All the Sidewalk's a Stage

June 11, 2020 by


Jodie had the idea first. She’s the Jamaican lady, one street over. She posted a handwritten flyer on a tree outside her house: “May 30th, 6:00 pm, everyone who can” it read. “Come join us as we turn our sidewalk into a stage. Why? Because it’s fun.” She thought a unique, open-stage event could be done safely. We were in!

The flyer gave no specific criteria, only a vague request for something performable. Attendees would wear masks and maintain adequate social distances. We set about looking for a suitable song: something beautiful, upbeat, and doable. We only had one day to prepare, so we needed something simple. We perused our playlists carefully, seeking a song we could manage.

I thought of “Simple Man” by the band Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s a melodious, southern rock song, complete with drums and guitar solos. Filled with pathos, the lyrics celebrate love, simplicity, and honest goodwill. It seemed a perfect fit. We pulled out the keyboard and the guitar, printed the lyrics, then hit the practice room (our basement).

Within an hour we had a respectable performance. Nothing polished, but something heartfelt and emotional. At ten past five we started off, walking down the sidewalk with our keyboard, our guitar, and a sturdy drum. We set up on the edge of the sidewalk. With no mic available, we resolved to sing our loudest, together on the choruses and individually on the verses. We would each sing with everything we had.

Gradually the street filled. Many, it seemed, had seen the flyer. Others saw the keyboard and drums and stopped out of curiosity. I noticed one red-haired gentleman turn into our street. Feeling jovial, I walked up to him and said “Conan O’Brien, you’re here, welcome!” He looked at me and laughed. “Yeah, I’ve definitely heard that one before.”

Everyone wore a mask. Attendees maintained strict personal boundaries. By six, nearly a hundred people had gathered. I looked around at the assembly. Everyone watched fixedly. An amiable, familial feeling prevailed. Our hostess commenced.

“Welcome, welcome everyone,” Jodie said. “Thank you so much for coming!” She delivered an impressive introduction; flowery, sincere, profound. “We’ve all been struggling under this crisis,” she said. “Under these cumbersome legal mandates, however, I have noticed a steady rhythm of life. A vibration under the skin that wants to break into song.”

 The performances began. We were the second group. Soon, Jodie called us up. She introduced us, then we launched.

We belted it! Lynyrd Skynyrd would be proud. Everyone loved it; wild applause drowned our final notes.

Presentations ranged from poems to songs to observations. Every performer received the same raucous applause. One lady spoke of her next door neighbor’s tradition of singing from her fire escape. She broke down in the middle of her speech. I have never considered myself an emotional man. Nonetheless, as I looked at the stirred faces around me, the wave swept over me. Everyone could empathize with her story. Her feelings were our feelings. I have never seen such a spellbound audience at such an impromptu event.

Jodie wrapped up the event with a prayer. Before everyone dispersed, we socialized with each other from safe distances. Phone numbers were swapped; new friendships made. We left thrilled and fulfilled.

Coronavirus, I hope and believe, will foster many more similar events. Social conditions define human interaction; everyone longs to connect. Jodie inspired us to open our mouths and our eyes, to keep looking for new ways to unite.

Next Saturday, we decided, we will be hosting another open stage in front of our own house. Come on over!


About the author

smiling man

Donald Boller

Donald lives in the Bruderhof house in Harlem, New York.

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