“Like a rebirth”: Americans pack reopened concert halls for a summer of music
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Pamela Pickens rocked her hips as her husband Tom led her in an impromptu dance to the sound of guitarist Studebaker John at Chicago’s famous blues bar, Kingston Mines.
The couple, wearing fedora hats and broad smiles, had driven five hours from their home in Southeast Indiana to visit their favorite blues club, which had recently reopened for shows after a year of closure. due to COVID-19.
“It’s so great to be back,” said Pickens, 66, puffing a cigarette outside the venue during a dance break. “It makes me feel alive.”
Inside the Lincoln Park neighborhood bar, a diverse crowd filled long tables, where they tossed cold beer and baskets of fried foods while jumping to the music.
In concert halls across the United States, from Denver to Washington, DC, similar scenes have occurred in recent weeks as cities lift COVID-19 restrictions and newly vaccinated music lovers return to their former haunts for the thrill of live music in public enterprise. It’s one of the undeniable sights – and sounds – of American life returning to, or approaching, normal.
Venues large and small are seeing demand skyrocket for artists of all genres, scrambling to polish their acts after a year of inaction.
âWhen we started playing again, it was an out-of-body experience,â said blues guitarist Joanna Connor, preparing for her show in Kingston Mines one June evening. “It is reaffirmed that I must do this for my soul.”
In interviews, concert goers described the invigorating experience of hearing live music again in a crowded hall. It sounded like the antithesis of the home isolation they endured over the past year, and to many, it felt like an antidote.
In Alexandria, Virginia, a predominantly middle-aged black crowd of more than 200 people swung their arms to the beat of a screaming trombone during the Birchmere Music Hall tribute concert at Motown. It was the first of many summer concerts Lynette Shingler and her husband Earl were planning to attend, now that they were vaccinated against COVID-19.
âIf you’re a music fanatic, listening to it on the radio isn’t the same,â said Shingler, a 52-year-old federal employee in a long blue robe. âYou really have to be in the mood.
Across the river in Washington, DC, a younger crowd of thousands filled the dance floor night after night at Echostage, a nightclub that reopened on June 11.
Lit by neon strobe lights and the glow of thousands of iPhones in outstretched hands, the venue was rocked by bass vibes as French DJ David Guetta hopped up and down on stage.
Guetta is one of the many electric dance music (EDM) headliners that Echostage has hosted over the past month. The site with a capacity of 3,000 people began offering tickets for their summer lineup in May, selling 20,000 tickets in the first few days alone, far exceeding their pre-pandemic sales rate, said the vice president of operations Matt Cronin.
âI attribute it to an absolute thirst for people to go out and see music again,â he added.
In Denver, New Age guitarist Victor Towle has already played more than twice as many concerts as in 2020 since local bars resumed shows in May.
Towle spent the last year recording a solo instrumental album since he couldn’t perform live. His return to the stage and his typical three-hour performance were abrupt but âexhilarating,â he said.
âI notice I’m not in good shape, you know. I have to get my voice and my chops back, âhe said.
‘HEE HAW SKY’
In Decatur, Georgia, in late June, Danica Hart stood on stage in front of dozens of people in Eddie’s Attic, a small venue for emerging country and American bands, wearing a baseball cap and jeans.
“Hello Decatur!” she cried to the cheering crowd. “Let’s make some real noise!”
Hart, who heads the Chapel Hart trio, said the group used to make do with it ever since they started playing in New Orleans. But the pandemic year had pushed them to their limits. âSometimes we were lucky enough to have money for gas,â Hart said.
âNow we’re back,â she said. âIt looks like a rebirth. People are ready to go out for some real live music. They missed it and we missed the people … We are in Heaven.
Like many closed sites, Eddie’s Attic continues to scale up its operations. It has reopened with limited capacity, and the kitchen remains closed. Still, co-owner Dave Mattingly said it was a big improvement over the grief of seeing dust build up on tables and chairs for a year.
âGoing from that to hearing this music, people tapping their feet and clapping, it’s like lightning hitting,â Mattingly said.
As Chapel Hart played their twangy numbers with names like âJesus and Alcohol,â viewers pondered what it was like to miss live music for a year and then relive it.
“It’s like starving, slowly,” said Sherry Mills, 54, a local college music teacher, of her inability to see bands live.
“I feel liberated,” said Barry Rosner, 76, a big smile on his face and arms outstretched as he stood just outside the room.
Rosner, who said it was his first show in over a year, was lingering to catch a note with the members of Chapel Hart. “I want to say thank you and we are not afraid to go out anymore.”
Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Rich McKay in Decatur, Georgia, Andy Hay in Taos, New Mexico and Gabriella Borter in Washington; Writing by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Lisa Shumaker