To lift community spirits during COVID, Brier man performs concerts in his front yard
Brier resident Bob Theis, 68, has been giving free community concerts in his front yard regularly since last year. They typically last about two hours and are a one-man-show of acoustic guitar and occasional harmonica music featuring popular rock, country and folk standards. “I keep it pretty light and carefree,” he said, adding he plays songs that people are likely to recognize and enjoy.
Theis said he initially started performing the concerts in March 2020, mostly from inside his dining room to online audiences, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal was to share musical experiences with other people amid the widespread shutdowns and disruptions to normal activities. “And as summer came on I started going outside more and I could crank it up,” he said. “I crank it up as loud as I can, which isn’t all that loud because I don’t want to get feedback into my microphone,” he said, adding that the music can still be heard throughout the neighborhood.
For the outdoor shows, Theis sets up sound equipment in his front yard and also live-streams the performances online using his phone. Each one features a unique set list chosen from approximately 500 songs that Theis can play. Regular selections include tracks from John Denver, Bob Dylan, Jerry Jeff Walker, Glen Campbell and George Strait. He has even played requests for specific songs by artists such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Neil Diamond and The Beatles so that audience members can sing along.
During his next concert Sunday, May 9, Theis said he is looking forward to playing both his instruments of choice on the song “Long May You Run” by Neil Young because “anytime you can put a little harmonica with acoustic (guitar) it gives it kind of a little more interesting taste to what’s going on.”
While most of the music he performs is from popular artists Theis also mixes in tunes from lesser known acts as well. “I kind of stick to stuff that people know, but I do like to throw some songs in from some obscure bands,” he said, especially those with a country-rock kind of sound.
Area residents and various passersby gather mostly around the fence separating Theis’ front yard from the street. Some even bring their own seating, he said. A bicyclist riding past one show briefly stopped and then left within a few songs, only to return a short time later with a lawn chair in tow. “A lot of people come by and stop and listen during their walks and then they’ll keep going sometimes too,” he said, “but I can get as many as a dozen people listening from the other side of the fence.”
Theis said he enjoys playing music for others and that performing regularly in his yard has the added benefit of “keeping myself in practice.” He also plays gigs with another musician at local retirement centers, which they have been doing for several years now. During much of the pandemic, the duo couldn’t perform at care facilities due to health precaution guidelines, but since COVID-19 vaccinations have been rolled out they were recently able to resume those concerts. “The old folks love it,” he said. “We play a lot of songs like, ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and ‘Sweet Caroline,’ that they remember from when they were young and can sing along with.”
Since 2014, Theis has also been playing music every Tuesday night at Sorelli’s Pizza in Mountlake Terrace. While those performances have been suspended due to the pandemic, he looks forward to resuming those performances as well.
The audience for Theis’ yard concerts is not just confined to locals gathered in front of his house. Theis said that he has a regular live-streaming audience that includes people in his hometown of Saint Peter, Minn., who used to watch him play music while growing up, and also in the Denver area, where he lived and performed for many years before moving to Brier in 1988. He noted that audiences can also usually expect to see his dog Annie, “who’s getting to be kind of a hit,” faithfully wandering around his front yard, which doubles as the stage.
The outdoor concerts are planned around favorable weather forecasts and consistently take place “at least once every 10 days,” he said, typically on Sundays. Performances shift indoors throughout the winter when the weather is colder, and Theis has even invested in a variety of backdrops to play in front of while streaming those online.
He said audience feedback over the past year has been positive and based on the response he’s received some people even seem to anticipate the shows. “It’s been a rough year for everybody,” Theis said. “So I think that’s the main reason, just, it gives people something to look forward to and something to do.”
Theis said he plans to keep performing regular concerts, adding “it kind of gives me some motivation to put something together that I enjoy doing.” He retired from Boeing last summer, after more than 30 years with the company, and “that gives me more time to do some playing,” he said.
Bob Theis’ next front yard concert will be a Mother’s Day performance on May 9 beginning at 3 p.m. , with some specially themed music in store for listeners. His house is located on 29th Avenue West, a half block south of Brier City Hall, and there will be a “Live Music” sign by the street in front of the property. Theis regularly posts the dates and times of upcoming performances to the Brier Community Group on Facebook and they can also be watched on his personal page.
— By Nathan Blackwell