Columbia Concert Halls Spring Reboot Sparks Excitement, Uncertainty | Concerts and musical news
Colonial Life Arena is set to host its first performance since the shutdown of COVID-19 last March, a comedy titled Mike Epps.
If current plans hold, the April 16 date will follow five days after the arena’s first non-USC sporting event during the pandemic, the return of the annual Monster Jam scheduled for April 9-11.
But the plans are still evolving.
Since Free Times spoke to general manager Sid Kenyon on March 3, the Columbia R&B Fest that was originally supposed to be the hall’s first concert on March 27 has been postponed to October, and an April 21 date from Jimmy Buffett. , rescheduled from April 2020, has been canceled.
As Columbia enters March and April, its biggest concert venues – Colonial Life, Township Auditorium, big rock club The Senate, and the Cola Social Distancing Concerts series started last fall at Columbia Speedway Entertainment Center – are all expected. resume their activities, or get a little closer to normal functioning.
[Update: Township Auditorium has postponed its planned April concert from Brett Young to November. The next show scheduled for the venue is in August.]
All apply COVID-19 protocols and adhere to recommended guidelines. But, as the revamped Colonial Life calendar proves, there is little certainty about how spring and the rest of the year will play out.
This uncertain landscape, and the stigma that has greeted venues that some say resumed operations too soon, are the reason Kenyon is happy that his space isn’t the first to host an event while COVID-19 goes on. lingers. He said his team was in constant contact with sites in the United States and Canada, some of which opened earlier than others.
“I hate to say they’re guinea pigs, but you know they gave us a good test,” said the director of South Carolina’s largest indoor site. “And then our track and field events also gave us a good test.”
“We have precedents,” he added. “I think that takes some of that stigma away.”
The most notable precedents in the Columbia area have been the speedway events organized by Cola Concerts.
After a $ 1.3 million construction to install a large outdoor stage with LED screens and socially remote seating at a former racetrack in Cayce, the site was forced to push five of the nine headliners from tour he had planned for November and December.
Now the venue is looking to make a big comeback, starting its spring with a four-night booth by psych-grass phenomenon Billy Strings (April 1-4), as well as new dates from big rock bands Mt. Joy (May 15). ) and Blackberry Smoke (April 23), and rescheduled shows featuring Shovels & Rope (May 1) and Wynonna Judd (April 25).
But, as with Colonial Life, a change has occurred since Free Times’ March 2 conversation with Adam Epstein, CEO of Cola Concerts partner, Innovation Arts and Entertainment. An April 24 date from Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, carried over from December, has now become a September 2 show starring Jason Isbell and Unit 400.
Epstein highlighted adaptability as the key to hosting concerts under COVID conditions.
“We act at the discretion of the talent,” he said. “And if they decide they don’t want to play because of some kind of worry, and they’d rather do it at another time, who am I to say?” I don’t really take a position one way or the other, all I really care about is that everyone is comfortable. And it can happen, you know, if it happens in a way that requires us to postpone a date, for whatever reason, I’m up for it. All I care about is getting the fans and bands together at a time that works for everyone. “
Epstein said the prospect of good weather and the growing number of vaccinations gave him hope for success in 2021. He said sales of Mt. Joy and Blackberry Smoke had already exceeded response at the venue’s fall concerts. , which, he explained, have been hampered by a colder-than-expected season and spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases as the holidays approach.
“It wasn’t us,” Epstein said. “It was all about the weather back then, in the fall. And after talking to our colleagues in other cities, they all found the same thing. Everyone had great success in July, August and September.
“When the people like us who were doing these drive-ins and pop-up venues arrived in October, things got really bad,” he said. “And sales across the United States, with the exception of some places in California, slowed to the point that it was bad. People were losing a lot of money, the public dried it up, they stopped selling. ‘go.”
Negotiation and routing
At the moment, Cola Concerts and Colonial Life are operating at a similar capacity. With the speedway pushing the maximum occupancy of its coves from four to eight depending on what a given performer is comfortable with, it can now exceed 5,000 people, while the arena is operating at around 25% of its normal capacity. of 18,000 to allow social activities. distancing.
Both Epstein and Kenyon stressed that it’s critical to find artists willing to make deals that can work within these limits and artists who can string enough tour stops to make it worth it.
“We have to have artists and bands who want it,” Kenyon said. “We’ve talked to some bands, and I don’t want to go into specific names, but some artists say that until everyone is vaccinated, they don’t want to go out. Then we have some who say they don’t care. But to make the big tours work financially, you know, they tell us they can’t do anything piecemeal. Almost the whole country, or at least a large part of the country that is nearby, needs to be opened up. Because they just can’t do one-off things for most things.
Make it work
In the Senate, which normally has a capacity of 1,200 people, the situation is much the same.
Derrick Osborne, the regional manager of the Tin Roof live music bar chain that oversees the Columbia location and the adjacent Senate, said things got tough with the onset of winter, with the generally standing venue having struggling to cope with very small seated shows. But now tours are starting to return, including popular country-rock band The Wild Feathers on April 22, one of the hall’s first attempts to return to general admission concerts. This show is limited to 250 people.
Enforcing social distancing and wearing a mask (mandatory when not eating or drinking) with a crowd standing in a dark room will be a challenge, Osborne admitted.
“There is not much we can do,” he said. “When they buy tickets, of course, that says we don’t allow gatherings at the barricade. We keep our tables on the floor, they’re all spaced out, hoping and encouraging people to kind of stay with their group around a table.
“When you first enter we will have signs saying, please, you know, we encourage social distancing, no large gatherings, please keep the distance between your groups,” he added. . “And we also have people who are just going to walk around and disinfect things, and just kind of remind people… and that’s really all we can do.”
While Kenyon is confident that Colonial Life can conduct its upcoming events safely, he also spoke of the difficulty in attempting to enforce this type of mask requirement.
“The (basketball) season ticket holders… they’re used to being here,” Kenyon suggested. “They have some ownership of the place. They are invested in what is going on here. So they can probably be a more manageable crowd. I think there will be more challenges being in the dark, maybe, depending on how the crowd looks. Is there more alcohol consumption? You know, it depends a bit. I think we have to prepare for it. “
At the smaller end of the scale, New Brookland Tavern, a perennial rock dive in western Colombia, has started to accommodate full-group local bills with a limited capacity of around 50 people, while trying to attract people with quiz nights and catering. But the navigation was not smooth.
A wave of positive COVID-19 tests among staff forced the bar to close for two days last month and postpone a concert with Mel Washington from Charleston.
As for going back to the status quo, promotion / marketing coordinator and sound engineer Carlin Thompson said it looks like fall at the earliest.
“As long as there is a high number of cases, there is no reason for us to be at full capacity or to have a full show, 250 or 300 people, there is simply no reason to do it. Because it puts so many more people at risk. “