Over the past two months, live music has slowly been creeping back into the public, often small shows on patios and outdoor spaces. Here’s a look at how two venues have tackled the issue.
In June, Crooners Supper Club in Fridley launched a new series of concerts … in its parking lot.
“We started with the drive-in concept,” said Crooners music director Andrew Walesch. “People stayed in their vehicles and our staff served them at their cars. We’ve since slowly started to transition to table seating. We now have two different spaces. There’s the 50-person capacity Lakeside Cafe, which is on the patio, and what we call the Main Stage Tent, which can take up to about 200 people if you include the drive-in parking spots.”
Crooners’ unique situation certainly helped matters. The venue has a large parking lot, with Moore Lake in the background, and it doesn’t abut any other businesses or residences. The club was able to build a festival-grade concert stage in the lot and maintain social distancing.
Despite some early speedbumps in getting permits and the like, Walesch said the concerts have been working extraordinarily well. “We’ve had a massive diversity and range of different acts and shows,” he said. “The artists are really enthusiastic and audiences are thrilled to have this safe option to see live music again.”
Crooners has been staging about a dozen concerts a week with 80 to 90 percent of them selling out.
“We’ve been getting calls from presenters all over the world asking how we’re doing it,” Walesch said. “It’s funny because we did not imagine we were going to be successful. We were taking a big risk. We did not want people to think we weren’t taking the Governor’s orders seriously, and we did not want people to think we weren’t committed to safety.”
At this point, the Crooners staff is not opening up any of its indoor spaces beyond the bar, which offers access to the patio and Lakeside Cafe. But the outdoor shows will continue for the foreseeable future.
“We’re going to do this for as long as we possibly can,” Walesch said. “We believe just like for football games, Minnesotans will bundle up for concerts. How late into the season can we go? Maybe as late as early November.”
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Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, meanwhile, has opened up its main stage – where the company’s production of “The Music Man” had just debuted in March before the shutdown – to a series of cover bands that typically played in the venue’s smaller Fireside Theatre.
“It’s not really so much about being profitable, because it’s not,” said CDT president Michael Brindisi, “It’s more about getting started again. It’s activity in the building again. It’s a beginning.”
Like Crooners, CDT has a unique advantage most other venues don’t – its size. The main stage is large enough to ensure the musicians are able to remain socially distanced and the tables keep parties contained in one place. Current capacity in the main stage is 143.
The series got off to a slow start in July, but it has built an appreciative audience. Brindisi said they’ve been averaging about 100 people per concert.
CDT has concerts booked through mid October. After that, Brindisi said he’s considering staging a musical on the main stage for the holidays. He’s looking at smaller shows with fewer actors on stage, like “Forever Plaid” and “The All Night Strut.”
The entire CDT facility is some 90,000 square feet and includes three stages, an event space and Brindisi’s Pub. “It’s a huge, rambling facility,” he said. “And that’s really an advantage for us in future planning. We have options in doing things that are spread out. I think we’ll get up and running sooner than most places.”
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