Jacob Chrystal steps on stage and takes the mic.
It’s the first time in the past year he’s been able to perform, under his stage name Unknown Persona, live in front of an audience.
And, while that audience may be filled with plastic caricatures of locals, pets and cartoon characters, he knows that behind the four cameras set up around him, his fans are tuned in online to watch him sing.
Rebellious Unicorns has been running a live-streamed concert series at the Kelowna Community Theatre since November 2020, providing local musicians with a chance to perform live, a rarity during the COVID-19 pandemic. While Live @ The KCT was initially planned as small, in-person shows, the production company shifted its approach after the province issued public health orders further limiting gatherings.
On Feb. 27 and 28, in partnership with Kelowna-based record label LegionHQ, Rebellious Unicorns hosted four rap and hip hop acts (DLopez, Unknown Persona, Opposite I, and E. Val) on its streaming service, Unicorns.LIVE.
“It’s still obviously different because there’s no audience, but at least they’re getting to perform on a stage,” said Dustyn Baulkham, executive producer and CEO of Rebellious Unicorns.
While there may not be an audience of people, every seat in the small Black Box theatre was filled.
Rather than having artists play to an empty room, Rebellious Unicorns opted to sell plastic cutouts, allowing people to put themselves, their dog or whatever else they want in the crowd.
“At least it looks almost like an audience for them, so it feels a little bit more normal,” said Baulkham.
And normalcy is something that musicians are striving for right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has nixed nearly every aspect of live performance for small local artists, who would usually look to book late-night gigs at bars and clubs.
“Right now, it’s absolutely essential for preserving what little is left of the entertainment sector,” said LegionHQ’s Kyle Haynes, noting the importance of the proper sound, proper lighting and professional set-up Rebellious Unicorns provides.
“Live streaming is going to be the big thing for — we don’t know how long. It could be a year, two years; it could be this summer. It’s a reality that we have to deal with.”
From a performer’s point of view, Chrystal said the virtual stage is not all that different from its in-person counterpart — aside from the cutout of ‘Pickle Rick’ he made a note of during his set. Mostly, he’s just appreciative of the chance to play live.
“I’m just so happy and grateful to be part of anything musical in the area,” he said. “It means everything to me. I love singing, I love performing, and I love sharing art. It’s a beautiful thing.”
While artists are on board with the necessary change in medium, concert-goers have been tougher to convince. Asking music lovers to change the way they enjoy live shows is no easy task. But Haynes offered a solution to those looking for the “classic” experience.
“When we buy a live stream and watch it, we’ll park two blocks away, charge ourselves $8 a beer, have ourselves wait 20 minutes to go to the bathroom, just to make it feel like a real concert experience,” he joked.
Baulkham said he hopes to host another round of the Live @ The KCT series at the end of March. All of last weekend’s performances will be available for purchase for a limited time on Unicorns.LIVE.
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