BILLINGS — To make up for the loss of concerts canceled by Montana's stay-at-home order, the Billings Symphony is shifting its annual "Who Cares" benefit concert to a free, online format that will stream live on Facebook and YouTube at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 5.
The "Who Cares" benefit is usually a big money maker for the symphony. The benefit supports the symphony's outreach programs with a goal to bring music to places that might not usually hear it, like nursing homes and prisons.
"That's our fundraiser to be able to pay for a lot of the other outreaches and activities that we do throughout the year ... We're actually putting some programs together to where we can do some virtual things with our musicians to still get into those areas. But at the same time, we want to be able to hit the ground running when we finally can go back," said Sandy Cantesano, development and events manager for the symphony Wednesday.
The "Who Cares" benefit was originally scheduled to happen at the Northern Hotel this weekend featuring Latin music from the band John Roberts y Pan Blanco. Roberts, the band leader, jumped at the opportunity to play in a virtual setting with the symphony.
“We are really happy to be part of what the symphony is doing. I really respect what the symphony does in the community. And they are a huge part of the cultural framework of Billings and Montana," said Roberts, who also composes and arranges for the band.
In lieu of traditional in-person fund raising at the benefit, the symphony will ask those who watch to hit a "donate now" button.
“We usually do an auction and a pledge auction. So we’re shifting gears a little bit. It will be a virtual benefit obviously. So I’m encouraging everybody, since we can’t get out and about for Cinco De Mayo yet, get your family together and hook up your smart TV. Get on our Facebook or YouTube live channel and listen to a fabulous concert," Cantesano said.
Since the Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's stay-at-home-order, the symphony has had to cancel or reschedule three concerts, including the "Who Cares" benefit. West Side Story, originally scheduled for March 14 has been postponed. And the April 18 Rachmaninoff concert was canceled.
Cantesano said symphony musicians were still paid their normal wage for the month of April.
Ahead of the "Who Cares" benefit concert on Tuesday, the symphony will stream music for free all day. It will re-broadcast the connection concerts that symphony musicians have been filming at home while cooped up at home.
“We’re offering people a full day of music," Cantesano said.
The theme of the "Who Cares" benefit asks the question: who cares about the community? The symphony hopes to be the answer.
"Who cares about what’s going on for the patients in the hospital or women in the prison? And the answer is, we care and we know that you care about our community too. So we want you to be a part of it, and we are asking for your support," Cantesano said.
The energy of a live croud will be something that the band members of John Roberts y Pan Blanco will miss, especially since the band's afro-latin, funk, soul and Congolese sounds really make you want to dance.
"It will be, of course, different performing in front of nobody, you know? But I think it will still be a lot of fun. We’ve done some TV-type concerts before and it goes pretty well. It’s always nice to have a live audience there though for that energy transfer," Roberts said. “Our music is definitely dance music. And we want our people to dance. So of course, if we are trying to keep our distance parameters, it’s harder to dance that way.”
Take a listen to John Roberts y Pan Blanco on their website.