When the COVID-19 pandemic forced venues to shut their doors and artists to cancel shows, Lemon Bucket Orkestra’s Mark Marczyk began to brainstorm ways that artists and audiences could stay connected. Like many others, Marczyk saw livestreaming as a viable solution – but he wanted to take it a step further.
“I put forward this idea on social media: what if we did a livestream from empty venues,” Marczyk explains.
“A lot of us are going out for groceries and going out for day-to-day tasks in safe ways so I thought, is there a way that we can be safe about getting a small group of people together in an empty venue with the right precautions and do [a livestream concert] series?”
The response to Marczyk’s idea was overwhelmingly positive, so Marczyk, alongside Kathleen Ryan, Jaash Singh, Tamar Ilana and Alexander Bordokas, started URGNT. Unlike other livestream initiatives, Marczyk wanted to ensure that not only artists but other industry personnel involved in the livestream broadcasts would receive some compensation. URGNT launched a GoFundMe to help cover costs, which has currently raised $6,673 of its $40,000 goal.
“The music industry, like any industry, is a community. We have our little hubs – promoters, sound techs, accountants – but they all work together to bring the music that we ultimately see on a stage and the live experience that’s so important for us,” Marczyk says about URGNT’s drive to try to support a wide range of music industry professionals who have been impacted by COVID-19.
Over the next three weeks, URGNT hopes to present at least 19 concerts at 19 different venues. The first show happens today (Friday, March 20) at 7 pm live from the Great Hall and will feature opera singer Measha Brueggergosman. Audiences can watch each show for free via a livestream link on URGNT.ca, Maclean’s and iHeartRadio Canada. Solotech donated the livestream equipment.
The exact health protocols are still being finalized so he won’t tell us concrete details, but Marczyk says they’ve already been donated 500 rubber gloves and a treasure trove of masks, bandanas, wipes and disinfectant. They’ll also be working with a skeleton crew of essential personnel only.
Marczyk says that the Dakota Tavern, Lula Lounge, 918 Bathurst and Koerner Hall are all on board to host a session and DJ Skratch Bastid, Afro-Cuban duo OKAN, Mexican-blues artist Quique Escamilla and folk-rock duo Moscow Apartment have all been booked. The diversity of both the acts and venues involved is something that Marczyk says emphasizes exactly what makes Toronto’s music scene so special and what URGNT hopes to showcase. Other venues include the Wheatsheaf Tavern, Communist’s Daughter, Drom Taberna, Today/Tonight and BSMT 254 – all of which have waived their normal booking fees.
“You can expect that we are going to have everybody from that indie duo that you’ve never heard of to a Persian community gem that you have likely never heard of unless you are part of that community, to some really well-known, household name,” he says.
“A big part of preventing the spread of COVID-19 is not travelling and so it seems like an appropriate time to look at where we are. I’m in Toronto. I was born and raised here. I love this city and I love all of the people who are here and the music that has come from all over the world. It’s a nice time to highlight that.”