Innovation helps ‘Circle’ continue, virtually

Arts & Entertainment Community COVID-19 Featured

Award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Guthro can use another adjective to describe his extensive career: innovator.

Proving that every situation has a silver lining, Guthro found a new way to deliver his incredibly popular Songwriters Circles to fans everywhere amidst the COVID-19 pandemic: virtually.

Bruce Guthro Songwriters Circle, The Circle Continues, will be delivered in a new on-line series with the deCoste Performing Arts Centre as a partnering promoter.

For many years, the Cape Breton-born Guthro has been hosting songwriters circles in Nova Scotia and PEI, including shows at the deCoste.

“It’s clear we’re not going to be able to do any of these at least for this year,” Guthro said. “It’s important to keep everybody safe.”

But the hard-working musician thought of ways he could still deliver music at a time when it’s most needed.

“I began to realize I’m not alone in this.”

A lot of artists, theatres and festivals will be hard hit if COVID-19 shuts them down for the year. But even a health pandemic can’t stop the music.

So Guthro is doing what he does best: gather a group of like-minded artists to bring music to the people. The difference with this songwriters circle compared to the circles he generally hosts is this will be delivered online. So grab your favourite beverage, sit back in your favourite chair, and be entertained by a slate of top-notch musicians who will be coming straight to your own house.

Guthro will be working with many venues and festivals around the Maritimes, including the deCoste. The venues will promote the show, sell subscriptions to the series, and receive 15 per cent of ticket sales — a win-win for everyone.

It’s a 14 concert series in total, split into two seasons consisting of seven shows each. The first show starts July 3 and the entire series closes out on December 18. The all-star lineup includes: Matt Minglewood, Matt Andersen, Irish Mythen, Alan Doyle, Reeny Smith, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Myles Goodwin, J.P. Cormier, Port Cities, Ria Mae, David Myles, George Canyon, Mo Kenny, Dave Gunning, Jodi Guthro, Gordie Sampson, Lennie Gallant, Terry Kelly, Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, Johnny Reid and more — all with Guthro as the affable host.

The singer-songwriter says he could never pay some artists what they’re worth. “Some artists are coming in to help other artists and to help theatres and to help everybody. We’re all in this together. Some agreed to join me because they recognize the shape we’re in and they want to help, other artists need the fees to pay their bills; at the end of the day, we all have bills that still need to be paid. I’m just very lucky to have some great musical friends.”

Guthro will host one artist at his home studio, the rest will join the circle from remote locations around the world.

“I feed off of the other artists’ reaction so I want at least one artist here with me,” Guthro says. “We’ll still see and interact with the remote artists, but with travel restrictions and for safety reasons, it’s best to keep it to one guest at my home.”

The shows will still be live, no safety nets, the viewer will hear it as the artists sing it, but in a virtual format.

“We’ll be not only live, but in your living room,” Guthro laughs. “The beauty of the circle has always been that it’s like you’re sitting in your chair in a corner of your living room watching three or four artists interact with each other as they would as artists. And the reason why I set my circles up in the centre of the room, circularly, is because we then look at each other from 10 feet away and speak to each other as opposed to the audience, (it) creates a unique experience. And with this (online series) it’ll be magnified because it will be just the three of us, or four, welcoming the audience in through an interaction of music and songs and stories and artists that you’re probably not going to see anywhere else. It’s exciting for me tackle this and try it in this format.”

Troy Greencorn, executive director of the deCoste, is equally excited about Guthro’s online songwriters circle.

“We have gone through several stages in dealing with the COVID crisis. First there was the emergency situation and the need to close our buildings and cancel shows. We then got into advocacy and working with government to seek supports to help our organizations weather this storm. Then we moved into safety and re-opening planning. This next stage is about innovation: How can we change our methods and models to still bring amazing performing arts experiences to our patrons and community.

“Bruce’s songwriter circle is a great opportunity for us to bring some of Canada’s best songwriters into your homes. Besides being one of the East Coast’s most accomplished artists Bruce is an innovator and a tireless entrepreneur. Mark my words, he is creating a new path that will provide an online platform others will follow to reach their own fan base.”

Greencorn says using Zoom to deliver the shows will provide opportunities for interaction.

“This digital model has an amazing impact on accessibility. Not everyone can physically get to the theatre. Shows like this at the theatre would have a $50 ticket price. The cost per person, based on a pair watching the shows together, will be less than $10 each. I believe that even when we get back to traditional shows with a theatre full of people, we will continue to stream the show to others. Throughout history, crisis has motivated innovation.”

Those who get a subscription to this series are in for an extra special treat. Guthro says, “I’m not promising anything yet but if you buy a subscription then you will receive — and we have to figure out how to get it to people — acoustic-based never recorded before songs of mine. If we can figure out a way to deliver an acoustic performance of my songs you can download and play in your car then we’re going to make that happen.”

Tickets for both series for those who want to continue to support the musical arts will go on sale June 19. The tickets will be for one registration on one device. Contact the deCoste centre for details on the series or tickets.