A New Concept for Virginia Concerts

Jul 22, 2019

Concerts are about the music, but their location is also a factor in how an audience responds.  That’s why a Charlottesville musician and composer has launched Fern Hill -- a series of performances in unusual spaces.

Cellis, singer and composer Wes Swing has launched Fern Hill -- a concert series that's as much about place as about music.
Credit Wes Swing

Wes Swing is a gifted cellist and singer who has performed around the world.  This is him, on stage at the Kennedy Center.  You might think that was the high point of his career, but Swing has fonder memories of smaller places.

“My favorite shows have been in the places where I didn’t expect it – like that café in Switzerland," he recalls. "I did a residency in Ireland earlier this year where I got to perform in a chapel in this little village in Ireland.  The night is perfect, and the music is beautiful, and the vibe is right.”

So he’s organized a concert series in Charlottesville -- bringing musicians to the Woolen Mills chapel for example -- a small, historic church in one of the city’s old, industrial neighborhoods. 

“Mary Lattimore, the harpist, came to play a show in the series, and her music is perfect for the chapel, because it’s resonant, and the chapel has that beautiful resonance in it, and it really feels like sit down and listen music," he explains. "Whereas the evening  we did at the Woolen Mills Warehouse, we used all these different rooms and we led the audience through this weird, surreal dreamscape of a place, and the place mattered so much to that evening, and then we’ve done one at Fry Springs Beach Club, which  was a waltz show, where everybody just came and danced to live waltz music.”

You might not think a small town like Charlottesville could support artistic expression of this kind, but Swing says he couldn’t do these concerts anywhere else.

“I don’t think I could do Fern Hill in L.A. for example," Swing says. "There are just so many people.  Everything is so expensive.  Getting space is difficult.”

But in Central Virginia he has the resources to bring dreams to life – collaborating with dancers, costume and light designers.  Even with limited publicity, shows usually sell out.

“We don’t have a Fern Hill Facebook page.  We don’t have an Instagram.  It’s really as low fi as we can get it. I just send out a few e-mails before the show. It’s word of mouth, and I like it that way.”

He says the concerts are not profitable, but that’s okay, because he has another source of income – teaching Latin to home schooled kids in person or online.

“I was out in the Bay area teaching a bunch of home schoolers, and then when I left the bay to come back to Virginia my students were like, ‘Why don’t we just continue on Skye?’

That side gig allows him artistic freedom, and he’s taken full advantage.

“I’m taking a little bit of time off from the road this summer, because I’m working on a new album  -- actually on several albums,  and then I have a friend who’s orchestrating my music for string quartet, so I’m hoping we’ll get to premiere that in Durham, but then I’m going to China for two weeks to perform at this modern dance festival, and I’m also getting married in September, so there’s a lot going on.”

Which is why there are no concerts scheduled right now – but Swing says he’ll be happy to let you know about the next show.  Just e-mail him – wes@wesswing.com