Summer Nights at the Embassy Theatre has been one tradition which could not be defeated by COVID-19.
The Embassy staff started off slowly, with live streaming options as they hammered out the logistics of the Fort Wayne favorite which features local performers sharing their music with a little food and beverage on the side.
Coming up next week is the West Central Quartet, a jazz delight for well over a decade. The group itself is also coming off their own corona-induced break and is starting to see a much fuller schedule for the upcoming months.
Taking it easy for a while
Having already performed at Two EE’s Winery recently (with another upcoming performances in September) and seeing weddings that were postponed being rescheduled, things are starting to fall back into place for the four musicians who went their separate ways during lockdown.
“To some degree we did part ways for awhile,” said Andrew Stout, the quartet’s singer and energetic frontman. “We all kind of felt how uncomfortable it all was, so new and so strange. And for me, I’m a sales guy. I like to talk to people, and I wanted to know everyone was OK, so I’d check in with them from time to time. I was still working, but one of the guys is a professional musician, so I was worried about him because I knew what a tough time it was.”
Having had those earlier performances — including some on jazz night at the Club Room at the Clyde — they’ve had a chance to get used to the new reality of performing.
“We’ll all be wearing masks except me since I’m singing,” Stout said. “But it’s great to get back out there. You have to keep in mind, people get used to listening to music on a record. As a young musician, I wasn’t really sure if people were paying attention. But then people would come up and say, ‘We’ve been here for three hours, and we absolutely love the music.”
The West Central Quartet has built up a lot of music for people to love in their 15 years playing around the area. Known for their jazz standards, part of what keeps Stout excited about performing with the group is the variety of music they can play on any given night.
“We were young guys when we started out, and sadly we’re old guys now,” Stout said. “But the reason we’ve been able to play that long is that we’ve had a kind of broad range musically.
“We play Frank Sinatra or a song like ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ and we won’t really change much about those. But then we can play a Radiohead song or Maroon 5, and we really make it our own. I used to be in a cover band, and there’s really no room to be creative or make creative choices because certain songs have to be played and are expected to sound a certain way. But this is not a cover band. We can put our personal stamp on the music, and we’ve grown and morphed over time. We don’t play songs because we have to. We play them because we want to.”
Loving the audience
As has been the case for many who lean toward the gregarious side, Stout relishes getting back in front of an audience even if they have to keep a certain distance and can’t take to the dance floor this summer.
“It’s just great to get back in front of a crowd again,” Stout said. “I love being the frontman and getting out there and talking. It’s been hard the last few months. I’ve had all sorts of virtual contact over the last few months, but that’s just not the same.”
It also heartens him to see their calendar filling up again as more places begin to reopen.
“Most disappointingly, we had a lot of weddings scheduled, and it was hard to see these people who had planned for months for this special day have to postpone,” Stout said. “I think we had four weddings scheduled within those couple of months, and fortunately most of those have been rescheduled now.
“The venues we’ve been playing are doing a great job. There are still a few places like Club Soda that isn’t having live music yet, but Two EE’s and the Club Room at the Clyde are really doing a great job to make it safe for everyone. There’s been a lot of thought into the distancing, and we’re just blessed that people want to come back out to see us. I’m cautiously optimistic that things will get back to normal, and we’ll be able to keep playing.”
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