Fiddler’s Dream Coffeehouse has long offered a space for musicians to perform.
Although the Glendale nonprofit cannot offer the same opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic because of social distancing guidelines, the organization has been providing a Virtual Open Stage platform for musicians looking for a space to play.
The virtual performance nights start at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays via Zoom and Facebook.
Fiddler’s Dream started the Virtual Open Stage nights in March, almost immediately after it was forced to temporarily close its performance space. It’s open to musicians of various ages and levels, and they are given the chance to perform multiple songs.
Phoenix singer-songwriter Glen Gardner, who has performed at Fiddler’s Dream for the last two years, has been moderating the Virtual Open Stage. A member of Jif and the Choosy Mothers, Gardner performs as well.
“It’s all about the music at that venue,” Gardner says about Fiddler’s Dream. “People are there to watch and to listen. At Fiddler’s Dream, the music is at the foreground. That is the focus, and that’s unusual in this day and age.”
Gardner says the virtual performance nights have attracted musicians from around the United States, including those who are just starting out.
“We’ve had a lot of them online, 13 or 14 year olds who have picked up a guitar, banjo or keyboard for the first time, and they want to put it out there. We just want to make sure that we have that opportunity for them,” Gardner says.
Many musicians play their own music, while some perform popular covers.
The virtual shows are available to listeners around the world. Audience members have a chance to show their appreciation between songs, when Gardner unmutes viewers so they can clap for performers. There is also time before the performances for social interaction.
Gardner says the virtual nights have been important for musicians who aren’t able to tour and can’t find places to play their music locally during COVID-19.
“We get a lot of feedback that it’s the high point of the week for a lot of people,” he says. “We all very much miss the physical location, but we’re glad we’ve figured out a way that we can still do it right now.”
Gardner says the virtual events have also helped to create community.
“There are so many people who are adrift because their normal routines, their job even, everything has been upended. We just wanted to cast a lifeline out there and say this small aspect of what you used to do is still there,” Gardner says.
“A lot of the people that come are people that we used to face-to-face with. It’s great to see them every week.”
Adapting to Zoom took some time. The musicians had to invest in equipment such as USB audio interfaces and microphones. They also had to learn how to adjust app settings meant to reduce noise.
“There were certain things we had to figure out so that music would work on the platform,” Gardner says.
“That was part of the challenge early on, figuring out what type of equipment you needed, what kind of settings in Zoom worked better, could you do it on just a phone, did you need a mixer. There were all of those things that had to get figured out in a hurry.”
Gardner hopes through the virtual shows to help to keep continuity within the organization and make sure that it stays around for years to come.
He says with the way that bars and restaurants have been hit financially by COVID-19, musicians will need other types of performance spaces.
“It’s going to be important on the other side of this that a place like Fiddler’s Dream exists so that musicians have a place to play outside of a restaurant, bar or commercial venue,” Gardner says.
The virtual performances are meant to serve a similar purpose as the in-person venue in giving local and touring artists a space for expression.
Nia Maxwell, a board member since August 1996, says for musicians, Fiddler’s Dream offers a spot to perform different styles of acoustic music, including bluegrass, folk, light jazz, Celtic and blues. The organization has often spotlighted performers from other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Portugal and Brazil.
It has also hosted special flamenco music and dance and Western drama and music performances.
Maxwell says Fiddler’s Dream is an ideal space for young people to start out.
“It’s a great place to gain stage presence and learn with a friendly, responsive audience,” says Maxwell, who books the bands at Fiddler’s Dream.
Music education is an important component of the organization. It regularly hosts workshops on topics such as songwriting or guitar playing, as well as other events such as poetry readings.
“We try to offer things that will be of interest and of value to the community,” Maxwell says.
Located on the grounds of the Phoenix Friends Meeting, Fiddler’s Dream’s physical location is also used in other ways. Local music organizations, such as the Phoenix chapter of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, uses it for meetings.
Many of the same audience members attend events each week at Fiddler’s Dream. Maxwell became acquainted with regular patrons over the years.
“It’s about community and relationships as well as fabulous music and really good coffee,” Maxwell says.
Maxwell first attended a show at the venue with a friend and later got more involved.
One of her most memorable moments occurred when she met her husband, Larry Hill, at the venue. Hill, a guitarist and banjo player, has been performing at Fiddler’s Dream since the 1980s and has been a board member since 1995.
The organization’s president, Hill moderates the in-person Open Stages and takes part in the Virtual Open Stage nights.
“His music and his songwriting just really drew me in. I thought, ‘Who is this person?’ When I found out that they were his original songs, I had to get to know this man better,” Maxwell says.
Fiddler’s Dream Coffeehouse, facebook.com/fiddlersdream.