Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Ottawa piano player and singer Dave Kalil has been hosting virtual concerts from his home for anyone, anywhere to tune into.
The Saturday night shows are a way for Ottawa’s Piano Man to connect with his audiences, far and wide, until the time comes when musicians are allowed to perform in front of live crowds again. His weekly followers are all in the mood for a melody. And he’s got them feelin’ alright.
This past Saturday, Kalil passed the $100,000 mark for funds cumulatively raised for local charities through his weekly Take a Break concerts. He’s up to $115,000.
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“It’s been an incredible journey up until now,” Kalil told his roughly 500 viewers during the 90-minute show, live-streamed on his Facebook page. “I know this is a (fundraising) milestone, but it’s still all about us getting together and keeping each other company through this stupid time.”
Helping out as the show producer is Erin Benjamin, who, by day, is the president and CEO of the Canadian Live Music Association. She doesn’t appear, but you can hear her voice, sometimes singing along softly to Kalil’s music, sharing exciting news and breaking fundraising updates, or exchanging banter with the host during the shows, which have a spontaneous, unrehearsed and authentic feel to them.
Kalil plays a different setlist of cover songs each week. Viewers are welcome to make a donation to his virtual tip jar, of which he donates a portion back to charity. Sometimes he does a little of his own material, as he did Saturday with his new version of his popular song Hole in the Universe.
The truth is that the pandemic has left Kalil unemployed. He can’t perform at his usual venues around town. He can’t even work his other gig as a golf pro at the Ottawa Hunt & Golf Club as Ontario golf courses remain closed as part of the provincewide stay-at-home order.
“It has given me a purpose through this.”
So it remains pretty important to Kalil – a musician with more than 40 years’ experience – that he keeps doing his Take a Break shows.
“It has given me a purpose through this,” he told OBJ.social.
This past Saturday brought in almost $27,000 for a charity called Shelter Movers. It provides moving and storage services at no cost to women and children fleeing abuse. Demand is up, said chapter director Wendy Mitchell, who also runs her own consulting business on sustainability.
The charity is just one of many that have been boosted through Kalil’s concerts.
“The nonprofit sector needed someone like Dave during this pandemic because small, grassroots organizations lost their ability to raise funds,” Mitchell told OBJ.social. “Without someone like Dave providing the platform for these organizations to raise money, some of them would stop existing.
“They don’t need a lot of money but they need money to keep the lights on.”
Last week, Mayor Jim Watson sent a congratulatory message, via video, to Kalil. Progressive Conservative MPP Jeremy Roberts for Ottawa West-Nepean also plugged Kalil’s concerts during his recent member’s statement at Queen’s Park.
The fundraising component of Take a Break all began when one audience member, Al Saunders, offered back in November to donate $1 to charity for every person watching. The giving snowballed from there.
On Saturday, Impact Ottawa Real Estate donated $10 per viewer, up to $2,000. Several other supporters provided $1 a head. Ottawa philanthropist Gary Zed threw in $5,000 before promising to double his donation if that night’s total reached $20,000.
“He’s the ‘wow factor,’” said Kalil of Zed’s frequent and generous donations.
Mazen Kassis, president of Milano Pizza Ottawa, not only made a contribution but also prepared a Lebanese-style cheesecake to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. He posted in the chat comments that he’d sold it to Kammal Tannis for $500. Tannis, executive vice-president of Sysco Ontario North, later shared that he enjoyed it so much he threw in another $500 – raising $1,000 for Shelter Movers.
Kalil, who was born and raised in Ottawa, gave a Romper Room-like shout out to many of his friends, family and fans. He shared the good news that he’d been recently vaccinated.
“My first shot, anyway. Hopefully, that gets going and we get back to seeing each other, because I miss the hell out of everybody.”
In honour of Mother’s Day, businesswoman Carole Saad of Ottawa Pop Up! Events packaged together gifts from local businesses, donating $25 from each of the nearly 40 boxes sold.
Toward the end of the show, Kalil paid tribute to his own mother, remembering the tactics she used to wake him on Saturday mornings, back when he was a teen. Sometimes, she’d blast music from famous opera La Bohème. Other times, she’d vacuum outside his room, occasionally banging into his door.
He thanked his mom for being there for him, then launched into a John Denver classic. Kalil closed his show with one of the most soulful songs ever: Bill Withers’ Lean on Me.