Last summer featured the sounds of silence, with the pandemic bringing live performances and festivals to a screeching halt. The emergence of vaccines and declining case numbers, however, have meant a steady relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions — and the return of live shows. With governors Gavin Newsom of California and Steve Sisolak of Nevada planning to ditch strict capacity limits around June, the return to the stage looks to be a sure thing. At least as long as infection numbers continue their downward trend.
“Our governor did mention a June 1st reopening, but he actually said, ‘may reopen June 1st.’ He also stated that face coverings will still be required,” said Crystal Bay Casino General Manager Bill Wood of Sisolak’s announcement. “It’s difficult to sign contracts when the term ‘may’ is involved.”
That said, the CBC has been fortunate enough to have brought back live music since March, although Wood noted that the industry hasn’t seen many venues consistently scheduling live entertainment.
“The biggest reason for this is that the restrictions at this point are very stringent and, in some cases, difficult to achieve,” he said. With chairs being socially-distanced, seating capacity has been cut from 350 to 150. “We negotiated new ticketing procedures with Ticketmaster. Our tickets are available in pods of two or four seats. One ticket will allow either two or four guests entrance into the Crown Room. A ticket for two will have two seats socially distanced and the same is true for a ticket for four guests.”
The Pioneer Center for Performing Arts in Reno has also been holding live shows for a while now. Like the CBC’s, their events follow social distancing and Covid safety protocols, including reduced seating. According to executive director Dennyse Sewell, the national touring Broadway series in particular won’t be able to resume until the Pioneer Center is back to full capacity. Sewell said that while a socially distanced event model is not financially feasible for many renters or promoters, the center is grateful to have been working with resident companies and community partners to safely offer as much programming as possible.
“For most promoters, it’s a matter of what will at least break even, if not turn a profit,” Sewell wrote in an email to Moonshine Ink. “With reduced seating capacity due to social distancing, most events — regardless of the number of performers or the type of performance — would lose money.”
She shared that the Pioneer Center has been fortunate to work with the Reno Philharmonic and A.V.A. Ballet Theatre on their small-scale events, which were funded primarily by grants and donations to help off-set the loss of ticket sales revenue.
“We anticipate that local performing arts events will resume sooner than national touring productions, since those tours will have to plan for changing regulations in the different communities along their tour routes,” she wrote.
Sewell added that many of the events that had been canceled to date have rebooked for late fall 2021 and beyond, with many promoters preferring to wait until early 2022 to consider hosting their live events at the Pioneer Center. “The future calendar looks very hopeful, with most dates being tentatively held from September 2021 onward,” she said.
There have been reports that some indoor venues have indicated they will require proof of vaccination for entry. Sewell said the center is monitoring the current roll-out of “vaccine passports” in New York City, where Broadway was particularly hard hit, and will learn from their experiences with this. Wood, however, stated he doesn’t foresee that happening at the CBC.
“While there are many beneficial aspects of the ‘vaccination passport’ idea, we see some inherent problems as well,” he explained. “Frankly, it appears that the rate of Americans getting vaccinated has progressed at such a speed that we believe restrictions will be lifted before any viable vaccination passport becomes a reality.”
While the Nevada scene has been up and running, things are just about to get started for the local outdoor summer music scene. Still, with so many variables in place, those planning popular summer concert series — like Truckee’s Music in the Park, Concerts at Commons Beach in Tahoe City, and Music on the Beach in Kings Beach — remain cautious.
“We have been closely following state guidelines for live music at an outdoor venue,” Truckee-Donner Recreation & Park District Recreation Supervisor Amanda Oberacker told Moonshine Ink. “When the most recent updates came out April 1, staff realized that we could put on a Covid-sensitive event, following all guidelines, and still offer a great show.”
As of April 23, Oberacker said TDRPD has been able to lock in the musicians and bands that had been tentatively booked for this summer.
“There are still a few holes in our schedule we have to fill, but overall, booking talent for 2021 is proving to be easy,” Oberacker said. “Musicians want to get back out and play again.”
The Truckee Amphitheater seats 2,000, but should Nevada County be in the orange tier by July 7, the max capacity would be 660 spectators; if the county is in the yellow tier, that number would grow to 1,340. As it currently stands, aside from decreased capacity limits, the biggest change guests would see is the implementation of a pre-purchase ticket system, with admission priced at $3 or $4. Oberacker did note that should all restrictions be lifted on June 15, Music in the Park would continue in a manner much the same as prior years, with no ticketing.
Kylee Bigelow, executive director of the Tahoe City Downtown Association, said that while concerts at Commons Beach shows are currently on hold due to public health restrictions and concerns over large gatherings, event producers are considering putting on a six-week concert series kicking off on Aug. 1.
“If [the June 15 reopening] goal is met and all restrictions are lifted on June 15th as planned, we will move forward,” Bigelow wrote in an email to Moonshine. “If restrictions remain for large-scale events, we will likely have to postpone until 2022.”
Promoters for all three popular summer series said that plans will be finessed and show dates will be firmed up as the summer season approaches.
Come June 15, Kings Beach will be ready no matter what. When it became evident last spring that the pandemic was going to derail Music on the Beach, planners wasted no time in deciding to proceed with the series in a virtual fashion. Music on the Beach became Virtual Vibes and was livestreamed from the North Tahoe Event Center through various media, including 101.5 KTKE, Truckee Radio. It proved to be a huge success and even garnered views from around the country.
“We wanted to keep live music alive,” said Alyssa Reilly, executive director for the North Tahoe Business Association. “It turned out so great.”
Prior to Newsom’s announcement of the June 15 target date, the NTBA was already planning to bring back Virtual Vibes this summer. Now, Reilly is optimistic that there will be some degree of live shows right on the shore of Lake Tahoe. As it stands, there are five shows booked between July and September that are slated to be virtual with the possibility of pivoting to live. Should live concerts be a full go, there’s the possibility of adding three additional shows.
“[The bands] want to be live, and they want to do shows,” Reilly said. Above all, however, safety remains the top priority. “Luckily, it’s outdoors and being outdoors helps a bit.”
She stressed that any standing public health restrictions would be enforced, with the NTBA planning to set up handwashing stations and that adherence to any mask and social-distancing requirements will remain in place.
“We’ve had a lot of people reach out,” Reilly shared. “I think the community is ready for it.”
But ready or not, the possibility remains of something for everyone: Reilly stated that the NTBA is considering livestreaming the performances even if they all end up being live shows.
“People are starving for live music. Streaming has been a nice outlet and will continue to be an alternative many folks enjoy, but nothing compares to the energy and camaraderie of a live performance,” said CBC’s Wood. “Live entertainment is part of our DNA. It is more difficult to produce live shows now but, from our perspective, worth all the effort. Seeing folks smile and enjoy being entertained is a joy.”