Putting on a concert in the park in late September in Eugene normally means things might get rained out. These days, however, event organizers must add social distancing guidelines and wildfire smoke to their list of concerns.
This weekend, two free concerts in the park take those risks: a concert of jazz, funk and soul originals from brand-new Eugene trio Alobar at Washburne Park, and a program of classical vocal music with vocalist Laura Wayte and pianist Nathalie Fortin at Lafferty Park.
What’s more, each show highlights music influenced by the COVID-19 lockdown back in March.
Alobar, in fact, might not even exist if it weren’t for the pandemic, says guitarist and Eugene Weekly contributor Jade Yamazaki Stewart.
The band’s drummer, Alden Mcwayne, a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston, chose to ride out the lockdown in Eugene after the school moved all its classes online. Stuck in the same place and with little to do, the trio of high school friends — including Alden’s brother Dana McWayne on keyboards, saxophone, and vocals — started playing music together again for the first time in years
The trio comes from an improvisational background, Yamazaki Stewart explains, with strong international influences, and the band’s songwriting process is collaborative.
“We’ll be practicing, and I’ll come up with some riff on the guitar,” Yamazaki Stewart says. “Alden will make a beat for it. We’re not too stuffed into any specific roles.”
After working up a setlist, and with Eugene venues closed during the pandemic, Alobar chose to play safe, socially distanced live shows at Washburne Park. The turnout has been great, Yamazaki Stewart says.
The musicians return to Washburne Park at 7 pm Saturday, Sept. 26.
Like Alobar, Eugene-based classical soprano Wayte and pianist and collaborator Fortin also had to turn to an unconventional performance venue this summer: Wayte’s front porch.
At that show, Fortin and Wayte performed a program ranging from sea shanties to works from German composer Giacomo Meyerbeer. Wayte is known locally for singing with the Eugene Opera, the Oregon Mozart Players, the Oregon Symphony and the Eugene Concert Choir.
“About 35 people turned out and sat on the sidewalk while we performed on the front porch,” she recalls. “I felt very emotional, because it was nice to be performing and it was also nice to see my friends and neighbors. It was also strange because I couldn’t see any of them.”
Rounding out the performance was a series of original Cole Porter parodies that Wayte calls “COVID Temper Tantrums,” complaining about and laughing at the current pandemic situation: humor as a form of stress relief.
“The songs are ridiculously funny and wonderful in their original form,” she adds, but by changing the words, Cole Porter’s trademark wit is now directed squarely at COVID-19.
“I have a lot of fun with them,” Wayte says.
Wayte and Fortin will reprise their show, with a free performance Saturday, Sept. 26, at Lafferty Park in Eugene.
“Normally we perform in concert halls and house concerts,” Wayte says, “but that is all unavailable to us since last spring, so this is our COVID-era house concert. It is so wonderful to get out in front of an audience again.”
As far Alobar, they’ve also started working on a debut EP, recorded at the home studio of Don Latarski, a recording artist himself and head of guitar studies at the University of Oregon,.
“We’re taking advantage of this time when we’re all together again,” Yamazaki Stewart says. “I’m happy we’ve had that experience.”
Weather permitting, Alobar performs 7 pm Saturday, Sept. 26, at Washburne Park; FREE, all-ages. Laura Wayte and Nathalie Fortin perform 5 pm Saturday, Sept. 26. at Lafferty Park; FREE, all-ages.