Michael Bernard Fitzgerald Has A Plan For COVID-19 Touring: A Tent

– Michael Bernard Fitzgerald
Michael Bernard Fitzgerald has continued to perform for audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic from a small tent in his backyard in Calgary, Alberta. Now he is taking a larger tent on the road throughout Canada through September and October.
Sometimes you can wade into water, but sometimes you just need to jump in, and Michael Bernard Fitzgerald is definitely doing just that, as one of the few artists in North America with any sort of a tour on the books for 2020.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the live entertainment industry Fitzgerald – a singer/songwriter whose latest LP, Love Valley, is due out in October – has already staged more than 50 socially distanced concerts in a tent in his backyard in Calgary, Alberta, and he is now bringing an upgraded tent on the road to more than 50 stops in Canada.
“I made this record, Love Valley, and took a year to work on it. It’s a bit more vibey, I wrote the songs here at home, there is lots of acoustic guitar on it and we just added instruments that felt good. In January I was thinking it would be interesting to play this music in a different way, instead of just playing traditional venues. 
“I was also thinking, after being a touring artist for so long, it would be really cool if the shows also got to have a bit of my home life in there. Instead of it being a band on the road, it could be me playing these shows and hosting my friends and family, having that experience on the road instead of separating my work life and my home life. I thought it would be interesting to bring those things together, perhaps in a tent or a small stage, and I was thinking about that [before COVID], that I would start touring, maybe in June, with 10 shows of 30-40 people, that I’d keep the capacity low. 
“Once COVID starting spreading in Canada, I first focused on how to get the record out, and then I was thinking about the tent again, so we brought the capacity lower and started with a 10×20 event tent that sits on my parking pad. We decorated it beautifully and I put the shows online thinking maybe a couple of them would go. But within five hours, these shows were gone.”
The shows in his backyard have been miniscule, going on sale with 4 tickets available per night – though each ticket can include a few additional guests, so most of the gigs thus have had an average of six attendees Fitzgerald told Pollstar, with a max capacity of 10. 
After figuring out what shows in the time of COVID-19 might look like, Fitzgerald researched how large of a tent he would need and procured one from the Lilac Festival in Calgary, which is taking a break in 2020. He set up a two-input system for lighting and sound which he plans on porting to the larger tent, and found the acoustics were better than he expected. His neighbors were even onboard and this summer his backyard was perhaps one of the most active performance venues in all of Canada.
– Michael Bernard Fitzgerald

For the backyard shows he partnering with Calgary coffee shop Monogram for beverages and local restaurant UNA for pizza and other drinks, in many ways fulfilling his vision of hosting a special gathering to share his music. He even partnered with Calgary Folk Fest and added shows during the weekend the IRL event was originally scheduled to take place. CFF provided lanyards and gift baskets to attendees of those shows and that support was significant to Fitzgerald, who said the festival played a huge part  in his own development as an artist. 
Emboldened by his success playing shows at home almost every night, the self-managed Fitzgerald is getting a bigger tent, a truck and a trailer and is hitting the Canadian roads in the coming months with a true tour routing through Alberta, Sasketchawan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and British Columbia – so many in the industry will look at the list of cities Fitzgerald is planning on visiting and sigh longingly for the days when inboxes were awash with such schedules. He routed the tour with help from his agency in Canada, Paquin Entertainment Group. He is also repped by UTA in the UK.
Fitzgerald told Pollstar he expects about 20 people per night at his upcoming tent shows. Tickets are going for $35-37 per market, and demand is apparently high as half the tickets sold out within a week of his initial onsale.
“There’s a certain element of doing something like this that requires throwing caution to the wind. Not when it comes to health and public safety, obviously, but in terms of having an idea you have never done before and having no idea how it is going to go (and doing it anyway). That’s what it was when we did the tent in the backyard. 
“I can’t believe that 50 shows have happened in my backyard. And my neighbors love the idea. No one has had an issue with it, I have had neighbors sitting outside in their chairs, checking out concerts here and there. I’m looking forward to seeing what this next phase is like. We’re introducing a few more variables with the travel, but our little backyard experiment was out of this world.”
The scale of the shows might be closer in some eyes to private events than ticketed concerts, and Fitzgerald said the dynamic of the backyard shows has toed the line between the two.
– The Tent
The tent that Michael Bernard Fitzgerald is hosting shows in throughout Canada.

“Obviously, the idea of playing to four people, as a performer or touring artist, is not something you’re normally looking to do. Usually if that happens it’s because something went wrong. But what I find is we do have conversation, as if it were a house concert or a private show. People ask real questions and they ask for me to play songs that they remember from any period of time in my discography. 
“You get to have a one-on-one connection with people, but because there is this stage that we are all coming to, it still feels like a concert venue. When the song starts, it does feel like you are in this little, mini-concert hall. And when the song finishes I get chatter. ‘Why’d you write that song?’ or ‘Man I really love your cover of this other song.’ It combines the different types of performance in a way that I love.”
There is so much conversation during the show, Fitzgerald says, that approximately half of the two-hour concert is made up of back-and-forth between the audience and the artist.
The self-managed Fitzgerald is promoting the shows himself and doesn’t use a traditional ticketing service. Instead, he has all interested guests fill out a form on his website and then sells them the tickets directly via email. 
The shows are intended to be safe and he is staying up to date on the requirements in each province to hold gatherings. He will modify crowd size as necessary, making sure there is more than the required amount of space between different groups of fans, will be making hand sanitizer available at every show and will sanitize the space before guest arrival for each show. If province regulations require a mask for public gatherings, he will enforce that regulation at his show, Fitzgerald told Pollstar, and he said he is relying on local government to determine what are the safe standards.
“If they change the rules, we will adhere to them. Each province in Canada seems to have a different set of rules and I’m more than happy to adhere to all of them. If that means everyone wears a mask or I have to sit behind plexiglass, I think we’re going to have to be dynamic and adhere to the recommendations for each area.”
Fitzgerald does tell each ticketholder that if a show is delayed due to COVID-19 they will be granted entry to a rescheduled date and will receive a private livestream concert at the date of the original show. He has admitted he doesn’t yet have a lot of experience setting up or taking down the tent and stage, but he only intends on taking one crew member on the road with him to help with staging, lighting and sound engineering, and is planning on doing much of the lugging and work himself.
“I’ll be the first to admit, I think in the next two weeks I am going to be experiencing quite the learning curve, but it is what it is. I think this is a worthwhile idea and the uptake is going to be amazing. In the first week of this tour being announced 50 percent of tickets were gone. I think this is going to be what we do, so if that means a couple of late nights learning how to take down a tent, I’m all for it. “ 

– Calgary Folk Fest
The crowd during one of Michael Bernard Fitzgerald’s Calgary Folk Fest Tent performances
Hitting the road is going to be an adventure for Michael Bernard Fitzgerald, and he said he has no idea how long the shutdown will continue or how significant this tour will be in the grand scheme of things. 
“I’m not thinking about it too much. I think it’s phenomenal that I still have the chance to play. Working on having a new release, I find the days are pretty full. Five nights a week, at 6 p.m., I have started getting ready to have this concert in my backyard, and I think that’s pretty cool. 
“I think people are looking to hear music and I think it’s a great opportunity to connect. You get to hear peoples’ stories and I think that’s such an awesome spot to be in. And I’m willing to go with it for now. It is what it is to a certain extent, and if that means shows are happening in this way, I’m all for it. 
“As someone who has recorded some new songs, and even with the songs I’ve recorded before Love Valley, I really value this opportunity to go out and sing them, I think that’s what I need to be doing.