Vilar Performing Arts Center reinvents its season
After more than 30 years living loud and rowdy at the center of the jam band scene, Leftover Salmon’s tour plans went dark — along with every other band, artist and music lover — when the pandemic hit in March. As businesses shut down and people socially isolated, Leftover Salmon, like many other bands, streamed concerts online. And, while singer, songwriter and guitarist Vince Herman enjoyed maintaining his connection with fans, he had to get out of the box — literally.
“Art brings people together. You put your differences aside. You’re laughing and crying at the same point. It shows the human side of people.”
“I was definitely trying to reinvent myself in the way of streaming things at the beginning of the pandemic, with Zoom shows and meetings,” Herman says. “But I was the only face I was interacting with. I had to get out of the bubble and see what the rest of the world was up to.”
So he spent his summer roaming the nation in his RV — aka, “isolation pod” — and playing outdoor, solo gigs here and there. It wasn’t until late October that Leftover Salmon gathered outdoors for its first live show, in Buena Vista. And even then, its website remained a blank slate when it came to upcoming tour dates.
But the Vilar Performing Arts Center (VPAC) changed that, with its 3- to 7-day artist-in-residence program. The Residency, as it’s called, launches in January with three shows by Robert Randolph, featuring G. Love, Michael Lang and special guests, followed by Leftover Salmon later in the month.
The program supports one-of-a-kind collaborations between artists, who can rehearse during the day — safely, away from crowded cities, in an intimate theater with beautiful acoustics — and perform a series of small, physically-distanced shows. Keller Williams will perform, too, and be joined on select nights by Leftover Salmon’s Greg Garrison, Garrett Sayers of Motet and Jeremey Salken of Big Gigantic, in a show that sold out by early November. The Oteil Burbridge Trio (with John Kimock and Tom Guarna) adds a little Dead & Company vibe in February.
“We’re going to experience never-before-seen collaboration and unique performances that we don’t usually see when they’re touring night after night,” Vilar Center executive director Duncan Horner says. “We’ve long been a favorite stop on tour for many artists. Now we can be a center not just for the finished performance product, but as a place to safely isolate and create new ideas during this exceptionally difficult time.”
The idea of a residency started when Dance Theatre of Harlem had to cancel a scheduled show. While organizations like the NBA use rapid, saliva-based COVID-19 testing to control transmission of the virus, dance companies and other artists can’t quite afford the costs. But they could isolate together, and the Vilar Center seemed like a perfect venue. Though the Vilar cancelled the end of last winter’s season, during the summer and fall it successfully hosted smaller groups of guests, through physically distancing, mask-wearing, temperature checks and extensive sanitization.
The Vilar will host about 10 residency concerts from January through March. It will sell a select number of in-person, premium tickets for the intimate performances, which will deliver “an individualized artist experience, which you could never dream of in the real world,” Horner says. “It’s like a one-on-one authentic experience with the artists — who are happy to get out and perform.”
The Vilar will also offer livestreams of the shows. Online offerings are free, but hosting the artists for longer time periods costs the Vilar more in lodging and food expenses, so Horner asks people who tune in to support arts and culture by donating.
“If we don’t protect this cultural institution, we’ll have a loss of social cohesion and the sense of belonging that comes with it,” Horner says. “Art brings people together. You put your differences aside. You’re laughing and crying at the same point. It shows the human side of people. You all leave the room with this experience that has brought people together in a meaningful way.”
And artists like Herman can’t wait to get together with former “constant companions” and see what emerges during this new, creative process.
“It’s certainly a helpful thing in attempting to feel more human, with people coming together,” Herman says. “We really need that.”
The VPAC is still adding to The Residency’s lineup. Check the website for the most up-to-date listings: vilarpac.org/residency.