Over these past months, it’s been inspiring to watch the Levitt network engage and support their communities during this challenging time. Nearly all permanent Levitt venues and Levitt AMP sites have presented virtual concerts featuring popular Levitt artists, including livestreaming virtual series and showcasing special archived Levitt footage, with more on the way. Today, we’re shining the light on the myriad ways permanent Levitt venues are expanding their programming beyond streaming free shows to inspire creativity, wellness and hope in their communities in 2020.
From sparking creative expression through virtual songwriting camps, to promoting holistic health and wellness through virtual yoga and cooking classes, to creating unexpected musical moments through pop-up concerts in neighborhoods most impacted by the pandemic, the Levitt network is supporting their communities in new and particularly relevant ways. What’s more, they’re using their individual and collective voices to advocate for the larger music ecosystem, from helping musicians cover medical bills to saving independent music venues at risk of closing permanently due to financial hardships brought on by the pandemic.
Read on to learn more, and stay tuned for a future blog post on the creative ways Levitt AMP nonprofits have been engaging and supporting their communities during this time!
Engaging youth through virtual music camps
In addition to its Levitt on Your Lawn virtual music series, this past summer Levitt Pavilion Dayton brought its Levitt Connect: Inspire! music education program online, offering immersive, virtual songwriting camps to youth with support from PNC Bank and the Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District. “We wanted to continue our music education programming, and realized this virtual world offered us the unique opportunity to connect artists from across the country with students right here in Dayton,” says Lisa Wagner, executive director of Levitt Dayton.
First, Levitt Dayton partnered with Girls LEAD! of the YWCA to create two virtual songwriting camps led by Nashville-based soul artist Kyshona Armstrong. Armstrong met with the students twice a week for a month, and together they wrote four songs total, with one becoming the new Girls LEAD! anthem. In addition to giving students an outlet to express their emotions and build self-confidence during this difficult time, the artist herself expressed gratitude for the opportunity to engage with the girls. “You truly have given me a purpose (with the youth) and a virtual platform for us to continue to spread the message through the music,” says Kyshona. After the camps concluded, the students were invited to join Kyshona for a memorable livestream where they performed their songs together.
The newly released Girls LEAD! anthem
And last month, Levitt Dayton launched a new virtual songwriting camp for tweens and teens in partnership with Art as Mentorship, the nonprofit created by Enrique Chi of Latin GRAMMY-nominated rock/cumbia group, Making Movies, and The Rebel Song Academy Camp. The free, week-long online camp gave students the opportunity to virtually join a group of other young musicians and songwriters for a deep dive on the creative process of songwriting and the skills it takes to be an artist in today’s world. They wrote songs together and even created music videos like “Coming Home”. And who were their mentors throughout the virtual camp? None other than GRAMMY-winning and nominated artists and music professionals from across the country including Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, Gina Chavez, Deron Bell of Dayton Funk All-Stars, Hector Flores of Las Cafeteras, and Making Movies.
The camp was transformational for students like 17-year-old Devin Brock Johnson, who had previously written songs as a solo endeavor. “I never got as comfortable with writing as when I was in that camp,” he says. “The whole collaborative process, even though it was online, it just felt like I knew these people all my life.” And for fellow student, 11 year-old Katlin Sayer, “Being there with everyone and learning how to write songs, it was just so fun for me.”
The experience culminated in a virtual showcase, with the students sharing their creative works with an online audience. On the last day of camp, students performed a livestream on the Levitt Dayton Facebook page as part of the nonprofit’s Levitt on Your Lawn series, racking up more than a thousand views. The event was filled with heartfelt music and appreciation for the exchange of creativity, both from the students and the mentors. Inspirational words were shared from musician teachers like bass player Diego Chi of Making Movies: “Music is not something that you do, it is something that comes out of you.”
“It really was incredible” says Wagner of the virtual camps. “The students expressed how much they enjoyed working together with new friends and creating art together. They saw how much they had in common as they shared their work.” And there’s more to come: as part of Levitt Dayton’s concert season next summer, the students have been invited to perform alongside Making Movies on the Levitt Pavilion stage! And just recently, Levitt Dayton announced five new fall virtual songwriting workshops for Dayton-area students, based on the enthusiastic reception of the songwriting camps.
Virtual yoga, pilates, cooking and more
Along with its Orion Virtual Concert Series of archived shows and ShellStream featuring livestream performances, this past summer Levitt Shell Memphis created the Shell Health & Wellness Series, streaming holistic health programming for the community. With support from local nonprofit Baptist Memorial Health Care and in partnership with Art of Living Foundation, Edible Memphis and Sumits Yoga, Levitt Shell has been streaming free interactive programming on its Facebook platform for the whole family to enjoy including yoga, pilates, guided meditation and healthy cooking classes. Just last week, for example, native Memphian Chef Eli Townsend streamed a lively class on how to cook up a healthy, delicious and locally-sourced meal for under $20.
Levitt Shell Memphis Executive Director Natalie Wilson says the Health & Wellness Series is giving Levitt Shell the unique opportunity to “reimagine its mission of building community” through a focus on the holistic care of the Memphis community. “Now more than ever due to COVID-19, we have an opportunity to offer support and care to Memphis even with our historic stage remaining dark,” Wilson says. “Our Health & Wellness Series is another showcase that building community can happen virtually and Levitt Shell is engaging people from not only Memphis but all over the world.” The virtual Health & Wellness Series continues through March 2021, with the aim to continue these programs in-person next summer.
In its ongoing effort to make a difference through a distance, Levitt Shell Memphis also co-sponsored the nation’s first ‘Virtual Volunteer Day’ on June 15th with its partner, Volunteer Odyssey. For the Levitt Shell, people were asked to record their #MisstheShell video messages and post them to social media to rally support for the nonprofit, a campaign Wilson says was “wildly successful” garnering hundreds of likes and comments. And every other week on its social channels, Levitt Memphis continues to shine the light on other arts organizations, as well as nonprofits providing important information and resources regarding COVID-19. “The community has seen Levitt Shell as a hub for information during this pandemic, from all sources of accurate info about the virus as well as community need, opportunity and response,” says Wilson.
Solidarity with first-responders and area nonprofits
Back in May, Levitt Pavilion Arlington brought positive energy to its downtown by transforming its expansive yet empty lawn into a patriotic display of 45 United States flags to show thanks to health care workers and first responders, in collaboration with the Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Arlington. “Those front-line people working the night shift, they’re pretty lonely. Driving by this might lift their spirits and remind them they’re appreciated,” said Paul Fulks, a Navy veteran and member of the Levitt Arlington Board of Directors. A local country artist, Steve Helms, was inspired by the display and wrote a song about it titled “The Spirit Lives,” and filmed his music video there surrounded by the flags.
Also in May, Levitt Pavilion Arlington showed its solidarity with the thousands of nonprofits in the region, including 115 charities in Arlington, by providing a full day of free virtual entertainment to boost excitement and engagement for North Texas Giving Tuesday NOW, with the goal of raising funds for these nonprofits. Throughout the day, Levitt Arlington live-streamed five concerts to its Facebook page featuring Texas-based artists, from Steve Helms and Sarah Hickman to Latin Express, September Moon and Brad Russell. During each of the streams, which attracted 22,000 views in total, artists reminded viewers about the needs of local nonprofits and encouraged people to support their efforts through contributions or volunteerism. The day was a runaway success, inspiring over 89,000 donations and raising more than $400K for local nonprofits and more than $20 million for the North Texas region as a whole.
Levitt Pavilion Arlington has participated once again in North Texas Giving Day on Thursday, September 17th. Larry Gee, Hannah Kirby & Brad Thompson, Bri Bagwell, Ron Bultongez and Radney Foster streamed free shows throughout the day along with other surprise appearances, all on Levitt Arlington’s Facebook page.
Reflecting its community spirit, throughout this past summer Levitt Pavilion Arlington leveraged its Levitt Living Room Series of virtual concerts to raise money for local charities like food banks and organizations providing clothing and shelter to help those in need during the pandemic. Levitt Arlington also partnered with its local community development organization, Downtown Arlington, to help neighborhood restaurants and bars by either prerecording or live-streaming the virtual shows from these locations, with a shout-out to the business and using them as their concert backdrop.
Rallying to support local and national music ecosystems
In addition to its Levitt In Your Living Room virtual music series, Levitt Pavilion Denver, with executive director Chris Zacher at the helm, has also become a leading voice in Colorado to amplify efforts to save independent live music venues nationwide, which have faced unprecedented financial hardship due to the pandemic. Zacher recently facilitated the NIVA Colorado Day of Action to garner more support for the bipartisan #SaveOurStages and RESTART Acts to provide federal relief to these businesses and nonprofit venues. Levitt Denver also partnered with the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts to help revitalize the Colorado Music Collective, in the hopes that the CMC can serve as an advocacy and education arm of NIVA with monthly webinars and conversations around various aspects of the arts and music industry. Levitt Denver, in partnership with Denver Actors Fund, is also working to create a fund to help local musicians cover medical bills.
Following a summer pivot away from in-person concerts at the venue due to the pandemic, Levitt Shell Sioux Falls recently launched Levitt In Your Neighborhood, intimate pop-up concerts employing local artists including small ensembles from South Dakota’s state symphony to perform in outdoor spaces in the neighborhoods most impacted by the virus. With 12 events scheduled through October 6th, the shows complement already existing activities like food giveaways, bookmobile stops, and a picnic at the city’s homeless shelter. “The response has been remarkable” says Nancy Halverson, executive director of Levitt Shell Sioux Falls, about the shows thus far. “Families are so grateful for the opportunity to enjoy the music and feel the healing power of music!” For passersby, people can spot the location of a pop-up concert by an inflatable, blue Levitt Dancing Man swaying in the breeze that has become the whimsical mascot of the series.
And in Bethlehem, Pa., Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks and ArtsQuest are partnering with a local nonprofit called Movement Moves Media to present a socially-distant concert on Saturday, Sept. 19 from 3-7pm EST titled “Arts, Music & Action” featuring rap, hip-hop, spoken word and dance by artists including Space Kamp, Trouble City All-Stars and Mako Swing. Proceeds from the event will support Movement Moves Media’s programs that support the development of a robust music scene in the Lehigh Valley, creating jobs while helping at-risk young people, supporting the homeless community, and reducing gun violence.
Above are just a few of the ways permanent Levitt venues are bringing newfound joy and wellness to their communities during this extraordinary time. As Friends of Levitt nonprofits ready plans to return to the lawn next summer for a much-anticipated season of free music under the stars (with some, like Levitt SteelStacks and Levitt Arlington, already welcoming Levitteers back to their lawn this fall for socially-distant, in-person concerts), we look forward to watching how these new programs and additional layers of engagement are woven into the fabric of Levitt concert seasons. In the meantime, there’s more exciting virtual shows and engaging online community programs on the horizon this fall, so stay tuned!