COURTESY/WILD RIVER GRILLE Alex “Muddy” Smith: Alex “Muddy” Smith performed live during the inaugural Band Together digital concert series. His performance can still be viewed on the Wild River Grille YouTube page.

Wild River Grille provides the community with a digital concert series in response to COVID-19
Donning a white dinner jacket and black fedora, local musician Alex “Muddy” Smith sat at his home in Reno last Friday night to play a two-hour digital concert for more than 70 households enjoying Wild River Grille’s COVID-19 take out menu.

“Hey, I’m live! And a minute early,” Muddy said over the restaurant’s YouTube channel. “Man, I’m so excited to be here because this is the beginning of the Wild River Grille’s Band Together.”

The aptly named “Band Together” is a digital concert series that streams live from 7-9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. The concerts are organized by the owner of Wild River Grille, Chuck Shapiro, and his staff. Last Friday, for the first concert of the series, if you ordered take out from the usually river-front restaurant, you were given a silver ticket—a web address that granted you access to the live concert. Seventy households tuned in. But, after that first night, the procedure changed as the restaurant want to open the shows up to more community members. Moving forward, the purchase of take out is no longer necessary to access the concerts.

This type of support for the arts, as well as inclusivity for the Reno community, seems to be woven into the fabric of Wild River Grille. Reto Gross, general manager of the restaurant, explained that ever since moving to Reno from Tahoe, Shapiro has been involved in the Reno arts scene. And, because of that, he’s invested in the well being of the arts.

“[Shapiro] knows that right now people are not really thinking about arts,” Gross said. “There are a ton of industries that are hurting because of COVID-19, but artists are really easy to forget in a time of crisis. So he wanted to make sure that they were taken care of.”

Of course, it isn’t just the musicians who would typically be playing on the restaurant’s outside deck who are being impacted by this health crisis.
“Muralists and painters also rely on the restaurant to showcase their art so people can buy it,” Gross said. “When the doors are closed, people aren’t viewing the art, so they are not buying it.”

And that’s why the funds raised during these concerts benefit a variety of those affected, including the performing musicians, the kitchen staff who continue to cook to-go food at Wild River Grille, and local arts foundations. Gross explained that Band Together provides donors a breadth of ways to give back. For example, when you purchase take out, you are given the option to add a gratuity that goes directly to any of the affected groups listed above—donor’s choice. The restaurant is also generously donating 50 percent of all gift card sales to an associated arts organizations, including Pioneer Center Art the Performing Arts, Artown, Brüka Theatre and Sierra Arts Foundation.

Tany Jane: On the second night of the Band Together digital concert series, Tany James performed to an audience of more than 200 households. The performance can still be viewed on the Wild River Grille YouTube page.

The real beauty of Band Together is that it is, to the core, about supporting the arts. Gross explained that Shapiro wants to make sure that the performers are also compensated for the time.

“We are hoping that people will donate,” Gross said. “But Chuck is making sure that they [the performing artists] are taken care of, so he is making a personal donation to help them out.”

While the artists currently booked for these shows are local musicians who typically play on the restaurant’s deck as the days get longer, Band Together is excited about the possibility of introducing the community to new names. He explained that the series is open to featuring all sorts of local musicians during their concert series, even if they’ve never performed at the restaurant before. And, if you are interested, artists can reach out via the contact information provided on the Wild River Grille’s website for Band Together.

The restaurant is attempting to remove any potential barriers to entry—one of which includes making the concerts feasible for musicians who cannot stream from their homes.

“There are a couple of private places that the musicians are allowed to go to should they not have the ability to do live streaming at their house,” Gross said. “It would just be them; we have the ability to organize performances in an art space like a private gallery that nobody is using right now.”

Wild River Grille and the local musicians performing during Band Together are making the collective statement that, together, the city of Reno will get through these uncertain times.

“I realize that we’ve also benefited a lot from the things that Reno has to offer,” Gross said. “So, if there is any way that we can, we are happy to do.”

He explained that it’s events like Hot August Nights, “that probably won’t happen” or Burning Man, “which was just canceled” that are affecting not only the community of Reno but also the local arts community. In essence, they are saying we need to band together and support each other because, according to Gross, “the show must go on.”

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