Live music missed a beat when the coronavirus descended on Park City last spring — but the hiatus didn’t last long. Mountain Town Music (MTM), the beloved local nonprofit that annually inundates the town and county with hundreds of free outdoor concerts, attracting thousands of people, quickly found a way to keep the beat. “It was a huge pivot from what we normally do, but we had to do something,” says Brian Richards, executive director at MTM.
When all the scheduled concerts were abruptly canceled last spring, a lot of local bands were out of work and MTM faced fiscal Armageddon. Brian joined forces with Summit County Arts Council, Park City Community Foundation, and local musicians in a desperate attempt to salvage the summer.
“We realized pretty quickly that COVID wasn’t going away, so we just started throwing darts at the wall. Music is such a panacea for people and there’s nothing that can replace it. To buy time while we figured things out, we started streaming local live music,” says Brian. Dubbed “Locals Lounge,” the online programming gave struggling Park City musicians a virtual stage and brought in meager online donations.
Then, in early summer, Brian began organizing free, outdoor “pop-up” concerts in local neighborhoods. He targeted homes with spacious backyards, which were eagerly offered up by local residents. In all, he staged about 100 backyard concerts throughout the county that were attended by small groups of masked, socially distanced music lovers. Audiences ranged from 30 to 50 people and donations were divided between performers and MTM.
Several of the summer concerts were staged in underserved communities. Those were Brian’s favorites.
“We’d show up unannounced in a parking lot with a band and just start playing. We didn’t even ask for donations,” he chuckles. The pop-up outdoor concerts rocked the house at Aspen Villas, Iron Horse, and a few other local apartment complexes where audiences could socially distance. “The people who live there were suffering tremendously; many had lost jobs and couldn’t pay rent. To go there and put on music and see the kids dancing and how happy everyone was for a couple of hours, that sort of epitomized what MTM is all about.”
Though the concerts were a huge hit, MTM only brought in about 20 percent of what it makes in a normal year. Nevertheless, the summer was a modest success for MTM, says Brian, who firmly believes he was put on this earth “to turn people on to music and use it to make people happy and bring them together.”
Now, after surviving the summer, he’s pivoting once again as winter sets in.
Brian admits that this winter will pose a real challenge for MTM, “But we’re back in the kitchen, cooking up some musical goodness,” he grins. The recipe will include small, catered concerts in people’s homes, mostly with solo performers or duos. And of course, pandemic protocols will be followed. The incorrigible promoter is also exploring more outdoor concerts, perhaps ones that include Christmas carolers or other pop-up performances on Main Street.
Brian hopes to resume larger outdoor concerts next spring and summer if the pandemic wanes. “Once things settle down in May or June and we understand what we can do within the guidelines of the county and state, we want to make music happen. So be on the lookout, we’re not going to disappear,” he promises, reciting his trademark mantra: “One community under a groove.”