On what was supposed to be opening day at Fenway Park, Josh Kantor tried to provide some normalcy for disheartened baseball fans.
He donned a Red Sox jersey, sat down in front of his organ and delivered an energetic rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
It was a classic rite of spring except the backdrop was Kantor’s living room instead of the Green Monster. And the audience watched via his wife’s iPhone, which livestreamed his songs to the Facebook masses.
That first show started awkwardly, with Kantor greeting viewers three times because he couldn’t tell if he was on the air. A few minutes into the broadcast, he asked his wife how many people were watching and then excitedly exclaimed, “Eleven people? Holy Frijoles!”
The online response increased as that first show went on and word spread. Kantor played a few dozen songs and received nearly 100 requests during that hour-long broadcast, persuading him to come back the next day, then the day after and then the day after that.
“I only planned to do it for one day,” said Kantor, the Fenway Park organist since 2003. “I figured friends and relatives might stop by and I’d take a few requests. It was basically therapy for me so that I would miss baseball a little less and miss playing music for people a little less.”
What began as a source of comfort for Kantor has since provided a glimmer of joy to thousands of other baseball-starved fans. Kantor and his wife, Mary Eaton, have done livestreams for 62 straight days, talking baseball, telling irreverent stories and taking song requests.
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is the only staple of every show, though Kantor has altered the lyrics with the sport on hold as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The thickly bearded Fenway Park organist and part-time librarian instructs viewers to sing “I do care if we ever get back” until Major League Baseball returns.
Aside from that, viewers could hear anything from Red Sox anthems “Dirty Water” and “Sweet Caroline,” to classic rock, to modern-day chart toppers from Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift. Kantor will play any request he knows. He’ll also take a crack at some he doesn’t, often humming a few bars of the chorus to remind himself of the melody.
As many as 19,000 viewers have tuned in for one of Kantor’s afternoon concerts. His audience hails from all over the country and beyond, including one regular viewer from South Korea.
“She stays up until 4 a.m. her time to watch every day,” Kantor said. “I’ll ask if she’s still there and she’ll be like, ‘I’m here! I’m still awake!’”
The surprising popularity of Kantor’s daily livestream reflects how much Americans crave the return of sports. For the past couple Fridays evenings, a Cubs organist has serenaded an empty Wrigley Field and the surrounding community, attracting small groups of fans who want to soak up the sounds of summer.
Kantor’s mission is the same, but his live broadcast allows him to offer a more personal touch. His wife scans the Facebook chat for requests and hands Kantor sticky notes.
At the start of his Memorial Day episode on Monday, Kantor and his wife did one of their regular bits.
“Today is episode No. 61!” Kantor said.
“Holy cow!” his wife responded in mock surprise.
In truth, Kantor is surprised by the show’s longevity and popularity. He’ll keep doing it until baseball returns or people lose interest.
“It’s no substitute for having a ballgame,” Kantor said, “but at least having this makes it hurt a little less.”
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