Summit Musicians Relief Fund kicks off 2021 concert series to support local musicians
For the past several years, the Summit Musicians Relief Fund has helped local musicians pay the bills and make ends meet when they’ve been ill or otherwise unable to perform. The goal was to establish a fund that could be available anytime a need arose.
In 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic began to escalate — and local and state officials enacted strict orders aimed at limiting the spread of the virus — Leon Joseph Littlebird and the fund’s leadership realized local musicians had a rough road ahead of them.
“When the pandemic hit, we were like, ‘Wow, now all the musicians are out!’” Littlebird said.
While the group had enough money to help a few musicians, it wouldn’t be able to make a large impact, especially for musicians like Littlebird, who play as many as six gigs a day during ski season. Aside from wanting to help musicians in the area, the group also wanted to figure out how to provide them with a paying gig.
The group launched a concert series during the summer, putting on six shows and helping 16 musicians with not only a paid performance, but also a professionally edited video that they could use to promote their music.
“It was an amazing experience, and we really helped a lot of people,” Littlebird said. “We actually raised more money in 2020 than we had at the start of the year.”
After a summer when musicians were able to perform outdoors, there was some hope that they would be able to see a return to indoor performing during the fall and winter, but ongoing health restrictions continue to limit what local musicians like Kevin Danzig are able to do.
Late in 2019, Danzig got sick enough that he had to cancel six performances, and the fund was able to help him.
“(The fund) came to my rescue and made up the money I lost,” Danzig said. “After that, I said, ‘Whatever you need, I’m there.’”
Danzig participated in the 2020 series and was invited back for the first weekend of the fund’s filming for the 2021 series. He said his concert last year was a great way for him to promote his latest album, which debuted in the summer.
Between the help from the relief fund, local assistance and support from state programs, Danzig said he was able to make it through 2020.
“Colorado has been good at taking care of its artists as well as (the fund),” he said. “It’s such a great place to be inspired.”
Littlebird said this year’s series will be much more ambitious than it was in 2020. Right now, there are 18 acts signed up for concerts with the possibility of adding more to the lineup.
He said one of the driving factors in the expansion of this year’s series is the immense support the group has gotten from the community. Lake Dillon Theatre Co. offered the use of one of the theater spaces at the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center through May, which allows the artists to perform in front of a small crowd of about 10-12 people, and several local businesses have stepped up to provide financial support for the series.
“It’s a testament to how, in this community, we take care of our own,” Littlebird said.
The fund also has brought on a local production company that specializes in livestream productions to help give the videos more of a live concert feel.
“Those (shows in 2020) were a little more of a highly edited production, but Leon wanted this to feel a little more like an actual concert,” said Dustin Schaffer, owner and operations manager of Top 11 Productions, which is filming and editing the concerts.
Schaffer said he uses three stationary cameras for each performance and essentially edits the videos live as they’re filmed.
“I’m able to live switch the cameras that are being fed into my laptop, and as the show goes on, I’ll switch cameras,” he said.
Danzig said he was impressed with the quality of the venue and space and that he expects anyone who watches to get a concert-quality experience.
“It helps everyone who is a music lover,” he said. “… This way, they can tune in and watch live artists, and they’re watching them in their element with the best sound and lights (the fund) can offer, which is really good.”
While the improved venue and video production are important changes for 2021, Littlebird said the main goal for these concerts is still to support local musicians who rely on performances to make a living. He said the musicians are paid on a sliding scale based on their financial need, and for many of them, “It’s the best-paying gig they’ve ever done.”
John Truscelli, who performed alongside Jess Rose for the series’ first concert in 2021, said he’s “been spoiled” to be able to make a living as a musician for about 20 of the 25 years he’s been in the area. While he says he’s content to take additional work outside of performing to make ends meet, he’s grateful that the relief fund is providing an additional venue for local artists.
“Things like this … they’re helping musicians quietly, but also it’s a very well-paid gig for us,” Truscelli said. “By letting us do the show, it makes you feel good about it; it’s not just a handout.”
This year’s concert series begins Thursday, Feb. 3, with a new concert premiering at TheSMRF.com and on the organization’s YouTube page at 6 p.m. every Thursday.
A new artist in the concert series will premier at 6 p.m. each Thursday on the fund’s YouTube channel. Each artist will also have an interview on Krystal 93 at 9:45 a.m. on the day their concert premiers.
• Feb. 4: John Truscelli and Jess Rose
• Feb. 11: Beau Thomas
• Feb. 18: Tina Ferguson and Shane Henderson
• Feb. 25: Kevin Danzig
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