New rhythms: Music venues look to rebound after COVID closings

The Paramount Theater has reopened, and is showing movies on Wednesday and Friday afternoons. PC: Skyclad Aerial The Paramount Theater has reopened, and is showing movies on Wednesday and Friday afternoons. PC: Skyclad Aerial

By Claudia Gohn

The latest addition to IX Art Park’s medley of flowery, psychedelic art is a series of circles, painted six feet apart from each other on the ground.

The new paint is one part of IX’s plan to begin holding in-person concerts, after the coronavirus pandemic rendered them impossible for months. Though new cases continue to appear every day in the area, the state’s reopening plan has allowed places like IX to resume some version of their pre-pandemic operations. Positive Collective, a reggae and world music act, will perform at the first in-person show on July 18.

“Instead of just buying a [concert] ticket, you’re buying access to a circle on the platform,” says IX Art Park Foundation Executive Director Susan Krischel. Concert-goers must stay in their circle, and need to wear a mask if they leave it, be that to go to the bathroom or to buy drinks. Krischel says shows will have a maximum of 120 attendees, while in the past the venue accommodated 2,000 people.

These concerts won’t undo the economic effects of the last few months—reduced occupancy limits the amount of revenue generated from each show. “It’s tight,” Krischel says. “I’m not gonna lie about that. With that number of people, it is very difficult to break even.”

Kirby Hutto, general manager of the Sprint Pavilion, expresses a similar sentiment: “Being capped at a thousand total capacity and 10 feet of social distancing just really, really cuts down what is financially viable for us.”

“Normally this time of year we would have probably at least a dozen shows confirmed if not more,” Hutto says. By early March, Hutto says that there had already been five shows on sale. Now, they have all been either rescheduled for 2021 or canceled altogether. Hutto says, “all the artists that had holds on the calendar for the rest of 2020—they’re gone.”

The venues that do reopen hope to provide a sense of relief and comfort to the community. “We’re starting showing movies at three o’clock in the afternoon on Wednesdays and Fridays, and hope that people will come out of the theater around five and then hopefully go to an outdoor patio at a restaurant,” says Matthew Simon, director of operations and programming at The Paramount Theater.

“We’re kind of all in this thing together, and we’re not really trying to make money,” Simon says. “We’re just trying to get people to put a smile on their face and feel comfortable coming out to see a show.”

Other venues are being more cautious. The Southern doesn’t have any events scheduled until August. Danny Shea, who manages The Southern and is responsible for bookings at both The Southern and The Jefferson Theater, says he doesn’t want to risk anyone’s health. “We certainly wouldn’t want to come off as contributing to the problems,” Shea says. “And we don’t want to open up just so we have to close down soon after because we were too aggressive.”

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