Walden Lake resident Irv Potter has been playing driveway concerts to take his neighbors’ minds off of COVID-19. They ended up reaching more people than he imagined.
Back in March, the entire nation was asked to hunker down at home as much as possible as COVID-19 precautions became all anyone could think about. People sought distractions from a virus we knew little about and found them right under their own noses.
Neighborhoods came alive again as people, sick of being cooped up inside all day, went outside to play. People in communities have gone the extra mile to socialize however they could under the restrictions in place. In some cases, that’s even looked kind of like block parties with people standing a little further apart than they normally would.
If you have Facebook, you can catch one such slice of life from Walden Lake on the regular. Residents of the Hammocks neighborhood of Walden Lake don’t have to worry about when they’ll be able to see live music again because one of their neighbors, Irv Potter, is taking his guitar and his talents to the people from the end of his driveway. What started as a Friday afternoon jam session turned into something much bigger as Potter’s takes on oldies, classic country and many requested songs have taken off.
“I try to do a new setlist every week besides 10-12 songs I know people want to hear and they’ll like,” Potter said. “It’s a little challenge, but it’s fun.”
Potter has sang and played guitar for about 50 years now. He sang in a garage band when he was 16 and played “every weekend,” and said he seriously considered becoming a professional musician through his first few years of college. He cites Simon and Garfunkel, Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell as his biggest influences.
“I had a bunch of rock albums as a kid, but I bought ‘Live at San Quentin’ and ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ and they just blew me away,” Potter said.
He never did make a living from music alone — Potter went on to the corporate world and spent nearly three decades with Pizza Hut — but retirement gave Potter a greater opportunity to focus on the music.
“It’s a great hobby, but it’s more than a hobby,” he said. “I love entertaining people. I wish I had done it more when I was 18, but it’s never too late to start.”
Though Potter and his guitar have popped up at events around Plant City for several years now, including a series of monthly concerts at the Grace Manor at Hunters Creek facility that ended because of COVID-19 precautions, he said his neighbors didn’t really know about his hobby. You could say he was “discovered” by a neighbor one Friday afternoon who heard him playing in his front yard, hanging out with his wife Debbie.
“He said I should play for the neighborhood during corona,” Potter said.
The next day, Potter set up some equipment in his driveway and spread the word to a few neighbors. He said around 10 people showed up to watch him play, sitting in lawn chairs in their driveways or in the backs of their trucks parked in the neighborhood’s cul-de-sac. When he did it again the next weekend, he was shocked to see closer to 50 people of all ages gather to watch him play and bring out their kids to soak in the sounds and make art with sidewalk chalk. When kids in the neighborhood found out his birthday was coming up, they even made him an art project to wish him well for his birthday and to thank him for playing the weekly shows.
“I was shocked,” Potter said. “I was really pleased and it made me feel real good about what I’ve been doing. Everybody has been thankful and it makes me feel good that I was able to help people get through this time with a little lightness and fun in their week.”
Since the Potters began streaming the concerts on Facebook Live, his viewership has grown by the hundreds as word of mouth spread and viewers tuned in from well outside of Plant City. He’s even had neighbors stream his concerts for their friends in England, who would request covers of English artists’ work. Potter handles requests for songs he doesn’t already know how to play by punching them into his iPad, learning what he has to play and then giving it a shot.
“One kid wanted me to play ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen,” Potter said. “It’s not really a guitar song, but I made it work and she was dancing to it.”
Just as things are changing for Potter’s neighbors with Florida fast-tracking its reopening, so are the concerts. Potter is moving his three-hours shows to a monthly format, now aiming for a 4 to 7 p.m. window on the second or third weekend of every month.
“Things are starting to open up now and people will want to do more stuff,” Potter said. “I just did it to give the neighborhood something to look forward to during the week.”
Potter’s next concert will be in mid-June.