I’ve got to admit that I came out of Lockdown with high levels of anxiety. Lockdown suited me, safely tucked away in my little rural world, safe in the knowledge that I wasn’t missing out on exciting things happening nearby. I didn’t have to be anywhere but here. Others weren’t relying on me to be efficient and productive. With no expectations on me, I got a surprising amount done.

And then it ended. Things to do, places to be, people to see. Damn!

As it happened, I quickly got busy. Once social gatherings were allowed, musicians wanted to find audiences. From a clear calendar to scrawled notes on every day of the week, working through possible dates. Typically musicians take a month or more to put together a tour, there are so many variables. In early June it was happening in days.

The first post-lockdown Sitting Room Session was pulled together in a week, and a new venue needed to be transformed from a storage space and garage into a cosy, comfortable, welcoming space in that time.

Would anyone come? Did people want to be out? How do we keep people safe? What do I do if someone looks sick?  What do I do if someone gets sick? Are we being premature?

I see my mission in life as being to bring artists and audience together in the most convivial, comfortable and welcoming environment I can. It’s Manaakitanga. It’s honouring the guests, both those paying to be there and those being paid to be there. It’s creating a three hour long bubble where an artist feels safe to share deeply, and those that come along feel safe to leave pretentions and worries behind and open themselves to absorbing what the artist gives. To me this is where the magic lies.

Back to the first Session.  People find out about my Sessions by email. Email composed. Press send. Instant responses. Fully booked in an hour. That’s never happened before. Phone calls, backward and forward. Consulting with a new and nervous landlord. Eventually, yes, we can do a second show. Tell folk.  Big response. Ooops, date change. Damn. Tell people … all good. Second show sold out in two hours. High drama. Rock ‘n’ Roll.

But missing the calm and solitude of lockdown.

The first night arrives. Anxious. Is this the right thing to be doing? Is it too soon? Seriously,  if one person comes with the virus? How would we all feel? Is it worth it?

The answer to that last question is a resounding YES.  The spirit in that room that night can best be measured by the breadth of the smiles and the length of the hugs, often between people not known as huggers.

The warmth of the welcome to the stage for Reb Fountain and Dave Kahn that night was bottleable! It was almost a standing ovation as they walked on stage, simply for being there. The appetite for the music, and the stories in between songs was palpable. This was what had been missing from our lives; not just the music, but the interaction, your shoulder just touching your neighbours shoulder as you listened together, the ripple of laughter through the room, that magic pause at the end of an incredible song before the applause begins.

It’s now been six sold out shows since lockdown. Each has sold out very quickly. Each has felt almost more celebratory than the last. We are still here! We still do this!

Generally in the Bay, the live music scene is buoyant, full houses at The Cabana, Paisley Stage, Common Room & Urban Winery. The Saturday night session at Crab Farm with The Tropical Downbeat Orchestra felt like New Year’s Eve. Cherry Boomb’s “Spirit of Napier” Burlesque night at Paisley Stage was packed to the gunwales. The sustained applause for Stephen De Pledge and Amalia Hall after their Chamber Music New Zealand concert at the MTG on Tuesday night was far less restrained than usual at such an event.

Artists are so keen to share, they seem to be giving more of themselves than previously, and audiences are open and responsive. This is a vibrant time.

Just below the surface is the awareness that much of the world are not able to share these experiences. That things could change here at any time. That there are dark clouds gathering on the horizon. Does that perhaps heighten our ability to relish the moment?

Whatever the answer, bask in it! So much good music coming through, and the Arts Festival poised to launch.  If you’d like to know more about the Sitting Room Sessions please send me an email: jamie@macphails.co.nz

Sitting Room Sessions photos from top: Amanda Palmer, Reb Fountain with Dave Kahn, Jamie welcoming audience.
Photo credit: Olivia Robertson

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