Backyard Concerts — The future of live music?

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Helen Ruhlin

“Live From the Hive” stage setup

Helen Ruhlin, Opinion Editor

As I meandered down a secluded Maine driveway, lawn chair under my right arm and cooler in-tow, I didn’t feel like I was headed for a concert. It had been almost a year since I’d been to a live show but somehow, four of my closest friends and I had managed to snag rare tickets to see Lady Lamb––one of my favorite artists––in a venue like no other: her own backyard.

The once blissful days of crowd surfing and mosh pits are long gone for concertgoers around the globe. Since mid-March, COVID-19 has put a halt on all in-person music gatherings resulting in some creative virtual solutions. Huge headliners like the Grateful Dead and Post Malone took to Youtube and Instagram to livestream their tunes for fans to listen from home. 

While virtual shows were enough to quell the musical hunger for some––they didn’t quite fill the void for me. The experience of attending a concert goes beyond the audio; it’s in the outfit you agonize over, the pre-concert playlist for the drive in, the overpriced weak cocktails that inevitably end up on your shirt, the secret spot where you stash your jacket to avoid coat check, and the irreplaceable maze of sweaty humans moving to the beat in unison. Concerts are uncomfortable, loud, and experiential in ways that simply cannot be recreated through a computer.

Lady Lamb first announced this idea of going “Live from the Hive,” the hive being her yard, in an Instagram post detailing the 45-person limit, COVID-protocols, and warning that tickets would go fast––and fast they went. The show was sold out within minutes of going on sale, but a friend of mine had bought them in seconds. Suddenly I became one of the lucky 45. 

Checking into the concert at Lady Lamb’s coastal Maine home was atypical, in fact the bouncer who took our tickets was none other than her own mom. After applying some hand sanitizer and filling out a contact tracing form, we moved to the yard where masked couples and small groups were laying out blankets and folding chairs. The whole place was surrounded by trees which were illuminated by string lights hung all across the yard. A compact amplifier, microphone and couple of guitars atop a three-foot platform made up the simple rustic stage.

Folding chairs and blankets spread across the lawn of the singer-songwriter Lady Lamb. (Helen Ruhlin)

Unlike the last performance I’d seen, there was no rushing to get a close, center-stage spot, no lines to use the bathroom, no resenting of tall people for obscuring my view, and no drunk attendees sloppily falling all over the place. This was distinctively calm. 

Other guests were cordial. We exchanged a few “where are you from?”s and “how far was the drive for you?”s with those around us, but there was no real intermingling in conversation as everyone sprawled out well beyond six feet apart from one another in the grass. We all had the same view of the stage and tantamount passions for live music. Everyone seemed genuinely grateful just to be there.

Lady Lamb played solo for about an hour. Her set was mainly composed of older work from her first few albums which was quite the crowd pleaser. Attendees had the opportunity to email their top three favorite songs in advance so there was truly an anthem for all. She played fiery songs and somber melodies that made me want to carelessly sway my body and tearfully tell my friends beside me that I loved them all at the same time. I don’t think there is a word that encapsulates the way that concert made me feel. 

It felt sacred and intimate like embracing a friend I hadn’t seen in years or saying goodbye to my parents in an airport. Nonetheless it was overwhelmingly stimulating. I had heard every Lady Lamb song at least a dozen times before yet each one she played sounded like it had been written de novo––just for my ears. 

Leaving the concert gave me a familiar dreamlike sense of did that really just happen? that had been absent for months. I also left feeling like a bit of harmony had been replaced somewhere deep inside myself. 

Amidst an era plagued by isolation and fear, the need for community in the form of musical connection has never been more vital. As NPR stated in an article covering a similar kind of secret roof-top concert in Philadelphia, “Shows like this are a rare, if imperfect, bright spot for the independent live music industry, which currently sits, like so many, on the brink of catastrophe.” 

We cannot predict what the future holds for live music, but if the new norm looks anything like a backyard concert––I’m all for it.