As people and industries around the world face the impact of COVID-19, artists and creatives are continuing to push through postponed album launches, cancelled concerts and tours, financial loss and indefinite venue closures. With resilience and collaboration, everyone can lend a helping hand during difficult times. This has led Mark Marczyk, known for his work as ringleader of Toronto’s guerrilla-folk party-punk icons, Lemon Bucket Orkestra, to establish URGNT – a livestream concert series for Toronto’s most active and prominent musicians to perform in some of the city’s iconic and beloved venues, as well as DIY and indie spaces.
What began as a call out in a Facebook post has been growing rapidly as an initiative Marczyk established just over a week ago alongside long-term colleagues and key community members — Jaash Singh, Tamar Ilana, Alex Bordokas and Oksana Hawrylak. Funding has begun through a GoFundMe campaign that you can follow and support here.
“How can we be advocates of the whole diverse ecology of our live music sector in this time of crisis and bring attention to the artists, venues, technicians, promoters and arts workers who themselves bring value to our economy and quality of life?” Marczyk comments. “We need this. Our city needs this. The whole world needs this. Italians quarantined in apartment blocks have been having sing-alongs from their balconies. European opera houses are releasing their coveted video archives to the public. Symphonies are being performed in front of no one. We are all being creative in the face of adversity to remember our humanity. It would be nice to be creative together so that when this all passes, we can remember and be proud of what we did together to get through it.”
URGNT LIVE is an ad hoc crowd-funded livestream series of 19 concerts in empty venues, created in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The URGNT goals are: to unify the arts industry in Toronto (musicians, presenters, technicians, organizers) in a safe and creative way; to raise money to pay a nominal fee to all involved parties to help with lost gigs and wages as a result of the quarantine; to document this unique period in history; and to make compelling content available to audiences when they need it most.
For the next three weeks, URGNT LIVE will go into 19 closed concert venues with 19 iconic Toronto acts, whose tours/work has been cancelled and livelihoods put at stake (among them, Juno Award winners and nominees), to livestream 30-40 minute sets. Currently, confirmed artists include Soprano songstress Measha Brueggergosman, Mexican singer-songwriter Quique Escamilla, Juno-winning Indigenous blues duo Digging Roots, indie rockers Moscow Apartment, DJ/Producer/Turntablist extraordinaire Scratch Bastid, Filipino-Canadian lyricist Han Han, Cuban soul artists Okan, Juno-winning Allison Au Quartet, chamber music ensemble Gryphon Trio, and Lemon Bucket Orkestra.
Participating venues (more to be announced soon) are active community sponsors, waiving all fees to support the concert series, including: The Great Hall, Lula Lounge, The Dakota Tavern, Wheat Sheaf, Communist’s Daughter, Drom Taberna, Today/Tonight Live Happenings Bar, 918 Bathurst, BSMT 254, and Koerner Hall.
Kathleen Ryan has been appointed URGNT’s Head Of Production, with experience working for numerous organizations and notable events, including the Junos. Media sponsors include Maclean’s, who will support ongoing coverage and broadcasts of the concerts. iHeart Radio Canada will broadcast the first show on Friday, March 20 at 7 p.m. ET, featuring renowned Canadian opera singer and author Measha Brueggergosman, who will deliver an intimate set of gospel and blues live from The Great Hall. Audiences can stay tuned for the livestream link available via URGNT.ca, Maclean’s, and iHeartRadio Canada. Every subsequent artist and venue will be announced after each broadcast. Solotech is the technical sponsor, providing audio/visual support and livestream gear.
A means to hold space for the community by filling empty ones through sound, URGNT is in need of support to highlight the spirit of Toronto’s music scene, emphasizing the importance of staying connected and supporting the people who create the music that gets us through extreme situations. For all the negative effects of the Coronavirus, URGNT is an opportunity to show just how incredible Toronto through its people and places, so that when people do ultimately come out of quarantine, they are inclined to be more active.
“We want to be strong advocates for diverse representation, which is part of the city we love, so we've already been reaching across genre, cultures, and identities, but we also hope to hear from a number of artists in response,” Marcyzk says. “We will focus on this emptiness/space as much as the musicians themselves and highlight some of the physically distinct properties of each venue that people might not otherwise have noticed as a tip of the hat to experienced hosts. We want to set production values fairly high; 3 cameras, professional crew, quality audio mix, and hopefully at least partially employing other industry professionals who are also affected by this sudden loss of work.”
URGNT is closely monitoring their GoFundMe page and acknowledges the health implications of this initiative. The team is developing a series of guidelines (including but not limited to having ample sanitation products on-hand, ensuring only invited participants who don’t exhibit symptoms and haven’t travelled recently, maintain distance, even on stage), while evolving with public health recommendations.