By Ed Hannon
When Governor Charlie Baker announced in late April that his administration was lifting the state’s outdoor mask mandate, effective April 30, and easing other pandemic-related trade restrictions beginning May 10, it was music to the ears of live music lovers.
Indeed, masks are no longer mandatory outdoors as long as the person can maintain adequate social distancing, and from August 1, all other businesses will be allowed to reopen or operate without capacity limitations.
This would seem to lift the curtain on this summer’s Lowell Summer Music series.
There is just one small problem. The Lowell Summer Music Series takes place at Boarding House Park, which is federally owned, so all events there must adhere to National Park Service COVID-19 guidelines, even if national guidelines or local are different.
And that current NPS guidelines state that “during periods of significant or high community transmission of COVID-19 as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the NPS will encourage a minimum of 6 feet of physical distancing between individuals or domestic units and will require the wearing of masks when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
LSMS managing director Peter Aucella told The Sun on Friday afternoon: ‘This requirement is not feasible for the Lowell Summer Music series as the park is not large enough to meet the social distancing requirement and accommodate the number of ticket purchases necessary to make the series economically feasible.”
Before you turn on the lights and send everyone home, it’s important to remember the time-tested adage: the show must go on.
Yes, the Lowell Summer Music Series will take place this year!
But like everything else with the pandemic and reopening, what it will look like when it reopens is as clear as mud.
For now, the questions that remain unanswered are where the show will go on, when the show will go on, who will be in the show, and how it will all pan out.
Let’s take them in order.
Where will the Lowell Summer Music Series take place?
This is the crux of the whole discussion and entirely hinges on whether the existing federal guidelines will be in place through the summer.
If the National Park Service eases its restrictions by August 1, the 2021 LSMS lineup will take place at Boarding House Park. If that doesn’t happen, the concerts will take place at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium.
When is the Lowell Summer Music Series and who will perform?
There are six confirmed shows in the 2021 lineup: Colin Hay Band on August 7; JJ Gray & Mofro on August 12; Tower of Power on August 14 (formerly August 21); Kenny Wayne Shepherd on August 20 (formerly July 16); John Hiatt on September 3; and Los Lobos on September 16 (formerly June 24).
A handful of additional shows are confirmed but not yet announced. Those announcements will happen soon, and Aucella told The Sun it’s working to squeeze even more shows into the 2021 condensed lineup. A normal LSMS lineup has 16 shows, and Aucella hopes to get closer to that number this year.
Two shows that were in the 2021 lineup have been moved to the 2022 schedule. Gaelic Storm moves from June 25, 2021 to June 24, 2022 and Joss Stone moves from July 10, 2021 to June 25, 2022.
Aucella said Gaelic Storm’s schedule this year was full and there was no room to fit them into the 2021 schedule, while Stone’s tour originated in the UK so she postponed it see you next year.
How did it all come together?
Pour yourself a cup of coffee (or a cold drink) and settle in, folks. This is the story of a strategic partnership that was formed just in time.
“We were on hold until the governor made his final announcement on April 27,” Aucella said. “At that time, he said, effective August 1, the remaining industries are allowed to reopen at 100% capacity with all restrictions removed, and theaters and performance halls are in this category.”
Aucella said he was working with State Senator Edward Kennedy of Lowell to advocate with government officials that the sites cannot open at any time.
“You need time,” Aucella said.
Boarding House Park at 50% capacity would mean 924 people, the minimum Aucella said the LSMS would need to struggle to stay afloat.
The problem comes from these federal guidelines which impose a social distance of 6 feet between parties.
“If we do that, we can’t even reach 500 people,” Aucella said, which means bills don’t get paid, artists don’t get paid, and vendors don’t get paid.
LSMS was stuck between a rock concert and the anvil.
It was a week ago. Aucella emailed LSMS partners to let them know the 2021 lineup was on thin ice. One of the recipients of that email was Pete Lally, who heads the Lowell Management Group which operates Lowell Memorial Auditorium and has helped LSMS with the logistics of setting up the concert series for the past few years.
That’s when Lally stepped in, telling Aucella, “Let’s do something.”
Here’s what they came up with.
The concerts are booked for the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, however, as Aucella said, “many of us believe that by August the federal rules will be reduced. They don’t book anything for Boarding House Park before that. We hope to continue to be an outdoor series.
Fortunately, the auditorium has the capacity to host concerts. In addition, there is a financial advantage for LSMS. “It will be less of an expense for us than having the shows outside,” Aucella said.
If the shows end at Boarding House Park and there is rain in the forecast, they will return to Lowell Memorial Auditorium rather than Lowell High School, as has been the case before.
What will concerts in the auditorium look like?
Lowell Memorial Auditorium has a capacity of 2,800. Boarding House Park has a capacity of approximately 1,800 seats, but as Aucella points out, “we don’t do all of our shows at 1,800 seats. We made it a point, even though it was all starting in March 2020, not to book Lyle Lovett, B-52, Indigo Girls or Beach Boys – who are selling the park.
“These acts that we have booked, some will be 500-700, some will be 800-1,000, but we’re not getting to 1,800. Now if you move these shows to the auditorium, you have double or even triple the number of seats for the number of people who will be there.
Note that if shows are indoors, per state guidelines, they could be operating at 100% capacity. Suffice to say that social distancing will not be a problem.
Aucella said LSMS officials will engage the city board of health to discuss protocols to follow.
“If masks are required, we will do our best to enforce that,” he said. “I’ll probably be sitting there wearing one.”
LSMS is using digital ticketing this year, scanning tickets as people arrive. This should minimize queues.
There will be no food concessions this year.
“The message we’re going to give to people is, ‘Come early, eat downtown. Help restaurants in dire need,” Aucella said.
Don’t expect openers or meet-and-greets.
“I think people want to go out and see live music,” Aucella said. “They come for the headliner. I don’t think we want to extend the time they want to be there.
Expect to have fun seeing artists you love in a beautiful outdoor setting or in a historic indoor setting.
“We feel good that the artists are with us,” Aucella said. “With the help of the auditorium, we will get there. We’re optimistic we’ll be out for the shows, but time will tell.