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(Castle) Hills alive with the sound of music

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CASTLE HILLS — A musician whose live gigs dried up after COVID-19 struck is finding a new audience with nightly outdoor concerts for the neighbors on his cul-de-sac.

“Peace, Love and Understanding” by Elvis Costello & The Impostors is one of the cover songs performer David Rodriguez and his wife, Mellissa Marlowe, sang on a recent Saturday in front of their home in the 100 block of Iron Gate Road.

“In this time of social distancing, we have made more connections than ever with our neighbors,” Marlowe said.

Before the pandemic, Rodriguez played in front of live throngs at local bars almost every weekend. Marlowe, meanwhile, wrote and acted in plays.

The temporary shutdown of entertainment venues forced the 27-year married couple to create their own live concert series as front-porch troubadours in May.

Marlowe said they got the idea after watching a video of late-night talk-show host James Corden’s father playing the saxophone on neighbors’ doorsteps earlier this year.

“I realized that David needed an outlet, and I needed the outlet, too, because I’m used to performing on stage and going from one show to the next,” said Marlowe, who teaches drama at Northwest Vista College. “I just thought it would be fun for him, so I told him, ‘If you don’t want to do it alone, I will sing with you because I don’t want to play an instrument really.’ I just thought it would seem like something we try and see how it goes and do it as often as we felt like it.”

Gary and Cathy Woitena, longtime friends of the duo and fellow Castle Hills residents, said they enjoy the performances.

“Seeing the neighbors get together is cool,” said Cathy Woitena.

On the night the pair played the Costello hit, the crowd remained physically distanced with snacks and drinks; four-legged friends sat by one couple.

Rodriguez, a full-time counselor at San Antonio College, said the shutdown of entertainment venues snatched away the joy of performing for an audience.

“It was like, ‘What do I replace it with?’” he asked himself. “You stop seeing your friends on a regular basis, and not just the musicians, but the people that come out to see the bands play and the bartenders that work at the clubs you play. After doing it for so long, there’s a family that forms around that community, and all that was unexpectedly taken away.”

He added, “It took a pretty good toll on us.”

The neighborly serenades have invigorated both Marlowe and Rodriguez. Supported by her partner, singing to a crowd allowed the veteran actress and writer to go outside her comfort zone.

The neighborhood concerts built up her confidence, Marlowe said.

“I am always afraid that I am going to screw up … by singing the wrong words or forgetting the words altogether,” she said. “It’s getting easier, but like I tell my students, ‘Everyone has stage fright, and it never goes away.’ You just get more comfortable with it.”

Overall, the feedback on the local concerts has been positive, the pair said. Neighbors have even requested performances in their own backyards. The proposition is being taken under consideration, Marlowe said, as she has a 90-year-old mother she visits weekly.

The music artists entertain at 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

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