of my concert regulars and friends are Yale professors or doctors. Some of them were the leading cell biologists and virologists on the planet. Consulting with them, the prognosis was a universal, "This is bad. It's going to take a long time to figure it out, we've never seen anything like this before." The concuss was clear: shut down the series, and it would probably be close to a year before things started to get back to normal.
My next show was supposed to be with Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas in mid-March. I called the agent to tell them we needed to postpone. He said, "Really? For how long? Two weeks?" I told him he might as well cancel everything for a year, and of course he didn't believe me. I got it, this was so new to everyone there's no way he could have known. We didn't know anything, period.
Spring dragged into summer. Artists were starving. I was asked to do zoom concerts by just about everyone I knew. Sad little faces on cell phones, asking viewers if they'd like a FaceTime concert of two tunes for 5 bucks. Anything. They were getting desperate. Mid-summer, and the Governor said we could start gathering outdoors, in our own little pods or cohorts, in as large a group as 75 people. Time for a show!!
Easier said than done. No one that I knew of was trying anything, and no musicians that I knew had done anything yet, so there was no one to bounce ideas off of. We kept it a concert to benefit the Madison Land Conservation Trust, but by the time the artists were paid, it would be a pretty small donation. No worries, people we re desperate to do anything. Travel was out of the question, so the band had to be local, or at least within an hour or two drive.
Enter the Ruta Beggars, a great young band out of Boston. They were game, but they were a little hesitant: they hadn't rehearsed in 6 months. We set the date for a few weeks out, and August 9, 2020, would be the official start of the really small concert world. We had to keep it quiet to avoid any chance of going over the 75 person limit. If we were doing this, it would be by the book. Email list only, and the show filled up in a couple of hours. Folks were that desperate.
Finding a place was interesting as well. A land trust volunteer stepped up and offered his large backyard. It was also located in the middle of nowhere, so at least there wouldn't be prying neighbors. There was, however, an invasion of huge Cicada Killer wasps that live in the ground, and suddenly started emerging. While they may be harmless, anything three inches long with an angry wasp-face scares the heck out of you. Fortunately, we found a part of the property where they weren't, and set up.
It went off without a hitch. No one got sick, everyone had a great time. Going forward, it was pretty clear this was the way it was going to be for a long time. The Ruta Beggars were great, the day was captured with the help of our main photographer, Amy Etra, and a new way of doing small, intimate concerts in the wild was born.
Amy then treated the band to a bunch of publicity photos for free, and I still see them being used to this day.
The rest is history, no matter how insignificant it is...Enjoy one of the first tunes they played in many months: