Bay Area promoter KC Turner never intended to outwit the concert-canceling coronavirus. But in a moment of lockdown inspiration, that’s what he did when he started staging his In Your Driveway (or Backyard) San Francisco music appearances.
The response was overwhelming.
“People loved it. They were crying at the shows, and it was an emotional thing for the artist and the fans,” says Turner, who has put on more than 160 shows since October. He adds, “It was also a way to earn those artists an income, a way for me to get off unemployment, and a way for us to do what we all do, which is bring people joy through live music.”
Before the pandemic, Turner was busy with his bustling KC Turner Presents booking business, and he had launched his own musician-centered podcast, to boot. But when COVID-19 struck in March 2020, he was blindsided, unsure how to adapt. Like most promoters, his first optimistic response was to reschedule that month’s dates a few weeks down the road. “We pushed everything back, thinking, ‘Oh, we’ll be OK by April!’” he says. But reality set in around summer.
“From here to New York to Florida, concert bookers all had the same fears and concerns, like, ‘What are we going to do?’ It definitely was layers and layers of disappointment, because I had a whole summer series planned at this 300-cap space called The HopMonk [Tavern] in Novato.”
Turner — an Eddie-Vedder/Bob Schneider-inspired vocalist, who occasionally sings and plays himself — stumbled across his solution by accident, during a casual conversation with Bay Area folksinger Megan Slankard, whom he also manages.
Already tired of the impersonal livestreams she had launched, Slankard wondered if there was a more immediate method of connecting to her audience.
He elaborated on her concept: “Maybe I could do some kind of driveway/delivery/backyard kind of thing,” he says. “And I just really thought about it: ‘How can I do a show during a time when there’s no vaccine?’ I wanted to do this so ridiculously safely that people think we’re being too safe.” He quickly compiled list of meticulous attendance rules.
Maximum yard/driveway attendance would be limited to 10, maybe 15 people, maximum, depending on site size, which allowed for comfortable social distancing. Masks were mandatory for all, as was keeping 15 feet away from the stage. Artists sometimes had backing musicians seated on adjacent couches.
Appearances, purchased for a flat fee, would include Turner’s own battery-powered Bose amplifier system — no tangled tendrils of cables required — and hour-long shows. Turner was able to keep overhead costs to an affordable minimum, he explains, by scheduling roughly three shows a day in different locations. The home-held series was such a huge hit, by November, after 35 shows, he expanded limits (crowds to 20, sets to 75 minutes) and began blocking out his spring calendar.
“I started reaching out to people, and people were starting to reach out to me, too, artists and managers, because they’d started to get wind of this,” says Turner, who had kicked off with a rotation of regulars like Slankard, Steve Poltz and Tim Bluhm of local favorites The Mother Hips. The roster grew to include Chuck Prophet, Citizen Cope, X bandleader John Doe, Cracker frontman David Lowery, and Glen Phillips from Toad the Wet Sprocket. Phillips squeezed in 12 gigs in four days, but Canadian-born Poltz holds the record with 16 in five.
Go-getter Turner, oddly enough, was OK with office work when in 2005 he moved to the Bay Area from Columbia, Mo., where he punched the clock at a Birkenstock store in college. He happily accepted a higher-level position at the company’s headquarters in Novato, where an old friend, who happened to need a roommate in Petaluma, was working.
Driving across the country, he recalls what he thought at his first glimpse of the San Francisco skyline: “I was like, ‘You mean I can actually live here?’ I just couldn’t believe it! And now it’s unbelievable that I get to put on all these concerts.”
With the Bay Area’s recent reopening, Turner is booking his old familiar venues again, but the Driveway/Backyard packages are still on offer. He says, “These private concerts aren’t like some ‘rich dude hires band and then talks the whole time kind of thing.’ I always say that you’ll see X play again, you’ll see Cracker, Toad or Megan. But this is the show you’re never going to forget — the time they played your driveway. Or your backyard!”
For a schedule of upcoming concerts at various private San Francisco/Bay Area locations and HopMonk Tavern in Novato, visit https://kcturnerpresents.com/calendar.