Bassist Ed Hrybyk had been playing in two weekly shows before the pandemic hit, but with restaurant and venue closures and social distancing, he had to get creative to keep performing and earning a living.
After experimenting, he launched the Charles Village Porch Concerts last April, playing shows with other local musicians from his North Calvert Street front porch for tips.
Early in the pandemic, “I started doing live streams, [but] it rubbed me the wrong way,” Hrybyk said. “It’s a totally different ballgame when you’re playing for different people.”
Neighbors found the concerts a welcomed respite from the pandemic and Hrybyk says it built community on his block in a way that respected government restrictions and health precautions.
“I really started to get into the community and bring the music to the public and was doing it outside because of COVID,” he said. “Everybody can sit on their porches and listen.”
The porch series is growing, and has now morphed into Charm City Porch Concerts — expanding all across Baltimore.
Baltimore residents who want to host a show can contact Hrybk, and for a $150 fee, a combo will come to their front port. Hrybyk has shows lined up for nearly every Wednesday through May. Information on locations for upcoming Charm City Porch Concerts is available on his website.
Inspiration came from a viral video of Italian opera singers belting from their balconies at the height of a national lockdown there.
“I thought it was cool. I could do that,” he said. “When we got to hear applause for the first time. That was a really cool feeling.”
His Charles Village neighbors would make a night out of it each Wednesday. Some would uncork a bottle of wine and munch on pizza on their own porch. Others sat in parked cars or on lawn chairs.
“We would always sit on our porch,” said North Calvert Street neighbor Ralph Monte. “We’d have people over and have our own little party listening to the concerts.”
Monte lived a few doors down from Hrybyk, and invited family and friends in his “bubble” over for the Wednesday night shows.
“Especially when the pandemic first started, it was just a welcome event early on when everything else closed,” he said.
The porch concerts have featured different local musicians each week. Hrybyk posted hand-painted signs with his Venmo information for tips. It wasn’t a windfall, but it was a nice way for him and fellow musicians to earn money amid an historic crisis.
“Restrictions and adverse circumstances breed innovation and creativity, and they cultivate resilience,” Monte said. “You’re not going to learn to be resilient and cope in other ways when times are good. It was great that he had that great idea and implemented it.”
Alanah Nichole, who works to support entrepreneurs in Baltimore and has helped Hrybyk to expand the effort, says the arts community wasn’t prepared for something as powerful and crippling as the pandemic.
Nichole is “steeped into arts and culture in Baltimore,” and at the onset of the pandemic she helped develop Alanah’s COVID-19 Emergency Fund for Artists and Freelancers.
Though some resources have been available to help artists get through the toughest parts of the pandemic, they’re limited and often don’t reach everyone, she said.
“It got me into the thought that more independent artists should be involved in their own philanthropic endeavors,” said Nichole, who is the marketing and outreach head at Impact Hub, an organization supporting entrepreneurs working to ‘scale up.’
For Baltimore residents without access to a porch still looking to support the effort, Hrybyk is also asking patrons to sponsor a porch concert. That’s what Nichole did.
“When I go to Ed’s porch concerts, I feel better about going to work the next day,” she said.
Nichole thought the adaptation of moving to locations across the city was a great way to scale the project, so Nichole and Impact Hub both sponsored back-to-back concerts.
“I think everyone should do it,” she said. “Everyone should use their porches for that kind of community and comradery. Artists are still suffering; venues are still closed. This kind of sponsorship means so much.”