CAMAS — The band Fox and Bones has played many house concerts, said guitarist and singer Scott Gilmore, but Wednesday’s performance on Larkspur Street “is the first show we’ve played to houses.”
OK, that was actually a laugh line between tunes. The modern folk duo’s real audience was neighbors who emerged from those houses to enjoy a free outdoor concert. They kept the safe distance necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic by enjoying the show from their own driveways, decks and front porches.
“I am ready to have some fun on my first time outside in too long,” said Leslie Stednitz, who brought out folding chairs, glasses of wine and her husband, Paul. “All I do is go shopping once a week — it’s pretty miserable.”
“This is excitement,” Jennifer Mayer said from a deck across the street. “I’ve been looking forward to this all week.”
Fox and Bones are Gilmore, who’s from Portland, and his partner Sarah Vitort, a Vancouver native whose parents now live in Camas. The touring duo is accustomed to being on the road in the United States and overseas as many as nine months out of the year, Vitort said.
They were just three weeks into a three-month, 53-show U.S. tour when the COVID-19 crisis hit. Forty of their upcoming shows quickly got canceled.
“We were in San Diego when that happened,” Vitort said. “We made the drive back up here and started sheltering in place at my parents’ house.”
The Larkspur Street neighbors were acting like a Fox and Bones fan club long before that happened. They’ve enjoyed the duo’s performances at Salud! Wine Bar in downtown Camas as well as occasional parties in the Vitort living room.
“We’ve been supporting them for years,” said John Mayer, who once hosted a Fox and Bones performance at the Fred Meyer store in Portland where he works.
“We’ve amassed a nice following out here — my parents and their friends and neighbors,” Vitort said. “There’s a big group that comes out to Salud!, and it’s a really fun time.”
But now the duo had no tour and no Salud! gig — nothing to do, in fact, but hang out in the Vitort basement, practicing and composing new material. That is, until Sarah Vitort’s mother, Anne, hatched the perfect mom solution. The next time we’ve got a sunny day, she suggested, why not set up in the driveway and offer all your fans on the block a free concert?
For two hours Wednesday evening, Fox and Bones stood in the Vitort driveway and sent sweet-yet-gritty harmonies and clean-yet-bluesy guitar playing out into the neighborhood. The president of the local homeowners association sanctioned the event in advance.
Upwards of 35 people turned up. Most were immediate neighbors who stayed on their own properties. Some farther-flung folks attended, too. They walked up with folding chairs, or drove up and pulled over to enjoy the concert from inside a car or the bed of a pickup truck. Neighbors exchanged many friendly greetings even while maintaining a 6-foot distance.
Gilmore quipped that, if anything so bold happened in the California homeowners association where he grew up, neighbors would have called in a SWAT team.
While they featured lots of original tunes, Fox and Bones had also received several emailed song requests from neighbors like Jemma Mayer, who wore cat ears while hanging out with her parents on their deck across the street.
Mayer copped to being Fox and Bones’ “No. 1 groupie,” especially after the duo came through with fresh tunes by Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish, which they’d had to learn in a hurry.
“I’m in my 30s. I’m only marginally cool,” Gilmore said. He confessed that, after spending years living a highly scheduled life on the road, he was enjoying all the unstructured down time.
The duo delivered a somber rendition of “Angel from Montgomery,” the poignant Bonnie Raitt classic composed by John Prine, who had died of COVID-19 the previous day. And they sent out a heartfelt “You Are Not Alone,” a Michael Jackson ballad, requested by the nurses at PeaceHealth Medical Center.
One of them is nurse and neighbor Crystal Li, who recorded the performance on her phone.
“I want to give this to my co-workers,” Li said, “to show them how much support they have.”