This summer, Levitt AMP communities coast to coast are bringing the joy of free, live music straight to you with the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series! The 20-concert series co-presented by the Levitt Foundation launches tonight at 8pm EDT/5pm PDT with a one-of-a-kind evening curated, produced and presented by the Levitt AMP Galva team. The virtual show will include intimate performances and interviews with acclaimed homegrown artists Chicago Farmer and Edward David Anderson, along with footage from a newly released mini-documentary about the Levitt AMP Galva Music Series—giving viewers a taste of what makes the rural town of Galva, Ill., such a vibrant place to call ‘home’ and why supporting the area’s creative economy is so vital.
A community-driven effort, decades in the making
Nestled in Northwest Illinois, the 2,500-person community of Galva is one of many small rural communities that make up Henry County. Once home to an utopian-esque Swedish settlement, this historic and culturally-rich county has been shaped by agriculture, industry, Swedish artisan craft traditions, and, more recently…live music.
Bringing free, live music to Galva became a reality in 2018 with the inaugural Levitt AMP Galva Music Series, yet this community-wide effort has been decades in the making. For the past 30 years, the dedicated volunteers of the Galva Arts Council (GAC)—many of whom are still active—have worked together to position art as a community-building tool and have built a culture of volunteerism, laying the groundwork for the Levitt AMP Music Series to succeed. With robust experience rallying support for community arts experiences, like the launch of the GAC’s Coffeehouse Music Series in 1992, series organizer and Henry County native John Taylor saw the GAC as a natural fit to lead the Levitt AMP effort.
After serving in the military and spending a year in Iraq, Taylor returned home, battling PTSD and searching for ways to reconnect to people in his once familiar surroundings. His search for connection led him to countless live concerts and triggered a discovery that would alter his life and the lives of those around him. As fellow concertgoers grew into close friends, he began to recognize the healing benefits of enjoying shared, and reoccurring, musical experiences with fellow music lovers. In 2014, he and his wife Stephanie Taylor (who’s now GAC’s vice president) opened up their home to present free/pay-what-you-wish concerts to friends, family and neighbors that soon attracted a following and continues to this day. With three years of presenting concerts under his belt, Taylor began brainstorming ways to bring free, live music to wider audiences. Galva’s Wiley Park – an underused 2.5-acre public space that was centrally located and accessible to a wide range of people, quickly emerged as a prime opportunity to bring the community together. Once the site of frequent large community gatherings, Wiley Park usage had declined over the years, reflecting the area’s shrinking population due to job loss and closed businesses. Yet Galva was starting to experience some exciting momentum—from a new restaurant and pub opening on Main Street to complement the GAC’s monthly Coffeehouse Music Series to regular yoga and art classes. When Taylor learned about the Levitt AMP grant opportunity through a graduate-level grant-writing class project, he set to work making the Levitt AMP Galva Music Series a reality.
Celebrating the impact of Levitt AMP
2020 was slated to be a milestone year for the Levitt AMP Galva Music Series. It would have been the third year of bringing together multigenerational audiences to enjoy an eclectic array of world-renown international talent in Wiley Park and the first year of presenting concerts on the park’s brand-new permanent stage—reflecting the city’s commitment to supporting the community’s quality of life. When the Levitt AMP Galva Music Series came to life in 2018, residents of all ages and backgrounds came together to experience live music and strengthen their community. Seeing how accessible arts programming could bring together residents of all walks of life, local residents realized what a tremendous asset a permanent stage would be to the area. After nearly two years, residents and City Council members agreed on a plan, taking the project into the fundraising phase in late 2019.
“You never really know what is going to come of what you’re doing, whose lives you’ll impact along the way,” said Taylor. Jane Doss, owner of Galva-based Preferred Home Health Care, was one of the many people moved by the revitalization of Wiley Park, so much so that she decided to make a generous $100K donation to the project in honor of her parents. With her support, the City’s support and another generous anonymous donation, the project broke ground and was on track to finish construction in time for the 2020 Levitt AMP Galva Music Series.
From record-breaking crowds to the construction of a permanent stage in Wiley Park—as well as a second permanent stage in the nearby town of Cambridge—Levitt AMP Galva’s tangible impacts are easy to spot, and yet the intangible impacts have been just as powerful. The Levitt AMP Galva Music Series has expanded and reenergized the GAC’s volunteer base, sparking friendships and collaborations that have continued beyond the concert series. And it has empowered residents to work together to improve their community. From booking artists, to setting up/tearing down concerts, to providing home-cooked meals for artists, each concert requires the combined talents of so many different volunteers. “It’s very humbling,” says Taylor. “It reminds me that no matter who you are, there’s something of value that you can give.”
Pivoting in response to COVID-19
When the global COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier in the year, Taylor’s programming plans for the Levitt AMP Music Series and beyond screeched to a halt. More than 60 local acts were canceled, with more likely to follow. Instead of focusing on this substantial loss, he and Jason Bates put their heads together to see how their newly launched music event venture, Heartland Connections, could support those artists most in need. Honest conversations with full-time musician friends revealed the harsh realities of trying to get by at a time when all gigs were put on hold indefinitely, and planted the seed for “Play It Forward.”
With partial support from a Levitt Foundation Bridge Grant, the Galva Arts Council and Heartland Connections combined forces to launch the “Play It Forward” campaign. Launched on May 13, the campaign was created to provide immediate financial aid to local musicians impacted by COVID-19 and to provide high-quality live stream performances to the public. A lottery system determined which 20 applicants would receive a $500 grant and the opportunity to perform a 45-minute virtual set for a live audience (and collect virtual tips) over the course of four evenings. In just one week, the series reached more than 50,000 people. Beyond the direct value to artists, the series was promoted to reach the area’s more isolated residents, like those living in assisted living facilities; and to provide a boost to local businesses, like The Colony Inn, which streamed the concerts outdoors and offered concert to-go specials.
Tune in tonight for two homegrown Heartland artists
Levitteers tuning in to tonight’s Levitt AMP virtual concert with Illinois-based artists Chicago Farmer and Edward David Anderson are in for a heartfelt evening celebrating creativity, resilience and hope. Levitt AMP Galva concertgoers might recognize Chicago Farmer from his rousing opening act during the last show of the 2019 season. Raised in the small farming community of Delevan, Ill., and inspired by fellow Midwesterner John Prine, Cody Diekhoff of Chicago Farmer is a self-dubbed ‘working-class folk musician.’ Growing up the son of farmers in a 2,000-person town instilled small-town values and storytelling traditions that continue to inform his heartfelt music today. Based in Bloomington, Ill., Edward David Anderson boasts natural abilities on banjo, acoustic/electric guitars and foot percussion that accentuate his vocal prowess and lyrical wit. His powerful messages and melodies delight audiences across the Midwest and beyond. Tonight’s viewers will also enjoy clips from Gary Metivier’s recent episode of The Heart of the Story, a mini-documentary series that celebrates ordinary people making extraordinary impacts. Curated to give viewers a glimpse into the lives of musicians and music industry workers during this unprecedented time, audiences are in for a memorable evening of song and sharing.
Tonight’s show will celebrate the community of creators, connectors and people that make Galva so special. Be sure to tune in tonight at levittamp.org/virtual at 8pm PDT/5pm EDT!