Jeff Daniels to hold virtual concert as fundraiser for theater

By Lori McDonald | The (Seymour) Tribune
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NORTH VERNON — The energy of a live performance needs to be felt.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, live entertainment is suffering as the doors to many venues, both large and small, remain closed.

Since many local theaters are currently closed, actor, singer and songwriter Jeff Daniels is holding a virtual concert to benefit the theater in North Vernon.

“You don’t miss it until it’s gone, and you’re going to miss it,” Daniels said. “It’s what you do on Saturday night. It’s that thing that when the artists come to North Vernon, they’re coming to you, and when you go out and see them, it can be a great night.”

The virtual concert will be at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, and tickets are $20 for an individual and $30 for a family, which can be purchased online at crowdcast.io/e/jeffdanielsparktheatrejan26/register.

Daniels said some of his favorite times are playing live venues with a guitar and an audience that didn’t expect much.

“You just win them over, and suddenly, everybody leaves thinking, ‘I’m so glad I came,’” he said. “There’s still a need for community, experiencing the same thing all at once. I think that’s still going to have great value.”

He said all we have to do is keep the buildings open and keep the rent and electricity paid and water running. It’s going to take a lot of people supporting, especially those local venues, he said.

“To be in the room, that’s one reason why I think theater has survived everything — world wars, television and radio, films and video on demand — yet people still go to the theater to see a play,” Daniels said.

Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea, Michigan, founded by Daniels in 1991, has been closed for nine months.

“These people, these theaters in particular, not just the one in North Vernon, and the opera houses around the country, they’re gems. They are places of pride for the community,” he said. “I hope when they open, there are more artists that go back to them and continue to get out of the cities.”

In 2000, Patricia Yount, president of the Park Theatre Civic Centre board of directors, attended a Jeff Daniels concert in downtown Indianapolis.

“I was so impressed with his talent as well as his story of his hometown of Chelsea, Michigan, and his local theater, Purple Rose,” Yount said. “Jeff was instrumental in renovating a downtown building to turn it into a theater for plays, musicals and concerts.”

Yount thought Daniels would be a great fit to perform in North Vernon, so she contacted his agent, and they reached an agreement. Daniels performed there in 2004 to a full house.

“Jeff arrived early enough to talk to our 75-plus Jennings County High School drama students. We also installed a star for Jeff in the sidewalk outside the front of the Park,” she said.

Due to the theater’s relationship with Daniels, he agreed to another concert years later in 2015, which was another well-received, sold-out concert.

Yount said the theater is the heartbeat of downtown North Vernon and Jennings County.

“It is our movie theater, home of the Jennings County Players, concerts and community gathering hall for a variety of functions that support our community,” she said. “The arts and entertainment contribute to the quality of life in communities, particularly small rural communities.”

Daniels said the virtual concert will be a more intimate performance.

“We’ll have three cameras, and I’ll talk to you and it’s a show, but it’s just for you, and that’s the trick of doing these kinds of things, not trying to play to 500 people, just the one or two people that might be on the other side of the lens,” he said.

Daniels will be performing songs from his new album, “Alive and Well Enough,” released in October.

The album features “I Am America,” a song Daniels co-wrote with Thornetta Davis, a multitalented international singer and songwriter from Detroit, Michigan, and winner of more than 30 Detroit Music Awards.

Another song on the album is “All Rise,” which he wrote in the final week of the Broadway run of “To Kill a Mockingbird” as a closing night gift. That year, they performed eight shows a week, 415 performances total, and he never missed one.

Eight or nine years before he landed the role as Will McAvoy on “The Newsroom,” Daniels was playing a lot of clubs all over the country and was considering just doing that.

“I truly enjoy doing it. It’s not a fallback. I keep doing it because I love it,” he said. “It’s different than a great guitar player going out there or a great band going out and playing their hits.”

He said it’s about the storytellers of this country, going back to Will Rogers, Mark Twain, Steve Goodman and John Prine, who were all storytellers.

“There is an art to telling a story well, and I’ve spent my life as an actor learning how to do that,” he said. “Then you put me on a stage, which is familiar territory.”

In that setting, Daniels turns into a one-man musical with stories, jokes and then a song.

“I think that has been around forever, the troubadour,” he said. “I think of the storyteller with a guitar, and I marvel at those guys, and I’m pleased to carry on that tradition.”

Daniels said his virtual concert will entertain and make people think.

“I’m going to sing songs that no one else is singing because I wrote them and this is my perspective on it,” he said. “I’d like to think of it as reading a new book that you like. As the concert goes, I hope that I pull people in and give them an entertaining time but also stuff to think about.”