Ann Vriend is a multi-award-winning singer and songwriter living in Edmonton, Alta., whose scheduled performances at home and abroad were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “In April,” Vriend said, “when it was clear my upcoming European tour would be indefinitely postponed, I started to realize how much I missed performing for people. So I took my keyboard out to my front porch on a windy, bleak Sunday and messaged a few neighbors that I was going to try a small performance from there.”
“Though it was a small, feeble thing in a bleak and scary time, it felt good to do,” she said, “to see before me the visual evidence on peoples’ faces and in their body language of the kind of ‘soul food’ that music is and the kind of comfort it can be. So I did it the next Sunday and the next Sunday after that.”
By now, mid-August, there are typically 30-50 people listening each week—sitting on lawn chairs or standing nearby. People pushing shopping carts filled with their belongings stop to listen.
McCauley, where Vriend lives, is one of Edmonton’s oldest inner-city neighborhoods. “There is a fairly constant stream of foot traffic on my street,” said Vriend. “Part of the neighborhood is also host to numerous agencies that have various handouts and services for the homeless population. That tends to keep people who need those things never too far away.”
One recent Sunday afternoon, a man named Tony started singing with Vriend from the sidewalk. He had such an amazing voice that Vriend asked him to open for her the following week. After learning that it was going to be Tony’s birthday that day, she asked her mother, who usually brings a huge bouquet of flowers to the Sunday concerts, if she could give them to Tony. Her mother decided to also make a big chocolate layer cake. Everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday’ while the cake was brought “on stage.” Tony cried. He confided that he had only had two birthday parties in his whole life. Another man, sitting in a wheelchair, clapped and waved his hands, saying over and over, “I love you, Ann!”
Politician Janis Irwin is the MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta) for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, which includes McCauley. After attending one of the porch concerts, she reflected, “Throughout the pandemic, I’ve seen the power of community truly highlighted. Neighbors have come together in creative, but physically distanced ways. Ann’s porch concerts are just one example: neighbors are brought together, sometimes for the first time, and passersby who stop to listen end up staying a while.”
Vriend is a member of Edmonton’s Fellowship Christian Reformed Church, and so are her parents. Her mother, Louisa Bruinsma, confessed, “We often wished that Ann had a ‘real job’ with benefits, etc., but now we see something else: her witness, respect, acceptance, and love for her neighbors. I believe she is extending the hand of Christ who probably would feel very much at home in a neighborhood where we often feel very uncomfortable.”