Matt Wertz on turning backyards into stages

A man playing guitar outside in front of a red barn

While the pandemic shut down the nation’s music venues, the Nashville member and musician describes how he decided to keep live music alive with a series of performances in people’s homes

By Otamere Guobadia    Images courtesy of Matt Wertz    Friday 9 October, 2020   Short read

Among the things we lost in the fire of these times is the sweaty, heaving gig. But, there remains one stage – an underdog that’s only cherished as a space for baby showers, barbecues and childhood plays that’s risen to the occasion: the backyard. 

An empty canvas with all its radical potentials, the humble backyard – once reserved for five-a-side and trampoline stargazing – is by necessity our new amphitheatre. Enter Nashville-based indie musician and member, Matt Wertz, who is embarking on his Socially Distant *Yet Emotionally Close* Backyard Tour of America, and for a lucky and select few fans, autumn is to be soundtracked, live. 

‘I spent a lot of lockdown sitting in my backyard in Nashville with my girlfriend,’ Wertz begins. ‘For the months of April and May, we had a beautiful spring and my yard was amazing. We just sat in Adirondack chairs, listened to music, and worked from our laptops. We basically had our own little Soho House in the backyard,’ he laughs. ‘Making Picante de la Casas and listening to bossa nova music, for us it was a very sweet time.’

Wertz’s time spent in his backyard proved inspirational. He thought about how he could export the charm that he’d been able to experience further afield. ‘I just started thinking, why couldn’t I play shows in people’s backyards in a safe way?’ he explains. Wertz sat on the idea, letting it ruminate while shelter-in-place orders continued to be in effect. Eventually, he recruited his girlfriend, along with his illustrator sister and collaborator Seth, to help nail down the vision for his backyard tour.
A man playing guitar outside
A man playing guitar outside in front of a red barn
‘When I finally got to announce it, I was just curious if it would resonate with my fans, and it did. And the idea was to let them determine what it was worth. So, let them offer whatever it is that they could. Then we would just have to go through to see which offers [ultimately] were worth the [time and effort], and that were close enough for us to be able to do in a safe way,’ he explains of their novel bidding system. ‘It’s one of those ideas that’s just been developing and refining.’

‘My friend released an album maybe a month and a half ago,’ he continues. ‘So we had a small gathering of friends in my backyard to celebrate him. I asked him to play a couple of songs and I felt this huge sense of relief hearing somebody play music. Hopefully that’s what his tour will provide for other people, too.’
Wertz’s backyard tour comes at a time when many people are deeply missing live music and all of the corollary intimacies that it offers. It’s also a time when many musicians who primarily rely on touring and gigs for income have seen these opportunities vanish overnight.
A man playing guitar outside in front of a red barn
‘I’ve been an independent artist since 2001,’ he says. ‘I started my career as an independent, and [before I had a booking agent], I would just play wherever people could host me. I played at a carpet warehouse once; all of these makeshift venues. This pandemic has made these makeshift stages with their spontaneity and lack of rigorous planning, and smaller, less monied venues for up-and-coming artists, unfeasible at our present time. Playing those early gigs, I really created a fan base that has stuck around. They heard about me through a friend and that has formed this loyalty and a personal connection. I bet most of these people that I’m playing for I’ve met after a show, and we’ve probably had some kind of interaction before. It just seemed like a natural move, you know, to go and play someone’s backyard.’

And perhaps the reason that Wertz’s backyard tour is so exciting is precisely because our backyards mean so much to us. Endless memories of sunny days, of an interconnectedness that feels so far off now; summer evenings viewed through the fog of love and alcohol. The backyard is a dreamscape. Wertz understands this. If music really is the food of love, play on, stage or no stage. Maybe we left home in search of something that has been in our backyards all along. 

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