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To Stage Concerts Safely In A Pandemic, Blues And Jazz Venues Take It To The Streets

Little Dylan is among the performers scheduled for a summer-long, free concert series programmed by the National Blues Museum. [7/2/20]
National Blues Museum
Little Dylan is among the performers scheduled for a summer-long, free concert series programmed by the National Blues Museum.

Two prominent music venues in St. Louis are featuring concerts again after closing their doors for months to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

A summerlong outdoor concert series programmed by the National Blues Museum, and an experiment in outdoor music by the Dark Room in Grand Center, are attempts by show promoters to get back to business following a monthslong shutdown of live concerts during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The museum will present free concerts on Fridays at 5 p.m. downtown on 6th Street between Washington Avenue and Locust Street. The Dark Room, which is owned and operated by Kranzberg Arts Foundation, will stage two shows in a tent outside the Grand Center venue on Friday by pianist Ptah Williams, featuring Tracer. Two by Scooter Brown Trio will follow Saturday. 

The resumption of concerts, designed to facilitate social distancing during a pandemic, is welcome news for audiences as well as musicians who have lost work because of coronavirus-related shutdowns, said Bernie Hayes, interim executive director of the National Blues Museum.

“They have really suffered during this pandemic,” Hayes said of local blues musicians. “They’re still suffering. But they really want to get back to work, and they're anxious. But we're going to do it in a safe way.”

For the downtown series, called Al Fresco @ The MX, the block will be closed to traffic, with dining tables set up for visitors to use while listening to music. Tables will be spread 10 feet apart to allow for social distancing, and staff will clean them after every use.

The Dark Room shows will be held in a tent outside the venue, with guests spaced out. Attendees will be required to wear masks when not at their tables. 

The National Blues Museum halted its live weekly series of ticketed concerts after a March 15 performance by Roland Johnson, as part of a wave of event cancellations spurred by the coronavirus after Mayor Lyda Krewson imposed limits on public gathering. The museum reopened to the public on Wednesday. 

“I think if we do it right,” Hayes said of the series, “it’ll pay off — not in money but in people being satisfied in hearing what they want to hear.”

Al Fresco @ MX kicked off last week with a performance by Jake Curtis Band. It resumes Friday with the Renaissance Band. Performers in future weeks will include Mz. ShA & The Ka'ShA Band, Marty Spikener’s On-Call Band and Sisters Magnolia. 

Pianist Ptah Williams, a regular performer at the Dark Room, will perform outside the venue on Friday. [7/2/20]
Mathew Washausen

Outdoor concerts preferred

The Dark Room concerts will come days after Kranzberg Arts Foundation released the results of an audience survey it conducted to gauge audience interest in returning to live performances. 

The survey was conducted in mid-June and includes responses from 819 people who have attended Kranzberg Arts Foundation events in the past. 

The survey found that 26% of respondents plan to return to in-person performances within a month, and 74% expected to wait three months or more. A key result informing the structure of this weekend’s shows is that 86% who responded to the survey said they would be more comfortable attending an outdoor performance than an indoor one. 

Guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that the coronavirus is spread more easily indoors. 

"We are taking it one step at a time,” Kranzberg Arts Foundation Executive Director Chris Hansen said of the possibility of adding more shows.

“If we feel good about the July 3rd and 4th events, we will work to add more. We want to receive feedback from artists, patrons and staff and make sure our COVID mitigation policies hold tight prior to adding more events," Hansen said. 

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

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