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COVID-19: TD Niagara Jazz Festival adapts to a new world

New technology shaping performances during pandemic

In these new times, all of us have had to adapt to changing situations. The TD Niagara Jazz Festival is no exception.

Festival director Juliet Dunn has been working hard to figure out new ways to bring live music to the people of Niagara and beyond.

“We’ve had to kind of adapt, like everyone,” Dunn said in a phone interview.

Many of the popular event's shows will be online now, including the festival’s Backyard Series, which is normally at a secret pop-up location. The concerts are  being streamed on Facebook live, with artists being given access to the festival’s Facebook page for performances.

“So what we decided to do was live stream it,” Dunn said of the pop-up series. “It’s all new technology for us.”

She said with many things being postponed or cancelled, she’s also decided to offer people some extra Backyard Series shows online. Dunn and her husband Peter Shea performed with their French band on March 28.

Because they have some funding for the festival season, they have decided to use it to give the artists a “gift” since they’re sitting at home otherwise, she said.

Next week Dunn will perform for her birthday and do a fundraiser online for the festival.

She said the festival has streamed events before through Facebook live, but not as the sole option.

“So now we’re getting better at it,” she said.

Dunn has also started a streaming show called “Shaggy News Niagara” through a platform called Streamyard. She said the festival will probably start to use the platform for streaming concerts.

“Now we know how to cut to a clip and stuff like that, so it’s really fun,” Dunn said.

As for the annual jazz festival at Simcoe Park, she’s still holding out hope that life will get back to normal before July, and perhaps the show will go on.

“In terms of the upcoming events and summer festival, of course so many festivals have cancelled. I’d rather not cancel or postpone, I’d rather do something. But it just depends what we’re allowed to do, and I’m thinking it’s going to be small concerts, which in a way for us is OK because we’re used to doing those. We have quite a following of people who are used to our small little concerts,” she said.

“I have a feeling what we will do is a combo of small concerts and live streamed at the same time. So those who are a bit wary to come out right away, they can still enjoy the concert live from their living room. That’s the idea.”

She said once she hears back on some of the grants she’s applied for, she’ll be looking to invest in some technology to improve the online concerts – like cameras.

“And get a video company to stream it so it’s just better quality.”

She said normally their money is spent on festivals for security, stages and sound. The Simcoe Park festival costs about $50,000.

“So it would just be a transfer of costs,” she said.

She’s still working on ideas on how to restart concerts once restrictions are lifted.

“I really don’t think we’re going to go from lockdown to ‘Hey everybody, let’s have a big event in the park with 5,000 people.' I just don’t see that happening in Canada,” Dunn said.

She said she’d like to see small concerts of about 50 people with tents when it’s allowed. Right now she’s calling it the “tent-ative” concert series.

She laments that around the world many big festivals are being cancelled.

In the meantime, every Friday and Saturday they’ll still be doing a live stream concert.

So far, she said the reaction has been great. Over 2,000 people tuned in for a show by musician James Bryan, she said.

And for the artists, it’s nice playing for a larger audience.

“If a jazz musician is playing for that many people, it’s usually a corporate event and it’s background music,” she said.

Even older musicians have been embracing the online concerts, though performing for an audience you can't see is a different experience.

“It’s hard, 'cause you’re just there by yourself. No feedback from your audience,” she said.

It’s nice to see musicians around the world figuring out ways to keep performing, she said.

“Musicians need to do it because they want to play,and music’s so important for the soul. We can’t have a world without arts. We just can’t. It would just be awful.”

People have been sending her photos of themselves watching the concerts while having dinner.

She’s hoping for the best for the July 16-19 festival.

“I’ve got all of these scenarios right now. If the government says only groups of 50, I can still do a festival. It’ll just be VIP for those 50. Jazz in the Park we wouldn’t do, but what we would do is Mardi Gras. The idea is to work on a live stream Mardi Gras. We might even start doing stuff like that now, just to keep people entertained. Like you know, do live streaming of how to make a mask … maybe we could do some fun videos on how to make a classic New Orleans cocktail, or whatever, just getting people hyped. And hey, if Mardi Gras has to be live streamed, we can figure it out.”

She said she’s hoping to have a concrete plan for the festival by June 1.

“I’m pretty good at adapting to sitations,” she said. “By the age of 22 I think I lived in eight different houses. We’re immigrants from England and we just moved a lot. And I said to my mom, I hated moving as a kid but what I’ve noticed in life is that all of the kids in our family — there’s four of us — we can adapt. Change doesn’t bother us as much as some other people, because our whole life we’ve been kind of uprooted and moved about,” she said.

Upcoming live-streamed events:

'In Your Own Backyard' Series featuring pianist Attila Fias
Friday, April 17th, 2020 – 7 pm – 8pm

'In Your Own Backyard' Series featuring vocalist Juliet Dunn (Birthday Fundraiser)
Friday, April 17th, 2020 – 7 pm – 8pm

'In Your Own Backyard' Series featuring pianist Randy Stirtzinger
Friday, April 24th, 2020 – 7 pm – 8pm

'In Your Own Backyard' Series – featuring pianist/vocalist Lance Anderson
Saturday, April 25th, 2020 – 7 pm – 8pm 

'In Your Own Backyard' Series featuring pianist/vocalist Roberta Hunt
Friday, May 1st, 2020 – 7 pm – 8pm 

'In Your Own Backyard' Series 'Chris in the Crescent City' featuring trombonist Christopher Butcher 
Saturday, May 2nd, 2020 – 7 pm – 8pm 

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