The many barriers of COVID-19 were not enough to stop Micah Barnes from bringing his brand of contemporary jazz to Waterloo. In a world where 95 per cent of music venues are expected never to reopen, Barnes has worked with sites coast to coast to bring life and sounds to cities through the internet.
Scheduled to perform a set at Waterloo’s Jazz Room last Sunday, Barnes instead live-streamed from his home studio as part of a 14-day Canadian ‘tour,’ an experience Barnes describes as “a really huge adjustment.”
“For the audience, we’re streaming from the Facebook pages of each venue, which means I’m really in Halifax. I’m actually in Waterloo, for the audience that’s watching. And that’s cool. We’ve been able to go from St. John’s, Newfoundland all the way to Victoria, B.C, and I’m really proud of my team and I for being able to put together this kind of tour and sort of if you will lead the way for a brand new approach to bringing music to the public.”
The set-list changes nightly for those viewers that wish to watch the free stream from city to city as if they were following Barnes on the road.
The tour supports Toronto-based Barnes’s latest full-length release, Vegas Breeze. “It’s inspired by the big showrooms. So, the classic Vegas era – the ’50s and ’60s when Hollywood and Broadway were giving us the popular songs of the day, and the entertainers that worked in the big casinos had giant personalities.”
Similar to those larger-than-life personalities, Barnes too brings his own unique flair and ‘swagger’ to his music and performances. Blending his genuine character with this classic Vegas style. “It’s not an era where a quiet, intimate vocal performance was what you’re going after – you’re going after grabbing people by the shirtsleeves and waking them up.”
Of the new album, the title track is Barnes’ favourite. Written alongside his brother Daniel Barnes, they created the melody years ago but had difficulty putting words to it – “the lyrics just weren’t landing.”
As he was creating the new album, that melody came to mind, and Barnes thought it would be ideal for this new piece of work.
“I kept thinking about what Vegas represents in the popular imagination. Everything from the Elvis motel and the quickie marriage, and then the dive-bar off the strip where the locals go to drink. You know, I just wanted to capture all of that.”, said Barnes.
Like many artists, he was born into a family of classical musicians and composers.
“My baby crib was under a grand piano,” he said. “Before I knew it, music was in my blood.”
With a career path laid out in front of him, jazz becomes Barnes’ ‘first love’ around the age of 12. Some of his earliest influences included Billie Holiday and other jazz greats.
“I think with jazz, it’s the unpredictability, the inspiration in the moment is so much a part of the music,” he explains of what attracted him to the genre.
He began performing in coffee houses at the age of 14 and has not stopped since.
With the success of Vegas Breeze reaching number one and the popularity of the Facebook streams soaring above 100,000 views collectively, Barnes and his team are hoping to bring the digital tour overseas to Europe and into the United States.
Barnes attributes the success of the digital tour on our need for music and interaction, especially during the current situation.
“We’re all struggling right now to figure out the new normal. And I think why this cross-country tour has been successful so far is because I sat with my team and said ‘what is it that we do? We give music to people. That’s what we do. So, rather than let this current situation we find ourselves in define the limitations, let us go about the business of giving music, let’s let the situation support that action.’ And that’s how the virtual tour got up on its feet so quickly – I’m supposed to make music,” he said.
Click here for information about Barnes’ tour dates.