The year was starting out so well for Martin Kerr.
There were folk festivals and tours on the horizon, plus a new album of collaborations with various Edmonton artists. Then, as he was recording in the studio with fellow singer-songwriter Ann Vriend, the emails and texts started coming in. It was the second week of March, and you can probably guess what happened next.
“Coronavirus is what happened,” cheerfully acknowledges Kerr from his Edmonton home. “I mean, we knew it was something in the news, but we’ve lived through several near pandemics before and nothing had happened. It didn’t affect our lives. We were getting message after message cancelling everything we’d booked for 2020. Ann lost a European tour that she’d been working on for a year. You had to laugh to stop from crying.”
Vriend and Kerr managed to get a song out of the situation in Isolation Groove, but suddenly there was a whole lot of time for Kerr, a working musician, to fill up. Like everyone else in the early days of the pandemic, there were no opportunities to make a living. Along with manager Anthony Lovesay he wondered at how long he could live off of savings, and just how much lentils and rice he could eat.
A month later and help arrived in the form of a message to his website.
“It was from a fan who said ‘we really love you, and we’re here in lockdown and wondering if you could come play in our alleyway. We’ll sit on our balcony and sip wine while you sing.’ It was a quarter of my asking price, but it was right around the corner from where I live so I figured why not?”
In Kerr’s own words it turned out to be a “very cool thing,” as neighbors appeared on balconies and the residents of a seniors home across the alley took advantage of the free entertainment.
“They were singing along and dancing,” Kerr recalls, “and you could see in their faces what this meant after being locked down. People needed it so much; the snow was melting, people were walking dogs and riding bikes, stopping by to check it out. There was even a police car that stopped to listen to a few songs.”
The lesson wasn’t lost on his manager, who posted a few photos of the concert on social media and asked who else wanted in on the action. Turns out a lot of people were jonesing for the live music experience, as offers came in thick and fast. Thus was the Stay Home Street Concert series born, along with a new way to do things in very uncertain times.
Within a few days, Kerr was playing multiple shows a day, often over 15 a week. From April to July they rushed to fill requests, somehow cramming in close to 300 in total. Even with the strict restrictions then in place, Kerr was able to fulfill his rock ‘n’ roll duty.
“At the beginning, it was very strict, 15 people max on driveways, balconies, and front lawns. It actually worked with my philosophy, which has always been to bring music to people rather than asking them to come to me when it’s convenient for me. We were really careful about making sure we weren’t fined or shut down, and doing our best to work within the rules, like not announcing where we were playing and just performing for the people who lived on that block.”
Kerr began to take the gas off the pedal as far as live shows went when he hit 250 so he could turn attention back to his upcoming album of collaborations. Now he’s finishing up in the studio, preparing to release singles through the winter in anticipation of a full release when circumstances warrant. He’s proud of his latest effort, which features an impressive roster of co-songwriters, including Juno Award winner Celeigh Cardinal, Maddie Storvold (winner of CTV’s The Launch), Paul Woida, and others.
“I can’t make plans for tours, and I had to postpone my crazy dream gig at the Jubilee Auditorium in November that I sold out (it’s been rescheduled for Sept. 2021), but I can put out music. I kind of think it’s necessary, actually; one of our slogans is that music is an essential service, and we need to keep going through all of this.”
Source: Sudbury StarShare: