Alison Draper and Nick Harper used to go to concerts almost every weekend. Now they don’t have to leave their place to see a live show. They’ve turned their place — 528 West Granada, in Phoenix — into a socially distanced outdoor venue called 528 Live.
“We happen to have a cool porch that we thought we could convince people to come and play on,” Draper says, “and it worked.”
In early 2020, the couple noticed that their friends, who’d played gigs weekly, suddenly had nowhere to perform. So they started invited them over.
Phoenix musicians Kim Weston & The Jazz Boys perform often at 528 Live.
One of the first performers was Draper’s best friend, Kim Weston. Weston sings in a sultry voice and plays a mean violin. Inspired by Norah Jones, she performs jazz-leaning tunes, including covers of John Mayer and Bruno Mars.
“I do a lot of weddings and private events,” Weston says. “I had all of those booked, and unfortunately, they all had to rebook some of them until fall 2021 or 2022.”
When Draper extended the invitation in April, Weston leaped at the chance. She often performs at 528 Live with the Jazz Boys: Rich Kniss on guitar, Sean Brogan on upright bass, and Connor Sample on drums.
“Once they got a couple of bands, then others were interested,” Weston says. “We just tell our friends, ‘You aren’t playing anywhere otherwise.’”
Harper adds, “They’ve been excited to just play because this is the only place they’ve played in 10 months.”
According to Weston, 50 to 100 people can show up on Saturdays to the socially distanced gigs. Attendees watch from the yard, neighboring yards, or they stand along the streets. Draper, who works in marketing, handles advertising, while Harper, who works in tech consulting, oversees the technical aspects of the shows, recording each concert and airing them on Facebook Live.
The success of 528 Live has enabled Harper and Draper to welcome some bigger acts.
“We had Misty Boyce,” Draper says. “She normally tours with Sara Bareilles. She just landed in Phoenix because of COVID. She lives in L.A.”
528 Live has also seen performances from folk singer Blaine Long from The Voice; Obadiah Parker, whose cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya” has reached over 8 million views on YouTube; Brian Chartrand, who’s played at Carnegie Hall; and other artists who are either based in or currently stuck in Phoenix. (For the February schedule and details on 528 Live, see the venue’s Facebook page.)
“We tell people, ‘We have porch concerts, you should come,’ and they go, ‘Oh that’s cute,’” Draper says. “It’s a really big deal — the people we have. You would pay so much money to go see them.”
Speaking of which, how much do the tickets cost?
“It’s purely donation,” Harper says. “Literally all we care about is that these guys are getting money for showing up.”
All donations received via Venmo and through a tip jar go directly to the artists. According to Weston and Harper, the amount can sometimes total what the musicians would be receiving from normal gigs anyway.
“They’re making money,” Draper says of the performers, “and we don’t mind putting it together. We’re happy and the neighbors are happy.”
As regular attendees show up every week, local businesses have gotten involved too. Little O’s on McDowell drops by with beers on occasion, and Bad Bootch offered hard kombucha for the January 30 performance of Kim Weston and the Jazz Boys.
While some restaurants and venues have started safely opening their doors to musicians, Draper and Harper want to continue 528 Live, COVID-19 or no.
“It seemed like it might’ve been a novelty thing for a couple of months but it turned into something that people have to have,” Harper says.
Weston says, “I think there could be more porch concerts. I know it [began] out of necessity that these started, but there’s definitely a business model.”
So far, everyone Draper and Harper have invited has agreed to a performance. When asked who their dream performer would be, at the same they both answer, “Eddie Vedder.”
“I mean, I’ve drunk some wine and sent some messages to some famous people,” Draper says. “A girl can dream.”
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