The Return To Live Music in SW Michigan

When the shutdowns began in the early days of Covid, one of the hardest things for many to let go of – and one that took longer than most to come back – was live music. And that was doubly true for the musicians themselves. “Every day the news would announce more Covid cases and places getting shut down,” recalls singer Andrew Fisher, founder and lead singer of the Andrew Fisher Quartet, a neo-soul jazz group that incorporates soul, funk, R&B, Motown and more. Fisher describes the experience of watching as concert after concert was cancelled: “I went from being a performer to having absolutely nothing in a matter of days. It was a loss of my identity.”

While performing artists of all kinds tried valiantly to continue bringing their art into a very changed community, it just wasn’t the same. “We individually did a few Facebook Live online cabaret events hosted by local musicians,” explains southwest Michigan singer Meredith George, “But those are way different from playing live. You have to make sure the house is completely quiet, lock the cat in the other room so he doesn’t walk into the view or unplug your computer. It is usually a mess and something always goes wrong. It’s so much different to perform in-front of a live audience as you tend to feed off their energy. Singing into your phone or computer is so sterile. ”

George, along with Morgan Ingle and Leslie Sypian, form the “lady power trio” The Backups, performing harmony-driven covers and originals ranging from the Beatles to Cher to Willie Nelson. The group has been playing together for a few years and boasts a loyal following – but like most musical groups, during the early months of Covid, the trio went silent. “Our last gig before the shut down was Valentines Day 2020 at The Livery. We didn’t play any music for several months, not even a meet-up for rehearsing since we were all at home quarantining the first few months. We probably had about 4 months where we didn’t play all together.”

Summer 2021 brought a welcome relief as improving Covid numbers and outdoor performance spaces opened up opportunities to play once again.”The saying goes, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone” and boy did everyone realize just how important being able to enjoy a live performance would be,” says Fisher. He notes, “When you lose something and get it back, you notice some things…rehearsals are more meaningful, the audience is more engaged, the venues are more thankful. That’s what almost every performance this year has been.”

While the summer is starting to come to a close, there is still plenty of time left to enjoy live outdoor music – and remember, and some great fall weather at the same time (bonus: fall means smaller crowds!) Amy Heugel, owner of The Lakehouse Restaurant and Bar, has loved being able to offer live music to her patrons after a long pause, with the sunset and lake in the background. “It’s nice to see people having so much fun while enjoying a spectacular view,” says Heugel.

Local Pour, a taproom in Sawyer offering small-batch, Michigan-made libations (beer, wine, cider, and spirits), is another Berrien County venue with a packed performance and event schedule, making use of their outdoor patio.

As for indoor performance, the outlook for 2021 is cautiously optimistic as venues that offer indoor music are beefing up ways to keep the public (and musicians) safe. For example, in addition to the usual sanitizing and recommending masks and social distancing, “We monitor our CO2 levels to ensure they’re at safe levels,” explains Simon Rusk, owner of The Livery in Benton Harbor, a leader in the live local music scene and sponsor of our Live Music series.

Over just the next few weeks in Berrien County, Andrew Fisher is scheduled to play the Benton Harbor Arts in the Park on September 10 and perform with the Lake Effect Big Jazz Band in the “Fly Me To The Moon” Frank Sinatra tribute show at the Lake Michigan College Mendel Center on September 11. The Backups are scheduled to play at Local Pour in Sawyer on August 28 from 3-6 PM and September 11 from 3-6 PM, and at Dablon Vineyards in Baroda on September 5 from 2:30 – 5:30 PM (all outdoor performances.)

No matter where or when the performance is, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on venues’ and performers’ social media accounts to stay up-to-date with safety requirements and any schedule changes that may occur. It’s been great to have live music back – and with everyone’s help, we can make sure it’s back to stay.

We are excited to bring you continued live music coverage at Buy Local Berrien, courtesy of our Live Music sponsor, The Livery!

Want to let us know about an upcoming performance or up-and-coming performing artist? Drop us a line at hello@buylocalberrien.com.

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