Back in April, as the pandemic was really ramping up, I had two main thoughts:
- This was going to be a horrible hit to the economy.
- This would create unimaginable stress to communities all over the world.
As you may have seen on this website, in my role here at Tenato I have tried to address issue #1 as best I can with Pandemic Strategy and Recovery advice, and working tirelessly to support all of our valued clients. But as I am also a performing musician, I also felt I could do something to alleviate the second point: the stress.
It began with doing all kinds of pop-up performances in places where people may be out and about – grocery store parking lots, nearby green spaces, and often just from my own front porch. I got a generator for my 50th birthday, so I can literally play ANYWHERE with my own PA system now! The experience of performing spontaneous shows was quite an epiphany. It used to be that when I would play in a lounge or cafe (or even busk downtown, as I have done just for the experience of it), people would pay little attention, or simply go about their business. But now, people were coming over to say thank you! They would tell me how dark this time was for them, and what a huge relief it was to just hear live entertainment again!
Seeing the reactions of people made me realize how desperately some kind of live entertainment was needed in our stressed-out communities. I wished I could multiply myself by thousands, and sprinkle live music everywhere. I reached out to many of the musicians I knew and told them that they should just get out and play – wherever and whenever, just as a community service. However, few of them felt comfortable doing this. The Musicians’ union liked the idea of spontaneous shows, and shared my ideas around, but still most musicians were sticking to the house and doing only live streaming. While I do think there is value in live-streaming, and I”ve done some of this myself, I felt that the one thing needed even more thatn online entertainment was getting people off their computer screens!
So I thought about what would be needed in order to coax entertainers out of their living rooms and into the outside world (respecting social distancing of course). This is where the marketing strategy came in – it needed a brand – something to create an umbrella over these entertainment pop-ups so that people would feel connected to being a part of something – not just risk being the “lone idiot” singing alone in the wind! I thought if I had enough entertainers in a community, I could build a walking tour of different entertainers, and crowds wouldn’t pool too much in one place. Would this work?
Given that the Calgary Stampede had been recently cancelled, my husband Gary (also my partner at Tenato) and I put our heads together, and were initially thinking to do something that would simply replace the Stampede during Stampede week. We thought about calling it Community “Stampede”, but we knew we didn’t have any permission to use their trademark, and didn’t want to create trouble. What’s more, we decided that we didn’t want to wait until Stampede week! People needed the entertainment NOW, not later. Who knew how bad the overall mental health of communities would get between now and July?
Gary came up with the word “Stompede” – which fit perfectly with the idea of a walking (stomping) tour! And rather than use big star entertainers, or even professionally paid acts (we had no real budget to supply), we would simply use the talents, skills and creativity of the people right within the community. Why? Because we strongly feel humans all around us are fountains of talent and creativity, but that too many of us have been told we “aren’t good enough” and that only “professionals” deserve to be heard. (If you want me to rant about the corporatization of the entertainment industry and the “talent drain” to places like Nashville, just ask). Especially right now, these precious, delicate talents and passions are exactly what people need to be sharing to feel connected to one another in communities everywhere, feel valued, and be understood/appreciated for who they are. And if we could get all the local emerging talent performing, what a great way to nurture and develop talent right here at home!
So, with this purpose in mind, then we used our Tenato approach: we researched, we strategized, and we executed. The research involved posting online to a large community Facebook group in Bonavista to ask people in the community if they would WANT to be involved in a grassroots walking tour of entertainment that could include literally anything, as long as it was safely executed re: COVID guidelines. The response was overwhelming – I’ve never had so many likes/comments and excitement on a post. This was April 27. Being brave (and knowing that at worst-case, our walking tour would at least have me performing in multiple locations), we decided we would dive in with our first event May 3rd, just days later, and strike while the interest was hot! We had to hope that at least some of the people who said they “would” want to be involved would dive in and participate.
We strategized how the flow would work, and how to make people feel part of the brand – developing ideas like signage, online branding, marketing. We decided our walking tour WOULD be safe but WOULD NOT screen acts for their polish in terms of adjudication, or being elite about what was “good enough” for us. We felt strongly that any performer, whether a kid showing his Lego creations, someone making a hopscotch, or a professional musician, all had entertainment value. These are things that make a community have colour and character – and create conversation and bonding among neighbours. We also decided that since it was a grass-roots thing, it would need to be done regularly to build it gradually. We wanted weekly tours for families to look forward to, even if they were small. Small was good! We wanted to welcome everyone. And we told our performers to be happy with very small numbers of spectators, simply trickling by, because that’s the safest for the pandemic anyhow.
We executed by setting up social media sites, taking names of participants, and posting zany spit-balled ideas to get peoples’ creativity flowing. We bought Facebook ads to target just to our community (fortunately very inexpensive – we could reach all of Bonavista once with about $20), and we printed and laminated basic signs. No, we didn’t want it to look slick like we had some big budget because we didn’t – we just needed the image to be fun, local and credible. And to ensure there was flow around the community, we picked a few locations where I could perform to draw traffic along to different other entertainers and prevent everyone from pooling up in one tight area. Gary blew up and delivered the balloon-adorned signs all over the neighbourhood, and picked them up again at the end of the day (while setting up my sound, and that of a few other performers too!). We went from knowing about 12 neighbours to about 100 neighbours in about 3 weeks! (And we’ve since switched to nifty pinwheels instead of balloons – he has great big lungs but what a lot of work and unnecessary garbage!)
The first week we had about 8 performers, plus myself doing 3 locations. Everyone involved had a ball, and the positive word of mouth built up into the next week, which faced cold weather. Again we polled residents, and everyone said it was just fine to skip a week. (Not a big deal because we weren’t only doing one event per month, which would feel like a huge loss if cancelled!) We still had lots of momentum for the third week – talents and ideas were coming from everywhere. We even got a food truck for nothing (no $1200 booking fee) because we were the only thing happening in town! That food truck did triple the sales they expected, and we were super happy for them.
This week, our third, has lifted us another level. Somehow the media found its way to our doorstep, and asked about covering the event. While part of me wanted to showcase all we achieved, I was a bit worried that the media attention might flood the community with outside traffic, and cause complaints. We also enlisted help from Lynda Greuel, a professional event planner (Hillcrest Events) and an associate of Tenato, and Brian Purdy, a retired lawyer who lives here in Lake Bonavista. Lynda helped us write specific guidelines for participants that carefully aligned with the latest municipal and provincial regulations, and Brian helped us craft a waiver so that participants would accept their own risk in participating. We’ve boosted our COVID-distancing signage in preparation for potentially more interest. But the good thing is, we have many more activities being staged each week, so the traffic can just keep on flowing by. Click for the latest activities map.
My message to you is this: You don’t need to squeeze in to see the Lake Bonavista Stompede (unless you live in this area, or can walk/bicycle here). LAUNCH YOUR OWN! Here are Tenato, we would be so proud to share all we have learned with you. If you contact me to tell me you’re starting a similar event, I will provide you with a free package of things and a step by step list you can use as a template. We’ll also let you use our registration page on communitystompede.ca, which automates the data gathering and safety-waiver-signing process. And keep in mind that anything else you might need (a laminator to make signs? A generator to put a musician in a field?) is probably already owned by your neighbours, and you can likely borrow it if you just post and ask!
Is it much work? Well, maybe 6- 10 hours a week of coordinating as you get messages from neighbours wanting to participate, and another 4 – 6 hours on a Sunday, but I’ve done the hard work learning this, so it should be 50% easier for you. And what other fun is there to be had nowadays anyway?
So far, this whole experience has been unbelievably rewarding and fun. It feels better than I ever even imagined seeing young kids performing, and their parents beaming with pride. And neighbours sharing their hobbies and crafty things and saying things like , “Wow, I never knew the fella across the street also loved classic cars!” Think about all the happy kids and families you’ll see, and all the friends you’ll make. If this pandemic does eventually kill us, we’ll die with a lot more happy memories, and feeling like we really contributed to this community. And heck, if you’re an event planner or musician, what else have you got to do right now in the pandemic? Just think of the value of having a whole community knowing your name, and so appreciating your contribution.
So please, contact us, and I’ll send you all I have to make your starting easier. If you are brave enough to dive and try, you’ll have a great local entertainment tour going by Stampede week. All we ask is if you like and appreciate the documents and effort we’ve provided, we would love to hear from you, see a few photos of your event (share it at #communitystompede), give us a nice Google Review, or follow us on our social channels.
Help us spread the spirit of Community Stompede across Calgary, and beyond! UPDATE June 5: We have now hosted 4 successful Community Stompedes in Lake Bonavista, and Lynda Greuel is kicking off the first one in her community of North Haven! Wohoo! See below for a couple of example of our activity maps: one from our first Stompede, and one from our latest (fourth) on May 31. June 7 is being delayed due to a very cold weather forecast, but we are still proceeding with a graduation car parade that day. Stay tuned at facebook.com/communitystompede.
Photos by Mariette Jessup, a talented photographer based in Lake Bonavista!