The music director of WOWD Takoma Radio is bringing small, pandemic-safe live music shows to the area beginning this month.

Michael Philips is also the founder of Jazz Kitchen Productions in Takoma Park, a non-profit group to “organize and present concerts and other public events to support jazz musicians and the local jazz music scene in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area,” according to its website.

“I started bringing jazz back to Takoma Station last year and it was working out really well until the pandemic hit and I had to cancel all these shows, ” Philips said.

For fulltime working musicians, he added, “[the pandemic] has cut out one big leg of their livelihood.”

Philips said he explored various ideas to produce live performances safely, including having a band travel around and perform on the back of a flatbed truck, but the economics didn’t work.

He found the model he ended up adapting from Creative Alliance in Baltimore, which has put on more than 200 “Sidewalk Serenades” mini-performances.

“It seemed to be the best way to go from a legal standpoint and a safety standpoint,” Philips said.

“It’s still non-profit,” he added. “Almost all the money goes to the musicians.”

The host pays the band an agreed-upon fee, perhaps splitting the cost with a neighbor or two, and invites family and friends (up to 10 guests) to a private, outdoor performance. Guests are then free to tip the band via Venmo or PayPal.

“It’s worked out really well [in Baltimore],” Phillips said. “Obviously, a hundred percent of that goes to musicians.”

In Baltimore, the typical audience size has been 12–15 guests, he said.

“The amount the musicians make from the tips exceeds typically the amount that the homeowner pays,” Philips continued.

The first YardWork Concerts show will be Aug. 22. A jazz band will perform for a half hour at each of six homes that afternoon.

“I want to see how it goes the first time,” Philips said. “I’m talking to people about the second weekend, Aug. 29.”

He only intends to book quiet genres, such as jazz or folk, since the concerts are held in residential areas.

“I’m only hiring really the crème de la crème of musicians,” Philips pointed out, all of whom will be career professionals.

Even though the concerts will be held outside, where virus transmission is less of a risk, guests will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Anyone who would like to host a future YardWork Concert can contact Philips at [email protected]

Illustration from Public Domain Pictures

Mike Diegel