As the COVID-19 pandemic closed traditional concert venues around the country, the Bravo! Vail Festival reimagined itself for a unique summer season in 2020.
During a normal summer, the highly regarded international music festival presents dozens of performances throughout the Vail Valley, featuring some of the world’s greatest musicians and orchestras.
This year, indoor venues had to shut their doors to performances and workshops. Across the country, from Lincoln Center to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, presenters canceled thousands of concerts and series. Bravo! Vail took a different tack. This summer, the festival gave Coloradans outdoor concerts, virtual offerings, and most unusually, a mobile performance stage that brought chamber music to local communities in the Vail Valley.
Bravo! Vail commissioned a custom-built mobile performance stage – the Bravo! Vail Music Box – that brought chamber music to the people, with free outdoor community concerts organized in cooperation with interested businesses, community groups, and individuals. Bravo! Vail worked with partner organizations to manage physical distancing, group size, and safety protocols.
While the outdoor 3,000-set Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater welcomed audiences limited to 175 people to seven socially distanced concerts, crews transported the Bravo! Vail Music Box to 41 locations, presenting on its tiny mobile stage performers including Artistic Director Anne-Marie McDermott. (A renowned pianist, McDermott played a Yamaha AvantGrand N3X, a hybrid instrument that doesn’t need tuning and was resistant, like Bravo! Vail itself, to the Valley’s changeable weather.)
“We’re blessed because we exist largely outdoors, so that opened up a path forward,” McDermott said. “In our desperation to have live music – and that exists all over the planet right now – I felt incredibly protective of the quality of what we do…through a lot of teamwork, this Music Box, essentially created out of a Tiny House…over about a month’s time…the first week or 10 days of the festival there were still screws going into the side of the music box and lights going up, it was still being painted and being tweaked.
“We realized in doing 41 concerts in the Music Box the power of this creation,” she went on. For example, “we were able to bring it to patrons’ homes who would have had no opportunity to go to a live concert but who have poured their hearts and souls into the Bravo! Vail Festival for years and have been so extraordinarily generous financially. We could not ignore these unbelievable heart-and-soul people of Bravo, so we’d go to them.”
The traveling show was by no means restricted to the festival’s patrons, however. The Music Box brought chamber music to senior centers, essential workers’ children, the Vail Fire Department, and health care workers, among others. “This is the power of music,” McDermott says proudly, adding: “It was worth every second of the extra effort to bring live music to people and to have the honor of playing live music during this time.”
Not surprisingly, the Music Box concept is inspiring other presenters. Bravo! Vail has fielded a “bit of a barrage” of inquiries into how they did it. Thanks to the festival’s “inside the box” thinking, audiences around the country may find themselves at “tiny house” chamber music concerts in future summers, long after the present pandemic has passed.