One of the few local places with enough savvy and space to host larger outdoor shows during a pandemic is Valley Axe on London Line.
“Through the quarantine we had to dig deep to find opportunities in these unfortunate circumstances,” says co-owner Bo Tait.
“It’s been mostly a negative year with some really good highlights.”
Among those highlights are Valley Axe’s backyard concerts and comedy shows held on the four acres behind their building.
“Our biggest strength is the space we have,” said Tait. “We could easily keep 600 people comfortably socially distanced.”
So when the province began allowing outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people, Valley Axe started hosting in their “backyard.”
It was obvious Sarnians were pining for entertainment.
The first concert featuring Highway Jones sold out, as did a second show on Aug. 22 with local stand-up comedy team The MurphBudz and guests.
The outdoor audience sat socially distanced on picnic tables and immediately warmed up to the show, said Tait. “It couldn’t have gone better.
“To be honest, we had events outdoors in previous years and had trouble drawing attention to them,” he said.
“But this has become a way to showcase our outdoor space this year.”
More shows are planned including a comedy night this Saturday.
Two professional comedians, Jarrett Campbell and Andrew Barr, are headlining with local stand-ups Chris Norton and Lisse Robb.
Aaron Hopkins is a member of the MurphBudz and is producing Saturday’s show with Petrolia’s Mat Berdan of Those Guys Comedy.
The local comedy community was rapidly expanding before COVID-19 and there is a surprising amount of Sarnia-grown talent, says Hopkins.
Before the pandemic, he and his brother Alan were headlining shows once a week in bars and lounges across southwestern Ontario, he said.
Last year, Hopkins organized The Wicked Last Comedy Festival at the Sarnia library auditorium and had hoped to do one again this fall.
Instead, he’s opted for the Valley Axe outdoor venue and is bringing in Campbell and Barr from Toronto to attract more people for a comedy night that will raise funds for Lambton County Disability Services.
“Andrew grew up in the Sarnia area and headlined at Wicked Last,” said Hopkins. He described Barr as “a very modern comic” suited for an adult audience.
Each show at Valley Axe is weather dependent, of course. But if it rains, the show will be held on the following Friday.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Comedy Night at Valley Axe,
WHERE: 1886 London Line. Outdoors in the “backyard” (where Splashdown used to be)
WHEN: Two shows Saturday, Sept. 19, 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
TICKETS: $15 each on Eventbrite. Visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/119155141235.