Beautiful Northeast Ohio landscapes serve as stages for video concert series
In 2020, Cleveland music and film producer Thomas Fox wanted to bring two things together that were getting him through the COVID-19 pandemic: livestreamed concerts and parks.
Fox started a video project called Greyt Outdoor Concerts, where musicians perform in the middle of Northeast Ohio’s natural landscapes.
Though there are no live audiences in attendance, each performance is filmed in a different local park by a large crew.
“I'm bringing in around a dozen highly talented friends that are either music makers or camera operators, grips, sound designers, sound engineers, and then also bring in massive amounts of equipment,” Fox said.
Fox created the idea for the concert series to celebrate the work that conservation organizations are doing to preserve Northeast Ohio parks, while drawing inspiration from NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts.
He felt he could produce high-quality, live-music experiences while honoring public lands, wildlife and wilderness.
“Surviving that moment was a lot of taking to the outdoors, an appreciation that there are so many preserved nature spaces that are like helpful to our mental health,” he said. “Also, just the overall well-being of the planet depends on nature being cared for."
Blending music and nature
Fox was born and raised in Cleveland and has been heavily involved in local arts and entrepreneurship advocacy programs, as well as the region’s music community.
He founded indie music studio Bad Racket in 2010, and he served as the creative leader of Cleveland's Brite Winter Arts and Music Festival until 2014.
In 2019, he started Greyt Culture, a business that aims to connect artists and entrepreneurs through events and programming.
He filmed the pilot for his outdoor concert series in early 2020, partnering with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy and later the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Each Greyt Outdoor Concert is 15-20 minutes long and features a contemporary artist spanning a range of genres.
“I’m friends with a lot of musicians. I've worked with a lot of musicians,” Fox said. “If I'm wanting to watch something in this way, it should be beautiful.”
Because Fox is part of a wide network of musicians and artists, he picks performers who live and work in cities across the country.
Chardon-born singer-songwriter Cassidy King, who now resides in Los Angeles, was selected to perform at Hidden Valley Park in Madison, Ohio, for one concert.
New York band Moon Hooch played in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park for another.
Fox’s friends Carolyn and Caleb Spaulding, a husband-wife folk duo from Buffalo, New York, perform as the Lowlies. He tapped the pair to perform during the early morning hours near Kendall Lake.
Locations of each performance are labeled in the finished videos so virtual attendees around the world can learn more about each setting.
“I love the idea of getting people excited about nature and conservation and just intertwining that with good music."Carolyn Spaulding
Performing in Northeast Ohio parks
Carolyn Spaulding said she and her husband have been embraced by Cleveland’s songwriting community and have made friends with other musicians in the area.
“Every once in a while, we make the trek over here. It feels like in a very collaborative way, like a really special city, artistically and musically,” she said.
Spaulding said back at home in Buffalo, playing music outside in nature is a regular occurrence for the duo.
“I love the idea of getting people excited about nature and conservation and just intertwining that with good music,” she said.
Fox said timing the filming just right to coincide with the distinct light of sunrise, for example, has been a key part of the process for putting together the virtual concerts.
“I did look at Caleb, and I was like, ‘This is your one shot,’” Fox said.
Fox said some of his favorite parts of the experience were the candid moments, like finding the perfect location and realizing he was standing in a patch of poison ivy.
“That moment in time, just like I had a moment in time with Caleb and Carolyn, there's some, like, beautiful memories that I'm just not going to forget,” Fox said.
Raising funds for park conservation
Fox has an ambitious goal of generating billions of views for the concert series, which he then hopes will turn into hundreds of millions of dollars raised toward environmental conservation. The first couple of videos have garnered a few thousand views.
Each video concert is available to watch for free on YouTube, and a link to support the conservancy of the park featured in the performance is included in the description.
Fox hopes Greyt Outdoor Concerts will be regarded as one of the most exciting music showcases in the cultural landscape.
He is focusing on fundraising and finding new partnerships to expand the concert series to more parks nationally.
“Greyt Outdoor and its premise is that the most beautiful space for music and art is not created by people. It's nature,” he said.