In these Covid-19 days, musical live streams have sprung up like mushrooms after a spring shower. Also catching on are readings from music stars, with country great Dolly Parton earning kudos for Goodnight with Dolly, her weekly YouTube series in which she reads aloud a children’s book from her Imagination Library project.
Also underway and quickly making fans is #Annedemic. The creation of popular PEI roots trio The East Pointers, it features the group and an impressive cast of Canadian musicians and actors reading from that beloved Prince Edward Island classic, Anne of Green Gables.
Every night until April 26, a chapter of Anne of Green Gables is being read via The East Pointers’ Facebook live stream, raising spirits and funds for artists who’ve come off the road due to the pandemic status of Covid-19. Donations to the fundraiser are split between the readers and the Unison Benevolent Fund
Already fifteen chapters in, guest readers have included Emma Watkins (The Wiggles), Catherine MacLellan, Jenn Grant and Daniel Ledwell, Patrick Ledwell, Irish Mythen, Laura Cortese, Lydia Persaud, Miranda Mulholland, The Once, Colin MacDonald (The Trews), Rachel Beck and of course, the East Pointers (Tim Chaisson, Jake Charron and Koady Chaisson). Guests last weekend included Heartland’s Graham Wardle and Jonathan Torrens from Trailer Park Boys/Mr. D/Jonovision.
In a press release, East Pointers banjo player Koady Chaisson explains the genesis of the project. "Like almost every other band out there we had to stop touring with everything that’s been going on. And like everyone else we immediately started worrying about how we were going to make ends meet.’
The band was in Australia at the start of a planned three months tour there and in New Zealand when the pandemic lockdown began, forcing the cancellation of all their shows.
‘Jake went back to the UK before the borders shut, but the rest of us had to stay in Australia because we weren’t feeling 100% at the time," Kody Chaisson recalls. "We went into isolation and we were looking for something to read in my wife’s books. I picked up a copy of Anne from a box, saying I should really read it, opened the book and read the title of the first chapter out loud - ‘Mrs. Rachel Lynde is Surprised’ - and it was like the whole idea just landed. We started asking a few of our friends to read and it’s gone from there.’
Tim Chaisson tells FYI that "Koady called us (very excitedly) about the idea and Jake and I were totally on board! We’re obviously Anne fans so hearing the story again plus raising funds for artists right now is a win win."
Because Koady Chaisson had picked up that first chapter, he became the first reader for #Annedemic. Of this, he said “I’ve never been so nervous before a gig in my entire life, I woke up thinking up I was sick” - a sentiment echoed by readers from Tim Chaisson to Miranda Mulholland to Colin MacDonald.
Tim explains that "It was my first time going live on Facebook (which is nervewracking in itself) plus also my first time reading to an audience (who are there but you can’t really tell if they are)! I had to go back to my confident grade 5 self for that one. Koady and Jake said the same thing - actually most readers have said the same thing. It's really different to doing a live music show."
Mulholland tells FYI that "reading a chapter of Anne for Annedemic was my very first time doing a Facebook Live and I was absolutely terrified, I loved the idea of the initiative and I'm a huge supporter of the Unison fund, which is an excellent and crucial organization for our industry. I was very honoured to be asked! "
"I am an enormous Anne fan," she adds. "I read it when I was quite small and I have every book by LM Montgomery. There is a little bit of Anne in everything I do artistically."
"We’re really proud to be raising funds for the readers who’ve been part of this, as well as for the Unison Benevolent Fund," says Tim Chaisson. ‘We are so lucky to come from a place where musicians really support each other and we wanted to make sure that if this started to work, we wouldn’t be the only ones who got something from it. We’re so grateful for people’s donations, but we also hope that people know it doesn’t have to be a large amount. If every viewer donated $5 just once, we’d have exceeded our goal already.’
It’s not just the donations that are making the difference to the band, or to the new audience that has sprung up around it. "It’s the high point of the day," says Koady Chaisson. "Which is weird, because for me, in Australia, it’s 8 am. We do or watch the reading, and then we work on show notes, and then it’s all over until the next day. It’s the complete opposite of the way our days usually peak."
"The response to #Annedemic, not just from the viewers, but from the readers and even from us - it’s totally unexpected, but had I read the book before, maybe it wouldn’t be. People have so much love for the story, and for Anne and the language and the way that the Island is described as perfect. The chapters have been so moving - every time I see someone read a new chapter I think it’s my favourite. People have been singing songs or playing tunes, or in Patrick Ledwell’s case, reading the most beautiful poem, after their chapters. Jake did a magic trick. Viewers are telling us their own stories and recollections. It feels really special, and it’s a heart-warming thing to work on while there’s so much division and tension and sadness out there."
Each ‘episode’ is accompanied later by tongue-in-cheek ‘show notes’: corrections to the read text, clarifications of the meaning of obscure words or references to books and songs, and fun facts about the reader or the Chapter. Donations - currently at almost $7000, are being collected online via a Go Fund Me campaign from viewers tuning in nightly from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, the USA, Europe, the UK and all across Canada, with many commenting that it’s a highlight of their day. Each reader is announced by the previous reader.
Tim Chaisson tells FYI that "we spoke to the Anne of Green Gables estate before we started and they were fantastic. They responded instantly and gave us their full support. Very Anne of them!"
#Annedemic: The East Pointers and Friends Read Anne of Green Gables is live every night on The East Pointers Facebook page at 7 pm ADT until April 26th.
View a sample reading, featuring The Once, here and below a recent music video for Meals by Maurice by the trio of Tim, Koady and Jake.