Calgary singer-songwriter Michael Bernard Fitzgerald has found a unique way to tour the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fitzgerald is in the midst of a 48-date tour, performing outdoor concerts in farmers’ fields from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, including an Oct. 1 sold-out show at a farm near Hamilton.
“We’re not going to places that typically host events like this,” Fitzgerald says on the phone from Saskatchewan on his way to Winnipeg. “We’ve been on proper livestock farms. I’ve played on two buffalo ranches in the last two weeks.”
Pandemic rules are keeping the shows small, however. Fitzgerald, who was born in Hamilton and spent his early years on a farm near Guelph, is bringing with him a 20 x 40-foot event tent he calls the Greenbriar.
Each show has a maximum safe-distancing capacity of 20 people. He sells tickets through his website (michaelbernardfitzgerald.com) at $37 each, in cohorts of four. If local health rules don’t allow for the tent, he says he’ll perform in the open air.
The idea seems to be a success. Most of the shows are sold out in advance and he’s already planning a farm tour of the U.K. for the spring.
“We bring everything, even a potty and a generator,” Fitzgerald, 34, says. “We got it all — lights, chairs, speakers and we decorate the Greenbriar nicely. When the evening starts, it feels like being in a venue.”
Fitzgerald had just completed his fifth studio album “Love Valley” when the pandemic struck.
“I always wanted to tour this album and travel across the country with it, but things kind of shifted in March,” he says.
In June, Fitzgerald’s performance itch compelled him to start holding small outdoor concerts at his home in Calgary.
“At first I played under a small tent,” he explains. “We put it up in my backyard and I played 53 shows there. From June to the end of August, I played five or six nights a week, an average of just six people a night on each evening.”
The success of those shows convinced Fitzgerald he could do it on the road. The only problem was finding farmers willing to give up a piece of their property for an evening.
“Some of it’s a word of mouth thing, knowing a person that knows a person,” he says, adding that he also just cold-calls farmers and asks. “More often than not, they say ‘yes.’”
He keeps the identity of the farms a mystery until the day of the show when ticket purchasers are informed of the concert location. It adds a sense of adventure to the experience, as well as ensuring privacy for the host farm.
“We just tell everyone to be prepared to travel 45 minutes from the city or town centre,” he says.
Although Fitzgerald is currently a city dweller, he loves the outdoors.
That appreciation for the rural life is reflected in the songs of “Love Valley,” which focus on an idyllic fictional place, with a farm and a lake, the sort of place he’d like to settle down in one day.
“With the pen in my hand, I can just draw ‘Love Valley’ in whatever way I like,” he says. “When people hear those songs in the Greenbriar, they all seem to have their own version of what is.”
He even filmed the videos for the album’s first two singles outdoors near High River, Alta. On the song “I Love That Sound,” he was even joined unexpectedly by a honking goose landing on a nearby pond.
“We captured it all with two microphones,” he says. “It was everyone’s favourite take and then the goose landed at the end.”