Most Saturdays, Chris Donnelly can be found with his guitar on the patio at Keegan’s on Ray Road, entertaining patrons as they dine or enjoy a beverage.
But on a recent Saturday afternoon, Donnelly, a retired Intel engineer turned crooner, yielded to a case of cabin fever.
He invited a handful of friends and neighbors to a front-porch concert at his home in Mirada Canyon, near 33rd Street and Ray.
“I just had to get out of the house,” Donnelly said.
The ground rules were that those who came had to observe the 6-foot social-distancing rule.
These days being what they are, with the COVID-19 pandemic having disrupted nearly everything in the service industry, Donnelly’s Keegan’s gig and others are kaput.
That hasn’t silenced him.
“About a week ago, I thought, ‘You know what? As long as everyone stays six feet apart, I’m just going to send out a note for a few people to come on out,” he said. “I didn’t really put it out there for a lot of people to come. That wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.”
Instead, he also live-streamed his porch concert on Facebook, anticipating that maybe a few-dozen more Ahwatukee friends might tune in. He drew 157 viewers, from coast to coast.
“The good news is 157 people didn’t show up at the house,” he said.
Donnelly, 56, has built a following with his gigs in Ahwatukee and Chandler the past couple of years after cashing in his computer chips.
He also played at CK’s Tavern and Grill, Florencia Pizza Bistro and The Irish Hare Pub, among others, before the virus swept in.
The small group of invitees began arriving with lawn chairs about 15 minutes before the show, armed with bottles of wine, and set up a safe distance apart in Donnelly’s driveway.
It was good music and good cheer under a late-afternoon cloudless, sunny sky.
He intended to play for 30 minutes but the gathering was into it so the singer/songwriter/cover artist went on for an hour with his easy-listening repertoire of rock/country/folk music from the ’70s through today.
“At least when I’m performing and I’m not being paid I can stop and go socialize,” he said.
“It was really fun to get responses from so many people who watched it online, too. I think with everybody home there are just a lot of people on social media right now, just keeping in touch. I haven’t seen some of these people in 40 years.”
High school friends from his youth in New Jersey, people in Colorado he met while living and working there and college friends in Pennsylvania were among the viewers.
“It’s funny. People who knew me in college knew I played. People from high school had no idea. They’re like, ‘Holy smokes, that’s Chris!’ My choir director at church, fellow high school football players, people at Intel – I’m just gratified that they enjoyed it,” he said.
Donnelly’s parents were Broadway actors and singers in the ’50s, and music was a requirement in their Irish family of seven.
Donnelly sang in school and church choirs before picking up the guitar in college and playing pubs and restaurants.
His post-Intel part-time retirement career feels natural, although it is not his livelihood. Donnelly is concerned for those who make their living at it.
“Most of the places that do have any type of music require more than 10 people in attendance to make it work, and that’s just not going to happen now,” he said.
“There are probably 15 local musicians I know who make a living on music. They play five nights a week. It’s a fairly decent living, but going from five nights a week to zero, man, that’s tough.”
As the sun began to set and the aroma of the neighbor’s dinner cooking wafted over the lawn-chair concert amphitheater, it was over.
It was a gift to those similarly tired of being homebound.
All tips collected from Donnelly’s live performances are donated to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.
View his website: chrisdonnellysings.com