As a founding member of Songs From the Road Band, Sam Wharton has kept a busy national touring schedule, garnering accolades and performing alongside some of the best in the business. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Wharton - like so many other touring musicians - found himself with a calendar full of canceled festivals and show dates. Inspired by the incredible talent surrounding his home of western North Carolina, Sam quickly put together a plan: connect bands to at-home audiences, with top-quality production and the utmost focus on safety and transparency.
And thus, Bands2Fans was born. Wharton teamed with Ambrose West, a West Asheville contemporary event space and music venue, to bring his vision to life. The listening room’s main building, with its high wooden ceilings, hardwood floors, and beautiful lighting, provides a palpable energy that shines through even during these socially-distant events. "Making music for people to enjoy is not just what we do - it's who we are,” remarks Wharton. “So, the opportunity to play on a real stage with lights and professional sound, and to make that available to a 'live audience' at home on their couches is a gift to the players as well as the listeners who tune into Bands2Fans' live streams."
Wharton also made a conscious choice to focus on performer and venue safety, as well as a high level of transparency regarding these precautions. All equipment and surfaces are disinfected before and after each performance. Crew numbers are extremely limited, and social distancing precautions are enforced. “I wanted to make sure we provided the safest environment possible for these live stream concerts,” continues Wharton. “It's important to me that the musicians feel safe and secure to get up on stage, let loose, and do what they love."
The Bands2Fans series kicked off two weeks ago with the Darren Nicholson Band - to an immediate reaction from fans. “We've had a great response already with thousands of viewers,” Wharton says with enthusiasm. “Listeners at home are hungry for quality streams.”
After the show, Nicholson had nothing but positive things to say: “Not only did we feel completely comfortable and safe, but the production was first-class. All we had to worry about was showing up and playing the music. This took a tremendous load off our shoulders. This was our first live stream as a band since the quarantine, and Bands2Fans made it a first-rate experience for us.”
The second installment in the series featured Josh Daniel, Jeff Sipe, Mark Schimick, and Justin Powell, and was again an energetic, widely viewed success. Week three of the series will prove no exception; on deck are five top notch bluegrass players in western North Carolina. Bands2Fans camera operator, Charles R Humphrey III, also a member of Songs From the Road Band, had the following to say: "These are some of THE best musicians in the business! You're in for a night of truly drivin' bluegrass with Saturday's live stream show.”
Bands2Fans live stream concerts can be viewed each Saturday evening via Facebook Live, YouTube, and TwitchTV. The streams are free to the public, but donations for the bands and the series are encouraged and appreciated.