The Moab Backyard Theater has a wooden fence for walls and a huge cottonwood canopy for a roof. Tucked into a shady lot on 100 West, the theater hosts live entertainment several nights a week, including performances by several well-liked local bands and the popular magic shows by Rick Boretti.
“It’s one of the only live outdoor venues in the Four Corners,” said Moab Backyard Theater owner Sand Sheff, noting that this year there is an additional perk to the venue: studies suggest the risk of coronavirus transmission tends to be lower in the open air.
The theater is family-friendly – including four-legged family members – and the theater is following public health guidelines by spacing groups 6 feet apart.
Sheff said there are shows Tuesdays through Saturdays, though the exact schedule this year is “pretty loosey-goosey.” He said the marquee outside the theater will have the latest line up. Shows start at 8 p.m. through August and 7 p.m. in September.
Sheff and his wife Sunnie perform regularly at the theater. They do live music as a duo on Tuesdays, perform with their bluegrass band Quicksand Soup on Wednesdays, and do country and gospel on Thursdays under the band name Saints and Sinners.
Sheff said he wanted to draw attention to two other beloved local bands who perform regularly on Fridays at the Backyard Theater: Juniper Drive and the Rogue Assets.
Local musician Eric Jones is a founding member of both Juniper Drive and the Rogue Assets. While he plays mandolin and does some singing with both bands, the bands cover songs from very different musical genres.
Jones performs in Juniper Drive with fellow musicians David Steward (on acoustic guitar) and Glenn Sherrill (on electric guitar).
“We play a range of everything including honky-tonk and classic country,” Jones said. “We slide some swing and jazz in there as well...We tend to cover a lot of really old material. We’re frequently playing songs from the ’20s ’30s and ’40s.”
Jones said all band members are singers, often doing so in harmony. One audience favorite, he said, is an old jazz standard from the 1920s called “After You’re Gone” and “Right or Wrong,” which was famously performed by George Strait.
“A lot of it is classic country, so it is generally really danceable music,” Jones said, adding that all it usually takes to get audience members out on the dance floor is “someone to get it started.”
In the Rogue Assets, Jones plays with Lisa Hathaway on acoustic guitar, Josie Kovash on bass and Glenn Sherrill on electric guitar.
“It’s generally kind of folk-rock, but it also drifts a lot of directions from that,” Jones said, adding that the band has a strong focus on vocal harmony.
He said the band playlist includes many songs that are older, including songs by the Grateful Dead, as well as more contemporary musicians like Amy Winehouse.
There is no entry fee for the musical performances, though donations for the band are accepted.
“Magic is a great escape, especially at this time,” said magician Rick Boretti. “My job is to make people feel good and show them a good time.”
Boretti said he will perform his magic show at the theater every Saturday through the end of August and, hopefully, will keep that schedule or even add another regular performance day into the fall. Boretti said it depends on how big the turnout is, which is hard to predict amidst the uncertainty created by the pandemic.
Boretti said audience participation is still a part of his shows, but he has retooled the performances so participants can stay in their seats and maintain social distancing.
Boretti declined to provide specifics of his show, saying he’d didn’t want to ruin a surprise, but said he has been practicing magic since he got a book on the subject when he was seven years old and has put his own twist on the craft to create a unique performance, which varies depending on the crowd. Over the years, Boretti said, he has done close-up magic shows on stages as well as in restaurants and bars.
“No show is really the same,” Boretti said. “Every show is catered to the audience.”
Boretti said audience members often tell him how much they enjoyed his show – sometimes even years afterward. Occasionally, Boretti said, someone will express that his show helped them feel better during a hard time.
“They’ll say, ‘I can’t tell you what’s going on in our lives right now, but this is just what we needed,” he said, adding, “Doing magic is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.”
Tickets for Rick Boretti’s magic show are $10 for ages 12 years and up; $5 for ages 3-11 years; and free for ages 3 and under.
For more information on the Moab Backyard Theater, go to www.moabbackyardtheater.com or the Moab Backyard Theater Facebook page.