Some people sell old junk in their front yards. Some, like Matthew Kurzman, put on quality concerts for their neighbors.
Kurzman is a real estate investor who used to own a CD store in Tucson. After moving back to his hometown of Dallas in 1999, the self-professed “music junkie” got to know local venue owners, and his in-demand taste and knowledge of local music led to his becoming a booker.
For a few years, Kurzman booked talent at The Common Table. Most recently, he had a steady gig at Braindead Brewing in Deep Ellum.
When the pandemic forced venues shut, Kurzman found a spot right under his nose, in the front yard of his house in the Parkdale neighborhood of southeast Dallas.
“I was missing booking music and had just finished renovating my new house,” Kurzman says. “ To celebrate, I decided to book a couple of shows ... I realized with COVID it wouldn't be good to have a bunch of people crowded into my backyard, but if I had the musicians set up in my front yard, my neighbors could stay in their own yards and enjoy the music from a safe distance.”
On his first weekend of shows, Kurzman had Mississippi Bastard Project play on Saturday and Brianne Sargent play classical cello on Sunday. Since then, he’s had a total of six shows. At first, Kurzman says he was keeping the vibe acoustic since he doesn't have sound equipment. Now, musicians bring their amps and play for the whole block.
While other musicians have hit the local roads by offering curbside concerts throughout the pandemic, Kurzman‘s shows have become a recurring event in one spot. The concerts start at 7 p.m. and last for 75 minutes. Kurzman says he alerts neighbors via Facebook. On average, 40 or 50 people show up, and he’s received no complaints, only encouragement.
“It's a win-win-win,” Kurzman says, “and I've been deeply moved by the gratitude and kind words I keep receiving from the musicians and my neighbors.”
The audience, comprised of neighbors as well as friends, bring their own lawn chairs and sit at a distance. Kurzman says he’s adamant that anyone not wearing a mask should keep a distance from others.
The endeavor was costly at first. Kurzman booked several shows after neighbors “asked if I could have bands on a regular basis,” he says.
Kurzman agreed to bring in bands more frequently if attendees pitched in to help pay the band members.
“Only two people actually gave me money, and I put up the rest for the third show,” he says.
Since then, Kurzman reminds the crowds that he needs contributions in order to keep the shows going. Now he’s getting donations from concert attendees as well as those who enjoy videos of the performances via Facebook.
“Each subsequent show has had a bigger crowd, and people have overwhelmed me with their generous contributions, so now I'm trying to have a show or two every weekend,” Kurzman says.
One of the first musicians Kurzman booked was Joel Wells Jr., a jazz-soul local favorite whose vocals melt the walls at venues such as Revelers Hall and The Free Man, during normal times. Like most musicians, his gigs have been few and far between in the last months.
“It's a cool thing for the neighborhood,” Wells says of Kurzman's shows. “I guess that's the attraction, just the opportunity to bring people together with music.”
Wells says he’s impressed by the roster of talent coming through Kurzman’s makeshift stage.
“Since he's been around and knows a lot of people, he's had a lot of badass talent play at his house,” Wells says. “All around just good, good things.”
In addition to the front yard concert series, Kurzman also organizes outdoor dinner gigs at Bonton Farms, where he’s booked RC and The Gritz and Bobby Sparks.
“It has really been a beautiful thing,” Kurzman says of his projects. “People are in need of entertainment and some level of normalcy in their lives, musicians are hungry to perform and are struggling financially, and I have greatly missed curating the best music I can find.”
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