Onion is a 57’ long, 10’ wide, 26-ton steel, wide-beam barge on the River Thames and is home to Bobby Renaud and his wife, Hellena, since December 2015. It all started when he moved to the UK from the US, and they needed a place to live. “I’ve always wanted to live on a boat, so when Hellena came up with the idea of buying a barge, I was all for it,” laughed Renaud. Onion was the first boat they looked at, and they immediately fell in love with her. Living on the Thames requires you to have a license, and that license allows you to stop and rest anywhere you want along the Thames Path for 24 hours. Normally, from fall to spring Onion would moor for the night anywhere between Staines to Kingston, but during the summer, she goes all the way up to Oxfordshire.
In the spring of 2020, at the start of the pandemic, Renaud taught himself the harmonica and came up with the creative idea to use Onion as a floating stage for musicians who couldn’t find other gigs because of social distancing requirements and shutdown policies. “Initially I would just tell the pubs along the Thames that we would moor Onion there, have a ‘private party’ and play some music on the boat. We can stop almost anywhere we want, and we follow busking rules,” said Renaud. “We talked to the publicans or pubs’ managers and asked if we could solicit tips from their guests. By doing it this way, we wouldn’t interfere with the pub’s licenses in any way while maintaining social distancing. The responses from the pubs were very positive.”
Renaud involved his good friend and artist Tom Dibb —already a Bose advocate — to try out the concept, and they made a deal that Dibb would earn £375 for the first weekend and Renaud would keep anything beyond that amount. “That weekend we made £376 in tips, and I still have that £1 that I made,” said Renaud. At the start, OnionMusic would provide the space for any sound setup the artists themselves brought. But as the shows grew, they needed to have a permanent sound solution to offer musicians. Renaud reached out to Bose Professional via another project that he runs, Nashville Direct, where he brings Nashville artists to the UK to play.
The boat needed an audio solution that could handle loud sound levels to cut through wind and carry over to people talking and dining while also providing sound clarity at lower volumes. Another constant challenge was projecting the music exactly where it needed to go, so people who live along the shore are not disturbed by the concerts. This meant adjustable sound coverage was crucial. Onion started out equipped with the L1 Model II and the T4S ToneMatch mixer for full end-to-end tonal control. This season they added the L1 Pro16 portable line array system, a T8S ToneMatch mixer, as well as three S1 Pro Systems. The L1 Pro16 provided the superior audio clarity and coverage needed, quickly making it their go-to choice regardless of the music style or setup needed. This also enabled them to gift their original L1 Model II to a colleague in the UK who is also a Bose advocate.
OnionMusic services any venue along the River Thames between Richmond and Oxford. The latest endeavor, “OnionMusic Goes Ashore,” now offers a variety of different bookings throughout the country. The wide variety of performing artists available on the Onion highlights the wonderfully talented people Renaud knows, and his enjoyment in providing a floating musical platform is evident. “I’m really proud of this whole concept. We managed to find an innovative way to bring live music to people and still follow the different pandemic restrictions,” Renaud stated. “Being able to provide a platform for musicians to play live during challenging times has been beyond rewarding...I’ve been blessed. Bose has certainly helped us make this project a great success.”