Music series

Full steam ahead for the Lowell 2021 Summer Music Series

LOWELL — While unsurprising, the recent announcement that the 2021 Lowell Folk Festival has been canceled has still sent a wave of sadness among music lovers in Mill City and beyond.

Although the coronavirus vaccine was rapidly rolling out, there was not enough time to ensure the iconic event could go off without a hitch, so, as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.

Peter Aucella COURTESY OF LOWELL NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK

Of course, with one music festival slipping away another year, the natural follow-up question was: what will happen to the Lowell Summer Music Series? After all, if logistics didn’t allow for thousands of music lovers and festival-goers to navigate the cobblestone streets on a hot July weekend, how could an estimated 1,500 music fans fill Boarding House Park all day? ‘summer ?

Don’t forget that the Lowell Summer Music Series didn’t happen last year either, so the natural inclination would be to think that if the Lowell Folk Festival can’t happen, the Lowell Summer Music Series won’t. can’t either.

Think again, said Peter Aucella, chief executive of the Lowell Summer Music Series and the Lowell Festival Foundation, who is among the chief architects of both programs.

“We have been actively planning the Lowell 2021 Summer Music Series,” Aucella said, “although some show dates may be pushed past June, and we have several other artists beyond what you see on our website. who are cautious about the announcement so they don’t. no need to reschedule after people buy tickets if health conditions require.

Los Lobos has joined the Lowell Summer Music Series 2021 program for June 24.COURTESY LOWELL SUMMER MUSIC SERIES

There are nine shows in the LSMS 2021 lineup so far: Gaelic Storm, June 19; Los Lobos, June 24; Jake Shimabukuro, June 25; Joss Stone, July 10; Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, July 16; Colin Hay Band, August 7; JJ Gray & Mofro, August 12; Tower of Power, August 21; and John Hiatt, September 3.

“It’s a very different matter than the Lowell Folk Festival, where the audience descends downtown and fills all the empty spaces,” Aucella said. “LSMS can limit capacity and reduce attendance, but Folk Fest really can’t do that, especially in places like JFK and the Dance Stage.”

Aucella is pleased with the confluence of recent virus-related developments, including the Biden administration’s stated goal of getting everyone who wants it vaccinated by the end of May; Governor Charlie Baker allows concerts at 50% capacity with a maximum of 500 people; and Baker reopening elementary schools in early April and allowing events at Fenway Park and TD Garden at 12% capacity; and Lowell’s removal from the high-risk community list, although it was moved back into that category last week.

Aucella said there was also a lot of uncertainty, including:

“If people get vaccinated by the end of May, is it really only the first?” Will it be the end of June when people get their second chance? Then two weeks for herd immunity?

— “Is Baker going to increase concert capacity for the summer?” Right now singers and horn players have to keep 10 feet apart? How would this work with Tower of Power? A social distance of six feet is required between members of the public of different groups of people. »

– “Reopening everything, including restaurants, schools, stores and events, could mean a spike in infections, which could lead to a downturn.”

Boarding House Park and the Lowell Summer Music Series have certain benefits that will allow them to have the concert series. For example, Boarding House Park is outdoors and there are no fixed seats, allowing people to spread out.

Aucella said the start of the series could be delayed from mid-June to mid-July and continue until September. “We are now working on date changes which will be announced soon.”

LSMS is ready to operate at 50% capacity, which would accommodate just over 900 people (official capacity is 1,848, so 50% would be 924 people). “If 50% with a maximum of 500 people is OK now, I would like to think that it would be possible to reach 50% with a maximum of 924 people by July.”

LSMS does not reserve hit shows that would require full capacity. You won’t see Lyle Lovett, Indigo Girls, B-52, Beach Boys, etc. This allows artists at lower cost to operate within capacity limits.

“Some of the shows we have booked will definitely be ‘sold out’ and not meet all demand. Based on past shows, that would likely include Kenny Wayne Shepherd as well as newcomer Joss Stone,” Aucella said.

And finally, what about the rains? There were none in 2019, the last year the series ran, but the auditorium at Lowell High School, where shows are held in the event of rain, can hold 1,600 people. LSMS would need approval to operate LHS at 60% indoor capacity if a show had maximum sales at 50% outdoor capacity.

Aucella said the LSMS can make operational changes, including reducing queues through the move to digital tickets, allowing attendees to be scanned into the park with minimal delay. Food concessions can be limited and toilet cleaning improved. There may also be no opening acts to reduce the time people spend together.

Aucella has participated in regular virtual meetings with the Save MA Stages group which is evaluating reopening strategies. The group includes representatives from venues from the Narrows to Fall River, the Center for the Arts Natick, the Regent Theater in Arlington and the Town & The City Festival in Lowell.

He adds that a number of groups are providing technical assistance to the concert industry with detailed reopening plans, including the National Independent Venues Association and The Event Safety Alliance.

“Security will be key,” he said.

Thanks to advocacy by MassCreative, whose executive director Emily Ruddock worked at the Merrimack Repertory Theater, Aucella said State Sen. Edward Kennedy filed legislation to provide $200 million through the Massachusetts Cultural Council that would help to reopen the premises.

“It will help us, because we dipped into our reserves to cover the costs for the last year when we couldn’t do shows,” Aucella said. “Senator Kennedy and Save MA Stages are focused on getting the decisions we need to reopen.”

At this point, Aucella said the LSMS needs federal, state and local government clearance from the Board of Health to restart. A 6ft social distancing requirement is too restrictive and the LSMS needs decisions next month.

“There’s a lot of work to do if we’re going to continue, so we need to know that by mid-April for a mid-July start,” he said.

The recent announcement that the Newport Folk Festival will indeed take place July 23-25 ​​may have helped that effort. This is the same weekend that the Lowell Folk Festival would have taken place, but Newport is a ticketed event where organizers can control capacity.

“I hope this helps us to advocate for LSMS,” Aucella said.