Jeff Daniels is an award-winning actor known for an illustrious career in film, TV and on the stage. He’s played memorable roles in films such as “Dumb and Dumber” and “The Purple Rose of Cairo”; won an Emmy for his work on HBO’s “The Newsroom”; and nabbed a Tony nomination for performing Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway.
But the actor also has a love for music, and has released six albums over the years, full of songs he’s written, sang and played guitar on. When time permits, he does small tours, and Daniels was scheduled to play the Birchmere this summer before the coronavirus hit.
So, rather than cancel the gig altogether, Daniels and the Birchmere will be presenting a live virtual performance on Saturday, June 27 beginning at 7:30 p.m. The intimate concert will consist of Daniels singing some of his original tunes plus telling personal stories from his stage and movie career.
“I have a theater company and I knew people were livestreaming things off their laptops,” Daniels said. “My sons and I have a video company that we do local stuff, and I do voice overs out of the studio, so we had some good cameras and equipment. My boys are here with me quarantining, so I wanted to explore the live streaming of the show.”
The Daniels family recorded a couple of concerts and the response was very positive. He did four shows to raise money for The Purple Rose Theatre Company and has been crafting the virtual show a bit more each time.
“We just didn’t want to do a video; we wanted to give someone something more than if they just went to see me at Birchmere,” Daniels said. “You give them stuff that maybe you wouldn’t play if you were in front of 300 people. It’s like a deeper-tracks thing. I think this is something that can be a little more intimate for the audience.”
He cites songs like Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” and Utah Phillips’ “Railroading on The Great Divide” as tunes he’s trying to emulate, songs that captivate an audience thanks to the story they tell along the way.
“You have to make sure it’s a good story and a good song, and if your storytelling is good, it will fuel the story,” Daniels said. “I really enjoy it. Of course, I’ve been in front of the cameras for decades so I feel I know how to do this.”
For instance, Daniels wrote a song that is an answer to Guthrie’s famous song, which is a 12-minute song of him talking over a blues pattern, and is the story of going to Cooperstown, N.Y., renting an RV and leaving his wife at a truck stop.
“Another time, I talked about playing Atticus Finch on Broadway and the whole experience, and it lasted about 25 minutes, ending with a song I wrote for the cast for our closing weekend after having been in the show together for a year,” Daniels said. “That’s an inside that if you tell it right, it’s of interest to people.”
Daniels lives in Michigan and has been riding out the stay-at-home orders at home, writing some more songs and “woodshedding like crazy.” That term, commonly used by musicians, means rehearsing a difficult passage repeatedly until it can be performed flawlessly.
In April, Daniels’ childhood hero, baseball Hall of Famer Al Kaline died, and he wrote a song about him and what one does when their childhood hero dies.
“I wrote this song just for me, and it ended up getting some local notoriety and Cooperstown even wanted the lyrics for it, and now that’s becoming part of my show,” he said. “It’s about what he meant to me, and people can transfer it to their childhood hero.”
After the Birchmere concert, Daniels will take questions online and do a virtual Q&A.
“I’ll answer almost anything,” he said. “It’s trying to let people know that they can try this and risk the $15. It will be an enjoyable night.”