Sherrills Ford, NC — What began as a critical need to play music while live shows were called off during the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved into a popular concert series with an avid following after a pair of local musicians found a unique way to reach their fans with “chill, positive vibes.”
Not long after the first COVID-19 cases were reported in March and restrictions on large gatherings were announced, country singer Walter Finley, a full-time performer, said he was going “out of his mind” from being stuck indoors after his concerts were canceled. He even had to pick up a couple part-time jobs to earn money.
Then, on a Wednesday during the summer, Finley, along with April Dawn, his band mate and girlfriend of three years, set up equipment on a neighbor’s dock on Lake Norman near The Landing Restaurant in Sherrills Ford, and began to perform.
“I just needed to play,” Finley recalled. “Eventually, four boats came around, and they started honking their horns and clapping. One of the boaters came up to the dock and said, ‘If you do this next week, we’ll bring our friends.’”
The couple did the same thing a week later, and more boats showed up to watch the performance, Finley said. The outdoor concerts became a regular occurrence every Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the dock, and later drew up to 80 watercraft from Denver, Cornelius and Mooresville.
“People were actually parking at the nearest landing and asking people to drag them over on their inner tubes, jet skis and canoes,” Dawn said, “and we had a big blue helicopter that would come every week.”
The gatherings turned out to be the perfect pandemic prescription.
“People needed something to do that was family-friendly,” she added. “We put out positive vibes, and tried to share a good message.”
Realizing the effect the pandemic had on the rest of the world, the pair began livestreaming the concerts on Facebook and garnered more than 10,000 viewers from as far away as New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland and Germany who were “setting their alarms to wake them up in the middle of the night so they could tune in,” Dawn said.
Dawn coined a name for the concert series, “Bring Your Own Boat,” and designed bright-colored t-shirts, tank tops and koozies with the BYOB logo that quickly sold out.
Finley recently released two songs inspired by the BYOB shows last year: “Baby We Can Do This,” a mellow, motivational track about the pandemic; and “Go Jump In A Lake,” an upbeat melody about outdoor adventures near the water. He is also in the process of writing a song called “Bring Your Own Boat,” which he hopes to finish by this summer.
Awards And Future Plans
After a successful concert season on the water, Finley and Dawn, who have only been performing together for about two years, won Duo of The Year at the Carolina Country Music Awards at Myrtle Beach in January, a moment that Finley said was “really exciting.”
“April just started crying her eyes out,” he added. “She just broke down crying because she was so happy.”
Then, two businesses in Denver, American Marine Liquidators and Pit Stop Auto Service, donated a Pontoon boat for the duo to use as a “floating stage,” giving them the ability to travel to different spots on the lake and perform. The staff at Denver-based contractor ACMS Mechanical Services offered to help with metal fabrication on the boat to turn it into a mobile concert venue. The pair hopes to have the floating, mobile stage up and running by mid-April.
“The thought was, we can do a BYOB concert at your house on the lake, and we can just drive a boat over, if you’re already set up, and just start performing on the water for you,” said Finley, added that he hopes to get more than 100 boats to attend each show this summer.
Finley and Dawn expressed gratitude to their fans, who have backed their performances on the lake and promoted them by word-of-mouth and on social media.
“We’re so grateful for our fans, and everyone that has supported us through all of this,” Dawn added.
The duo’s music can be accessed on all streaming services, including Apple Music and Spotify. For information about upcoming performances, visit walterfinley.com or the Walter Finley Music Facebook page.
Photo: Walter Finnley and April Dawn won the Carolina Country Music Award for Duo of the Year in January.