By Paul Barnes, For the Ashland Daily Press
The year 2020 was a closed-for-the-season deal for much of the live entertainment industry. Bayfield’s Big Top Chautauqua was no exception.
For the most part, there were no tours, no live shows, no special events. Musicians, planners, tech crews and many other people who produce concerts and events were suddenly out of work.
Big Top Board members held out hope that the summer season would not be completely cancelled. But in April, as the depth and breadth of the pandemic became clear, board members canceled the season.
And with that, the resilience, management, and generosity of the organization's leaders, members and benefactors were put to test.
The results? High marks, all around. Expenses were cut as much as possible. Fundraising and outreach were ramped up, while the staff and leadership of the Blue Canvas Orchestra — Big Top’s resident band for 35 years — began creating a new virtual, program: Tiny Tent Show.
“In addition to our long-standing public radio program, Tent Show Radio, Tiny Tent Show truly brought our community together in ways we couldn’t have imagined,” said Kate Barido, advancement director at Big Top. “We had several guest artists join us from as far away as Ireland, Nashville and British Virgin Islands.”
Tiny Tent Show, a weekly venue that began on April 4 and airs every Friday via Facebook and YoutTube, has found many fans while generating more than 12,000 hours of viewing thus far. It’s a success story — one that listeners and supporters have called a bright spot in dark times.
“Before 2020, folks might only experience Big Top one time over the summer while on vacation,” she said. “With our new virtual Tiny Tent Show, we were able to connect weekly and in more intimate settings,” Barido said.
Washburn resident Ness Pierce, a mother of two, recognizes the value of Big Top Chautauqua to local communities and families.
“My experiences at Big Top have always been outstanding,” Pierce said. “It not only brings in artists from far away, but also offers local artists and performers the opportunity to display their talents.”
Like other live-music fans, Pierce was bereft by the season’s cancelation — but determined to make the best of it.