Last Friday, the Lied Center for Performing Arts hosted the first concert in its Lied Live Online Series when Emily Bass performed to an online audience from her living room via Facebook Live. The Lied Center will continue to entertain viewers this Sunday when singer-songwriter and guitarist Susan Werner performs live starting at 6 p.m.
Werner has been performing for coffee houses and festivals for the last 30 years, primarily up and down the East Coast. Although Werner lives in Philadelphia, she has Midwestern ties — she grew up on a farm in eastern Iowa and has performed all over Nebraska.
Werner will perform “A Salute to Farming: Songs from Hayseed,” a collection of songs commissioned by the Lied Center and the University of Nebraska Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources in 2012. Werner said the songs are about farms, farmers and the people who love them, bringing together two big parts of her life: music and her farming heritage.
Werner said she has lots of affection for Nebraska having grown up one state over. She said her show will feature many local references, such as a song about the origin of the popular salad dressing Dorothy Lynch.
“For those of us who grew up in Iowa, Nebraska is like the country cousin that you love but also … want to defeat [in] the football game two days after Thanksgiving,” Werner said. “So it's been wonderful to collaborate with Nebraskans and the Lied Center in all these different ways.”
Since the coronavirus shut down venues in her community, Werner has been streaming a concert from her home in Philadelphia every Sunday night on her own. When Bill Stephan, executive director and chief artistic officer of the Lied Center, reached out to her to play Sunday’s concert, she jumped at the opportunity to help people connect during this time of social distancing.
“What's wild is to see the running commentary that goes along with this broadcast, in which people from all over the country and all over the world reconnect with each other,” she said. “Maybe they know each other from a music festival they go to every year, or they know each other from shows that they go to in, say, Council Bluffs. It's just fantastic, the connection that this particular kind of event fosters at a time when you really are happy to escape the little gerbil cages of our homes for an hour.”
The first Lied Live Online show with Bass brought in an average of 200 viewers during the hour-long performance and has received over 7000 overall views. Stephan said this series offers an opportunity for people to experience everything they love about concerts, but in a virtual setting.
“While it's not the same as being in the theater, it's a nice fill-in for this unique period where people can see people's reaction, they can listen and write their own comments [and have] that give and take between the artists and the listeners,” Stephan said. “You still get some of that magic online with a live concert experience.”
Werner said music has helped her get through the uncertainty of these last few weeks, and she hopes her concert will provide a similar escape for her viewers.
“Music is really shorthand for feeling,” Werner said. “And in this moment, where we're getting so much information, and we're consuming so much news, and the news is not good, songs can help us feel and remind us that we do feel. [They] remind us we can feel all kinds of things and that we have before and that we will again. That's sort of the biggest thing I think music can aim to do right now.”
Werner said her show is a tribute to the openness and harmony of Nebraska, hopefully reminding viewers of the people and places they love.
“We're all in on this Sunday night, and I hope it brings a lot of people delight from Omaha to the hills of Scottsbluff and even the empty cars of Carhenge,” she said. “I think the songs of this concert may remind people of some of their own family, their own friends, the [agriculture] that still is such a big part of the vitality of the economy of Nebraska.”