Heidelberg resident Rob Witherspoon has created a weekly webstream series allowing Canadian talent to perform in front of a continually growing audience of music and comedy fans. As with many recent artistic initiatives and actions, this, too, was born of the pandemic.
The project emerged after Witherspoon saw the emerging COVID-19 crisis lead to the cancellation of a show he was slated to perform at a Fergus retirement home on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.
“I had worked up a show of seasonal music, a full two sets of Irish music. I put a lot of effort into it and had all these songs ready to go, and it got cancelled by the pandemic,” he explained.
Undeterred, Witherspoon decided to use all his preparations to take the show online via Facebook live, a streaming service he had dabbled with previously for only a couple of songs when he was in the mood. Every week since, Witherspoon has continued the stream, drafting regional and national musicians to join in on the fun.
Witherspoon has also added some stand-up comedy into the mix, and has created characters to liven up the show, providing something new and fresh week by week. One of these characters is Robbie O’Spoon, “an Irish fella who plays Irish songs.” Robbie was created specifically for the St.Patty’s Day stream. There’s also Willy Spoon, a NASCAR driver who lives in Witherspoon’s shed to ensure physical distancing is kept.
Some episodes also feature themes, such as an entirely Canadian music set, similar to the one Witherspoon performs for the Elmira Canada Day celebration at Gore Park. After his performance that night, he heard of the death of folk legend John Prine, who passed away April 7 due to COVID-19. Given Prine’s considerable influence on his own music, Witherspoon gathered musicians for a cover show dedicated to the artist. Witherspoon has carried on with adding guests ever since.
In a more recent stream, Reba Joy created a smile video. “She collected phone videos people had shot that have given them joy during the pandemic and put it to a soundtrack for the 10th episode anniversary show.”
Overall, the reception has been great for the new project, he said. A large community has come together to enjoy themselves from the comfort of their homes and explore the entertaining values of Witherspoon and company.
Now some 40 years into his music career, Witherspoon’s introduction to music began at the expense of his older brothers’ guitar and Eagles songbook he would borrow towards the end of high school and the beginning of his college career. After that, he began performing and hasn’t stopped since. Although his performance ethic may have hindered as a result of coronavirus, he is not lightening up.
When people inquire about Witherspoon’s style of music, they ask usually ask if he’s country, rock or pop. In truth, he combines elements of all those genres into what he describes as “Southern Ontario suburban roots music.”
Having one specific label on his style, Witherspoon says, may stifle him into a box, limiting creativity.