In honor of United Against Hate Week, NIOT El Sobrante decided to host a virtual concert for their community. Organizer Becki Cohn-Vargas writes about the experience and shares tips for other NIOT groups who may want to host their own concerts.
This year for United Against Hate Week we wanted to do something unique and different. There had been some recent racist talk on Next Door and a homophobic sign appeared in one of our local neighborhoods. Although people spoke up to challenge the racist comments on Next Door and the sign was quickly removed, our local NIOT El Sobrante group decided to sponsor a concert to demonstrate to our neighbors that those attitudes did not reflect the majority of people in our diverse community.
Also, significantly, the murderers of Will Sims, a young African American musician from our community, were on trial. Will had been murdered five years ago by three men who brutally beat him and then shot him while making racist slurs. Our NIOT El Sobrante group was formed in response to Will’s murder. We deemed the concert a tribute to Will and we invited his family to join us for the evening. Have a listen:
Although none of our members had previously hosted a virtual concert, nor were we Zoom experts, we discovered that putting on a virtual concert was both great fun and not that hard to do. We also managed to do it without spending a penny. So we decided to share the steps we took in the hopes that we will inspire other NIOT groups to take on the challenge.
- Find an ally in local government: As in all NIOT endeavors, it is good to find a local elected official as a partner. In our case, since El Sobrante is an unincorporated city, we reached out to Supervisor John Gioia, a supportive ally. He readily agreed to cosponsor.
- Identify a Zoom producer: The smooth Zoom production allows your concert to flow. That requires a person who knows how to spotlight speakers and move from one to another and from one piece of music to another with ease. In our case, one of our members was trained for this role by a member of the Supervisor’s staff. In one case, we wrote to Zoom with a question and they responded. And then we hit the jackpot. We found a Zoom employee who was a relative of one of our members who helped us with the practices and who was on standby to troubleshoot during the concert.
- Identify musical acts: We opted to have our music reflect the many cultures in our community and we aimed to highlight local Latinx, Black, and Moroccan artists as well as music from a variety of cultures. We contacted twice as many artists as we needed because some were not available. We began by reaching out to local musicians we knew. We also found artists through the local community college, a local Mexican Folkloric Cultural Center, and by word of mouth. We found one artist in a google search for El Sobrante musicians. We explained our purpose to each artist and all were happy to contribute free of charge. Most opted to submit a video of a song or two. Several chose to perform live.
- Solicit artist introductions: We asked all artists who submitted videos to also submit a short video or give a live introduction to highlight the following: information about their group; their connection to the El Sobrante community; why they wanted to be part of a Not In Our Town concert; and a description of the songs they planned to play.
- Edit together as much as possible ahead of time: We edited together the introduction and songs. We stitched as much as we could together with the next group’s introduction and songs to make the flow easier to manage.
- Select an MC: Our MC announced each group, often highlighting their accomplishments and links to NIOT. She prepared a script for herself.
- Organize the program: We invited Supervisor Gioia to speak as well as a Unitarian Pastor who is a member of our organization. They kept their speeches short. We wanted the concert to be a musical treat.
- Practice sessions: We held several practice sessions and one full run-through. We invited some of the artists who would be giving live introductions and performances to attend to prepare them for the unique quality of a virtual concert.
- Publicity: We created a flyer and press release, and posted them on the national NIOT website and the regional United Against Hate Week website.
- We also posted on Facebook, Next Door, and in the newsletters of Supervisor Gioia and the local Chamber of Commerce. Supervisor Gioia posted the press release on his social media site which allowed local newspapers to pick up the information quickly.
- Registration form: We created a Registration form using Google Forms and included the link in all our publicity. Approximately 107 people signed up. The form asked for their name and email address. Once we received the registrations, we immediately sent people a Zoom link using a special NIOT El Sobrante email address so we would not need to share our personal emails. Be aware that many people register at the last minute. We were not prepared and had to scramble at that time. Be sure to have a person in charge of sending out the Zoom link as the concert begins. That person should not be the MC or Zoom producer!
- Back-up Zoom host and support: Always have a back-up zoom host with access to the entire program and all the music in the unlikely event that the Zoom producer’s Internet goes down. Luckily, that was not needed. Also, the zoom producer had a person sitting with her for trouble-shooting. This proved to be very handy.
- A few additional tips during the concert: Start the recording immediately and cut it off at the end of the performance. Mute all participants at the start and as late-comers enter the concert. Turn off the chat function.
- Express appreciation: Be sure to express gratitude during the concert and send thank you notes to everyone who contributed in person, on video, and behind the scenes!!!
- Post the concert on YouTube: We started a free YouTube channel where our concert is now posted.
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