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Driveway drag shows and backyard violins: Business takes off for performers who deliver

Artists are blazing a new path to battle isolation, boredom and sagging spirits: home delivery.

The Driveway Drag Show carries on, even for Richmond’s city clients with no driveways. (Courtesy: Andy Jordan)of performances, either to your driveway, balcony, or backyard.

Michelle Livigne has been a drag entertainer in Richmond, Virginia, for 12 years, and missed the camaraderie of friends and coworkers. She casually joked on social media about doing driveway drag shows.

In less than 72 hours, she had more than 40 shows booked.

For $75, she and a cohort show up to homes in full drag and perform two songs against a rainbow backdrop and booming sound system. Her partners include a rotating cast of colorful performers. Afterward, she chats with spectators before she’s off to the next stop.

The hype spread quickly. Even ’80s pop icon Boy George retweeted a story about her shows, saying “Love this!”

Demand has grown so quickly for her live show that people more than 100 miles away in Maryland have put in requests.

Demand continues to grow regionwide. Driveway Drag Show has set up shop in New Hampshire, and entertainers in Portland, Maine, just started their “2 Queens, 1 Driveway” show.

Musician Ellen Cockerham Riccio was facing six months without a single concert or music festival. As the principal second violinist for the Richmond Symphony, she needed to get creative about her livelihood. Soon after, she launched The Backyard Violinist.

Riccio performing a violin solo for clients in Richmond on April 17, 2020. (Courtesy: Jeff Kelley)

“I’m haunted by the idea that my performances will only add to people’s to-do lists. I don’t want to be another obligation. So I really make it worth their while,” she said.

Prior to her performances, Riccio sends a survey to her clients to gauge their musical tastes and the type of gathering they’re having. From concerts to kids shows to background music for a romantic evening, she has it covered.

Inspired by Riccio, violinist Jeanette Jang has become the Backyard Violinist for Charlottesville, Virginia. And Holden Delvalle Bitner just set up his Backyard Cellist business in Tallahassee, Florida.

For residents of the Charleston, South Carolina area, opera is on the menu. Holy City Arts and Lyric Opera is offering its

Michelle Livigne makes a grand entrance for a family in Richmond. (Courtesy: Andy Jordan)

Social Distance-SING! program. Performers present “balcony concerts” at apartment and condo complexes, where people can enjoy the music from the safety of their own balconies. They perform in neighborhoods, as well, and ensure that social distancing guidelines are met.

“Right now we are a community service and take donations,” said cofounder Leah Edwards. “But demand has grown and we’re working out a pricing structure.” Edwards was quick to mention that Charleston is the first place opera was performed in North America (1735). Her cofounder is Dimitri Pittas.

“It all started with me singing at the foot of the driveway for neighbors. You could tell people needed it during quarantine. Our neighbors are the most supportive humans. Some have been to every show, and have even crossed state lines to see us perform,” said Edwards.

These performances across the country have benefits beyond economic necessity, or in the case of the audiences, beating boredom. For Livigne, a recent experience at a Driveway Drag Show gave her a sense of purpose, much like a social worker’s outreach.

“If you can imagine me in full drag, driving from the city to an old cabin sitting on 600 acres, I didn’t know what to expect. But it was the nicest Christian family you could imagine. Then I noticed a transgender girl. She was in sixth grade but started transitioning in third grade! She had on fabulous make-up with diamonds around her eyes. She’s so brave, to live where she does and start transitioning so young. I told her as much and mentioned how amazing it is to have a family who supports her. You could tell she needed to hear that,” she said.

Livigne said these shows allow her to meet people she normally wouldn’t have, a sentiment Riccio echoed.

“Most people who’ve hired me have never been to the symphony. They just want to do something unique and different. But it’s so much more personal than when I’m on stage. They see my face and my fingers, and after some shows, you can tell they are moved,” she said.

Ellen Cockerham Riccio, the Backyard Violinist
Photo credit: Jeff Kelley

Like Livigne, she had a house call that went beyond entertainment. A Richmond woman had just given birth six days prior to Riccio’s visit. Her husband was determined to make her feel significant on her own birthday, so she wouldn’t feel eclipsed by the birth of their child. He set up a beautiful table outside and ordered Italian food. His wife stepped into the backyard and began to weep.

Both Riccio and Livigne hope that this outreach will foster a newfound appreciation of the arts. Riccio’s patrons have promised to attend the Richmond Symphony when it’s up and running again. At the very least, these performances have uplifted spirits and exposed new audiences to the arts.

“Humans have been playing music for themselves and each other a lot longer than symphony orchestras have,” Riccio said. “It’s a human need beyond intellect. It’s primal.”

(Edited by Cathy Jones and Matthew Hall.)


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