As part of the live, virtual music festival, PIT will feature local kinetic brass-and-drum trio Big Blitz. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

23 Airports Band Together to Stage Virtual Concert

When Tami Kuiken first heard last month that Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was planning to stage a concert, she was all in – even though she’s in Seattle, more than 2,000 miles away.

But Kuiken, the business manager for dining and retail at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport , isn’t just interested in jamming during the JetStream Music Festival. She wants to help the musicians themselves.

“SEA supports each other, and when COVID-19 hit, I was devastated to have to suspend the music program,” she said. “This program is a huge source of income for these musicians, and to have that source pulled out from under them all of a sudden was upsetting.”

So how will an artist from the Emerald City and more than 20 others around North America, including Pittsburgh, play in the “Live Music Capital of the World”? Via a livestreamed concert that will be co-broadcast on the Facebook pages of participating airports, from San Diego to Jacksonville to Toronto, starting at 6 p.m. EDT Wednesday. The stream will be free and open to the public.

Staff at AUS brainstormed the idea of a virtual concert in late March, said spokesman Bryce Dubee, and posted it on Facebook to gauge interest from other airports. Within days, they had 22 responses.

“Initially, when we first started planning, we were hoping that we’d get maybe five or six other airports to join us; eight would have been a huge success,” he said. “Never in our wildest dreams did we think that we’d get such a huge response from the airport community.”

The stream will be hosted by Austin songstress Gina Chavez, who will also perform. Officials from participating airports booked acts that are both popular with their passengers and representative of their cities. Pittsburgh International Airport will feature kinetic brass-and-drum trio Big Blitz.

Philadelphia International Airport recruited Chill Moody, a rapper and the city’s music ambassador, who will bring a “unique and authentically Philly” vibe to the event, said Leah Dunbar, director of guest experience.

Other acts include instrumentalist Zuriel Merek with Dallas Love Field Airport, guitarist Jordan Richard from Portland International Airport and jazz singer Robin Barnes from Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

The artists will be paid their usual fees for performances, although each is slotted for only about 10-15 minutes each, with an introduction from airport officials. Some airports are setting up digital “tip jars” for their performers.

“Local music is the heart and soul of AUS — it’s the first thing you’ll experience when you step off a plane in Austin,” Dubee said. “But we know there are other airports that are just as passionate about their local musicians. An online music festival seemed like the perfect opportunity to rally everyone together in showing that support.”

Ultimately, the concert is a celebration of music, the arts and the integral role they play in airports and communities, particularly when the future is uncertain – a message echoed by program managers across the U.S.

“Musicians and artists can soothe our souls in times of stress, uncertainty, and grief, which is what we’re all experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ben Owen, director of the Arts@MSP program at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. “The arts connect us with our communities and our loved ones during times of crisis. It’s been proven over and over again.”

For a full list of participating airports and performers, click here. The JetStream Music Festival will appear on PIT’s Facebook page on Wednesday.

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