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Ditch Music Rolls Socially Distanced Concerts Into Tempe Neighborhoods

Published: Tuesday, February 16, 2021 - 12:24pm
Updated: Tuesday, February 16, 2021 - 12:27pm
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STEVE GOLDSTEIN: If you listen to The Show on a regular basis, you've heard us talk about the impact concerts being canceled during the pandemic has had on artists, venues and fans, and even with vaccinations increasing, we're not likely to see dramatic changes anytime soon with how comfortable most people are with being within inches rather than six feet of each other to catch one of their favorite acts in person. It was in this environment that Tempe's Paul Kent introduced Ditch Music — rolling concerts that rode through neighborhoods featuring some of the Valley's favorite musicians and some sounds of kids playing and dogs barking on their front lawns. I spoke with Paul Kent recently and asked him to explain how he came up with the idea of Ditch Music.

PAUL KENT: I had this idea of kind of like a strolling minstrel kind of thing with someone with a guitar walking around the neighborhood, kind of serenading the neighborhood. And as I talked to a few of the neighbors and then tried with a musician friend of ours, how that would work — it really wasn't going to work, having a musician move around via walking around. So we just came up with the idea of let's physically move them around the neighborhood on a vehicle from point to point. They wouldn't be playing while the vehicle is moving, but we would have them set up in a certain area, and they would play and then we'd move them to another area. So it kind of evolved into that in our mind before I actually did it. And then we needed a couple willing musicians to try it. And so we were able to ask a couple people, and they were brave enough to try it. And it worked out well.

GOLDSTEIN: When you reach out to a musician — and and it sounds like some of the musicians, at least some of the names I saw were a pretty well known around Tempe, maybe even beyond that, pretty successful musicians — were they flattered? Were they like, how are you going to pay me? What was the reaction?

KENT: It was very, very welcoming and excited and almost a sense of relief for a lot of the musicians to be able to play in public. They are very appreciative, very flexible and totally on time, which is an interesting thing because it never seems like musicians start on time in a bar. And afterwards, after playing, they just very appreciative, very much interested to do it again. You know, "If you ever have an opening, let me let me play again," and and so on. Really there's been no one that's really focused on the money aspect of it, although they do get paid. And that was a very important sort of requirement in my head that we didn't just get musicians to do this for free.

GOLDSTEIN: When you're driving around the neighborhood, has there been, I imagine, enthusiastic response, but has there been a major response? Considering how people have had to change their lives because of the pandemic, have you found people who are just like gathering around to make sure they get a chance to hear this? Have there been decent sized sort of crowds in that sense and has the response been positive?

KENT: Yes, you know, it's difficult to talk about crowds in COVID times.

GOLDSTEIN: Right. Of course. Separate crowds. Little separate crowds.

KENT: Yes. Yes. So really, the way we have it structured is, of course, it's totally up to people on their own to come if they want to come. We only publicize it in our neighborhood, in a closed Facebook group and through email. We ask the artists not to promote it on their site, and then we give the neighborhood the schedule, like two musicians are going to play 30 minutes each in this location. And then another musician is going to play in this location, and then they're going to move to another location. And so what we do is we seem to get maybe in one location I'm gonna have 25 or 30 people in an area. And a lot of them are sitting in their yard. Some can see the artist, some can just hear the artist. But they just sit in the yard, or they'll sit like out on the sidewalk or a little bit in the street, bring their own chairs and they can be as far apart as they want to be. So we have maybe 30 people in one area, 30 people in another area. There's there's an area that we call the ditch. And the series is called Ditch Music. And that area is a little bit more conducive to more people because people's houses back up to an open irrigation ditch. And then there's a couple streets that come into the dirt road that's that's back there. So it's a little bit bigger of an area, and people can spread out. And at times I've counted maybe 50 people, 75 people, that type of thing. But we always encourage people to only come if they're healthy and wear a mask and to be aware of other people's sensitivities to the situation.

GOLDSTEIN: So here's a phrase I think we've all come to hate: new normal. But as we're in this new normal, is this something you could see outlasting the pandemic? Because it just seems like such a neat neighborhood idea.

KENT: Yeah. I love music. I love to listen to music. I'm not a musician, but I think this is great. I think the way that we reimburse or pay the musicians is happening even now during COVID in other areas. I was able to speak to some of my friends and people I know in different locations. And so this has actually happened in two other neighborhoods in Tempe and two neighborhoods in Phoenix. All people that I know, and I've put them in touch with the artists and helped them just with logistics. But they run it, and I just kind of help. And it's been very successful, and I don't see why it couldn't work outside of the pandemic. It's fun, you're outside, it's beautiful in Arizona, there's live music, and it's unique. It's always a unique space for the artists. I mean, unless they're doing it again, which we do have people that have come back. But they also get access to a different audience that might not go to a bar, so I think that's also kind of intriguing for the artists.

GOLDSTEIN: That is Tempe resident Paul Kent, the creator of the pandemic inspired neighborhood concerts known as Ditch Music.

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