Festival organizers say concert series not only survived, it thrived

Because of COVID-19 concerns, Lakes Area Music Festival's 2020 concert series was presented virtually.

LAMF Ballet 1
Eva Burton of the Oregon Ballet Theatre dances in "Cycles," earlier this month in the Lakes Area Music Festival concert series. The ballet production was in partnership with the House of Makers dance collective. Photo by David Boran

When the Lakes Area Music Festival’s 2020 concert series went virtual, organizers didn’t know what to expect.

They used the pandemic as an opportunity to take their concert series online as they didn’t want to cancel it. Scott Lykins, executive and artistic director; John Taylor Ward, associated artistic director; and Carol Russell, board member, are happy they did.

The numbers speak for themselves, Russell said in a Zoom interview on how the virtual concert series went. The series ran from July 10 through Aug. 16 and the numbers tabulated during this time period are as follows:

  • 54,000 video views of the concerts and the question-and-answer sessions.

  • 1,600 followers gained on Facebook and Instagram.

  • 59,400 total engagements, such as likes, shares and comments.

  • 145,300 people reached by a promotional ad.

  • 964,200 total times the content was viewed, which includes ads.

“We did not just survive this season we thrived with it,” Russell said. “(The season) is going to be so much better going forward as it’s already great. We’re really so grateful to everybody, all the volunteers who helped with this. We are especially grateful for the support from the Brainerd lakes area.
“There was a big question mark at the beginning. Would this be a difficult thing to achieve? But the numbers show that we really do have a pretty committed audience.”

Lakes Area Music Festival is a nonprofit musical organization that brings 200 all-star artists from top orchestras and opera companies around the world for three weeks of free classical music performances each summer in the Brainerd lakes area. Lykins founded the music festival in 2009 when he returned to his hometown of Brainerd with four musicians from the Eastman School of Music in New York. Lykins and his colleagues wanted to share their musical talents with the community and each year the audience base grew. The festival includes music from chamber music and symphonic orchestra, to productions of opera and ballet.


Lykins said not only was the virtual concert series a success to the audience, it was to the musicians as well.

“We began to realize to an even greater extent going into this how meaningful it was to the artists to be in Brainerd and to be playing with musicians again,” Lykins said of the artists who traveled to Brainerd for the concerts. ”Most of them had gone for months, since March, without playing with colleagues. To a certain extent, time at home by yourself to practice and a little bit of a break is nice but I know one of our violas said this is the longest break she's had from playing with people and 15 years.

“For most of them, traveling to Brainerd and being back in a setting that they’re very familiar with in a completely different world was a different experience for them. A lot of musicians were a little bit nervous about how safety (protocols) would be addressed and since they haven’t played for a while they were nervous about what it would be like for them to jump in and play a really difficult repertoire which we selected. But within the first rehearsal, or just a couple days in, they all felt safe in the environment and were so thankful for the opportunity to play music.”

“What started as a situation that took a lot of thinking and planning turned into an opportunity because our reach was so strong and so broad,” Russell added. “For those who couldn't come to Tornstrom before now could still participate and attend concerts ... so that’s a great thing.”

Lykins said it could have been an easy decision to just not have a concert series during the pandemic. However, he said that would have meant a year without engaging with their current audience and time lost to expand their audience.

“Expanding our audience and our reach was a big goal this season,” Lykins said. “And to see those numbers coming in over social media with over 50,000 views of our videos is almost three and a half or four times the number of people we usually reach in a whole year. So it’ll be interesting to see who it was that was tuning in, where they were tuning in from, and the results of that increased awareness of the Lakes Area Music Festival and the Brainerd lakes area as a whole.”

And organizers expect these numbers to increase, as all the concerts are on the organization’s Facebook page, so people can still watch the concerts at their convenience. To watch any of the 11 concerts that involved about 50 performers visit or the organization’s YouTube channel at .

Russell said the festival also hosted its traditional Explore Music! Program, which was again a success. All instructors and the director were located across the country running the program virtually, including from Hawaii and New York.


“It was so fun,” Russell said as everyone was in different places. “It was really exciting and what was interesting about it was it was all virtual and it was recorded so you could watch it during the day or the next day or whenever it worked, it was just so innovative.

”We had a very strong performance across the board in all these areas.”

Lykins said there were some last minute changes as artists were watching what was happening around the world with COVID-19.

“We’re open minded and respectful of the decisions that our artists made,” Lykins said. “Safety was our primary concern and we didn’t want anyone to travel here and play and be nervous all the time and not have any fun.

“The group that did come trusted us to maintain the highest level of safety that we could and pretty much everyone commented on the fact that their experience here was positive.”

Lykins and Russell said next year’s season also will be exciting because if things work out, the new performing arts center in Brainerd will be open and the concerts will be hosted in the new facility.

Russell said the future is bright. That fact was driven home while she was sitting at the finale concert listening to conductor Christian Reif and his wife, who live in Germany, very eloquently talk about the festival, the fact it's so meaningful to have it in Brainerd, what has been accomplished so far and looking forward to what it's going to be.

“I really do get goosebumps sitting here with somebody of that caliber and here they are around the world, talking about what lies ahead,” Russell said. “And that this is no longer something that just occurs once a summer. This is a permanent major festival that's getting a lot of attention nationally and internationally, which is exciting.”


What lies ahead with the Lakes Area Music Festival will depend on funding. Lykins said even though their travel expenses were less this summer, they had more costs with creating videos and putting them online, with all the licensing fees. Anyone who would like to support the nonprofit may go to .

Musicians’ comments provided by Lykins

“It was an absolutely enchanting experience to make music with the wonderful humans I get to call friends and colleagues at LAMF. There are few if any guarantees in our career sector these days, but Scott and Taylor worked tirelessly to create a safe, comfortable, and joyful environment needed to cultivate art. Not every recorded concert experience has been equally fulfilling these past few months, especially that moment when there’s no one to clap after a final cadence. But, while recording in Tornstrom, it all made sense; I could feel the Lakes Area community, I knew to whom we are reaching out and why, and we were ready and eager to connect with all of you. Within the strangeness of it all, there is a unique opportunity to broadcast all over the world and share one of the shining gems that the Lakes Area has to offer each summer, and for that you should be proud!

“Taking part in LAMF was a beautiful experience that I personally needed for my own enrichment and well-being, and as someone whose career is built upon that feeling of tugging at the heartstring of the audience and finding that common pulse, I want to thank the LAMF community for being receptive to our very sincere offering, and for reminding us musicians that we are still relevant and valued in this world.”

Chloe Fedor, violin, New York City

“Because of the pandemic, I was starved for music making. This has been the longest block of time I've spent without ensemble playing in maybe 15 years. But after the first rehearsal at LAMF, we were all so giddy and energized, we felt like we could have rehearsed for another two hours. LAMF has always been a yearly highlight for me but this summer was especially meaningful. I had been unmoored being unable to make music in lockdown but for the few weeks I spent in Brainerd, I felt like myself again.”

– Olivia Chew, viola, Seattle Symphony

“Coming to Brainerd is always a highlight of my year. Nothing brings me quite as much joy as reuniting with some of my favorite musicians and people at LAMF. With everything going on in the world, this year in particular was truly a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been to no other festival that makes its musician feel so much like a family and that is in large part due to the tremendous support offered by the Lakes Area community. Already looking forward to next summer!”

– Ravenna Lipchik, violin, New York City


“Our Explore Music Teaching Artists accepted the challenge of creating a virtual summer camp and were able to thread together engaging educational opportunities for students in grades K-5 including: instrument families, voice-training, creative arts/crafts, puppetry/storytelling, conducting, and more! Each morning, our young digital-explorers were greeted with a newsletter and video that included a special interview with a LAMF artist from around the world to help bring music directly into our families’ homes. With over 100 children registered at no cost and plenty of positive parent/student feedback following the program, we are proud that LAMF and Explore Music continue to believe in increasing access to high-quality music programming for all!"

– Alexander Pena, viola, Hawaii Chamber Music Festival and Hawaii Symphony Orchestra

“I never realized just how much I took for granted performing music with others, until it was stripped away. I am so grateful to LAMF for providing me that joy once again. Though the future is uncertain, I will relish the musical memories we made this summer.”

– Samantha Rodriguez, viola, Milwaukee Symphony

“Knowing that I would get to play with other people at Lakes Area was something that kept me going during the darkest days of the pandemic. When our orchestra season shut down, I didn’t have much motivation to practice and was experiencing a sort of grieving for our art form. Getting word that I would be able to play at LAMF inspired me to play again, and being in Brainerd making music with these world-class musician-friends was truly the reignition of the spirit I sorely needed.”

– Kevin Pearl, oboe, Milwaukee Symphony

“Coming to Brainerd for LAMF was an incredible experience, especially given the unique times we find ourselves in. Every moment was filled with joy, love, and positivity that gave me great hope for our future as musicians and the future of our industry as a whole!”

– Stephen Goist, viola, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra


“Performing at LAMF was the highlight of my YEAR. Among the many challenges we all faced during the pandemic, giving up what you love to do was a difficult sacrifice to make. Having that given back to us in a safe, comfortable and loving environment was pure joy. Thank you to all who made this year's festival happen!”

– Paul Macres, bass, Louisiana Philharmonic

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.

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