Video: Inside the Denver Public Library's Sunrise Concert for the Homeless

The Library's Latest Service for the Homeless: Live Music from Voice Media Group on Vimeo.

Every morning, a crowd gathers outside the Central Branch of the Denver Public Library. A few dozen people — many of them homeless — wait for the doors to open, when they can go inside to use the library’s computers and other services.

On Tuesday, September 8, they had something to do besides stand around: That day, the library hosted a pop-up “Sunrise Concert” from 9 to 10 a.m. outside the main entrance. Videographer Kevin J. Beaty was there to capture the moment and lend some additional context — you can see his work above. 

“It’s not all homeless people, but there’s a significant crowd that’s always just standing there staring at the doors, waiting for them to open,” says librarian Simone Groene-Nieto. “Homeless services are often based on need; this is kind of a different approach. We’re hoping to bring them some joy, a little pleasure for people who have it hard.”

The Denver Public Library has long been interested in providing services for its homeless patrons. In 2012, the DPL formed a Homeless Services Action Committee, an internal group that has worked to provide training and resources — including a social worker — for library staff to help them better address the needs of homeless people. The HSAC came up with the idea for the Sunrise Concerts. “We’re really building a name for ourselves in terms of services to people experiencing homelessness,” says Groene-Nieto, who is a member of the committee. “This is a symbol of our commitment.”

The pop-up concert is part of the DPL’s larger effort to engage more directly with the community it serves. Last year it joined with other library districts in Colorado to launch Outside the Lines — a campaign that encourages libraries around the world to showcase the way they are adapting and expanding their services to include technology, training and special events such as concerts. “The point of it is to do something different,” says DPL marketing and communications manager Chris Henning.

Nearly 200 library districts and related organizations (such as universities and literacy nonprofits) in the United States and Canada took part last year; this year’s program, which kicks off this month, includes at least 221 groups. Each library or organization is responsible for coming up with its own way of participating in Outside the Lines. The DPL has put together a month-long celebration of maker culture, dubbed BrewHa!Ha!, that will feature coffee tastings, collaborations with local craft breweries, kombucha-brewing lessons and more.

The HSAC’s Sunrise Concert idea fits into the library’s Outside the Lines efforts as yet another way to get beyond the usual confines of the bookshelves and interact with people. On July 29, Groene-Nieto posted a call for musicians to play the concert on her Facebook page. Among those who expressed an interest was Brandi Shigley of Piper Cub. (Shigley, owner of Fashion Denver, is also one of our 100 Colorado Creatives and a member of the first class of Westword MasterMinds.)

Rounding out the Piper Cub membership is guitarist Daniel Morgan and bassist Austin Pulford (Shigley sings). The band formed earlier this year when Shigley broke into a spontaneous dance while waiting in line for drinks at the Big Wonderful. Morgan — who had never met her before — joined in, and from there, the two started playing music together almost immediately. “It was kind of a social experiment,” says Shigley. “We didn’t know each other at all.” Pulford officially joined in August. In addition to a handful of original songs, Piper Cub covers songs by ’60s groups like the Everly Brothers.

Shigley has worked with the DPL before, teaching workshops on the use of the blogging platform Wordpress in order to help people “take the things you love to do and put them out there into the world,” as she puts it.

Some of the attendees at those workshops were homeless; Shigley is interested in engaging with Denver’s homeless population on a one-on-one level. In fact, she recently celebrated her fortieth birthday by gathering friends to make and deliver 91 sack lunches to the homeless. “Being out there, talking to people and meeting them, really opened up my eyes,” she says. “It’s easy to be shut in your little world, but it’s so important to be compassionate and open to everybody.”

So Piper Cub was a natural fit for the Sunrise Concert series. “If we can just make a simple difference, I think it’s our duty to be a light to people who are in a dark place,” says Shigley. “That’s what this concert is all about. It can bring hope and smiles and happiness to the day. And if you can add happiness to every day, that can change your life.”
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