Staff, students, families and curious passers-by begin to fill the Performing Arts Center plaza as Ky Burt, the first artist performing for Western’s Summer Noon Concert Series, goes through sound check.
The show begins a couple minutes late due to technical difficulties, but the mood remains relaxed as the audience enjoys their lunches. After a quick introduction, the blues-like music starts up and the crowd soaks in the sunshine and sounds.
The Summer Noon Concert Series will be hosting a free concert every Wednesday at noon from July 1 until July 29, an annual tradition that has been upheld since 1992.
Jennifer Cook, the event coordinator for the series and student activities advisor for Associated Students, has been working on putting together this event since spring break, with most of the details finalized by May.
“It’s been really successful and just a tradition that the campus always looks forward to every summer,” Cook said. “It started with Lisa Rosenberg, who is still a staff member here.”
With Western’s rather eclectic student population, Cook wanted to put together a lineup to represent all of Western’s tastes. Cook said there will be a flamenco group from Seattle and two groups from Bellingham, representing the Irish-folk and indie rock genres.
Next Wednesday’s performer is The Sky Colony, a dream folk band from the Skagit Valley region in Washington.
This week’s performer, Ky Burt, is an Indiana native who has been touring up the west coast starting from Paonia, Colorado. Accompanying Burt for the majority of his tour is Melanie Jean Williams, who complimented Burt’s set at Western with her box drum, electric guitar and harmonizing.
Burt said he draws inspiration from his past, various songwriters and the outdoors.
“My dad exposed me to a lot of music, a lot of 60s music, I listened to The Doors and Bob Dylan,” Burt said. “Then I found a-it’s funny how I got into guitar- I found it in my sister’s room while she was away for college.”
He said his repertoire of musical skills ranges from the banjo, harmonica, mandolin, hollow body guitar and he even dabbles in foot percussion. Though music is his main priority nowadays, Burt said it wasn’t too long ago when he was balancing both work and his passion.
“I studied watershed management and environmental science and I worked in conservation and in nonprofits in the government and was also a musician, kind of living two lives for awhile,” Burt said.
Six months ago, Burt said he made the decision to quit work and pursue music full time.
Burt and Williams have played over 40 shows in the past two months, all while living and plotting out logistics in their 1987 Toyota Van Wagon. The duo has funded their tour through their paid gigs, but also through a charitable campaign called Project in Pursuit. By using Kickstarter, an online platform that allows people to raise money, they have been able to play free concerts.
“We gave about 23 concerts to homeless shelters and retirement centers, so we’ve seen it all from bars, to here [at Western], to actual substance dependent shelters,” Burt said. “That came because we had the idea to give a cause to the tour, let’s give back. So it’s been pretty tireless, we’ve been going nonstop.”
The concert brought in a full audience to the PAC plaza; an ebb and flow of people came and went throughout Burt’s set, coming and going to class or work. Children danced to a cheerful banjo tune entitled “Curry Soup,” a song that Burt said is inspired by his love for Thai food.
Fran Maas, a staff member at Western, was in attendance for Burt’s performance. Maas said she is a music connoisseur herself and was not only impressed by the harmonizing between Burt and Williams, but their campaign as well.
“It sounded like, by the concerts and places they were performing, they were extending their heart a little bit,” Maas said. “The senior centers might not always get to hear music in their venues, I thought that was really great.”
While Williams will be returning to Colorado, Burt will continue a solo tour of paid and free shows through California, Arizona, Utah and Colorado, picking up friends along the way to play with him. Though Burt is heading back down south for the remainder of his tour, he said he really enjoys Washington and Oregon and is considering relocating to the Northwest in the fall to pursue his music career.
The Summer Noon Concert Series will continue every Wednesday in July from noon to 1 p.m. in the PAC plaza, or in the Underground Coffeehouse if Washington brings the rain.