Live music is back. Kind of. Sort of. In new formats and configurations.
Even though Gov. Tim Walz’s COVID-19 directives allow live music events to resume this week with reduced audiences, only three Twin Cities indoor music rooms have plans to reopen soon. However, some promoters are staging outdoor shows.
The most ambitious indoor setup will be at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres with a twist — concerts that have traditionally played in the 236-seat Fireside Theater will be presented in the 575-seat main stage, with capacity limited to about 140 to comply with state guidelines and ensure social distancing.
“Working out the floor plan is the puzzle we’re talking about now,” CDT vice president Tamara Kangas Erickson said. “It’s a really good room for live music.”
With the musical “Music Man” on furlough because of the pandemic, Chanhassen concerts will run Tuesdays through Sundays, from July 10 through the end of August for now, Erickson said. The lineup will feature tributes to Frank Sinatra, Abba and classic soul music, among others.
Dinner will be optional. Masks will be required in the lobby. Tickets will go on sale later in June.
Because Aster Café in Minneapolis’ St. Anthony Main is a restaurant with live music, it is able to have an audience of 50% capacity or 54 people, said owner Jeff Arundel. He plans to announce a schedule of Friday and Saturday evening performances next week.
Bunkers Music Bar and Grill plans to start serving food next week and live music after July 4. The North Loop mainstay is hoping the governor will loosen restrictions by then, booker James Klein said.
With live-music venues restricted to 25% capacity and a maximum of 250 people under current guidelines, promoters say those limited numbers are not economically feasible for reopening most indoor rooms.
“It would be difficult to do anything and not lose money,” said general manager Nate Kranz, whose portfolio includes First Avenue, the Fine Line, Turf Club and the Palace and Fitzgerald theaters. “I don’t see how it’s financially viable for us to do this and maintain social distancing.”
Ever-innovative Crooners Supper Club in Fridley has figured two ways of staging concerts during the pandemic. The club is reprising last year’s Lakeside Cafe series, with room for 50 people under current guidelines in its fenced-in, tented patio. Connie Evingson will perform there Saturday.
On June 22, Crooners will transition from drive-in movie-style concerts in its parking lot to large tent shows for 200 people.
“We will start looking like a circus over here,” music booker Andrew Walesch said, referring to his two tented stages. “Our drive-in series [started on June 1] has been wildly popular. Every show sells out. But it’s going to fizzle out with the [warmer] weather. We have to be continually changing.”
Crooners invested in a 100- by 40-foot tent that can accommodate 500 people when pandemic restrictions are removed. The staff will set up 80 to 90 tables for two, with a handful of single seats at a bar area. Dinner and cocktails will be available.
The lineup will feature nationally known singers Marilyn Maye and Ann Hampton Callaway as well as local performers including Martin Zellar’s Neil Diamond tribute.
Masks will be required because the entrance to the tent is through Crooners Supper Club.
“It would be easier to close,” Walesch said. “But closing is just not an option for Mary [Tjosvold, the owner].”
Other venues feel they don’t have a viable option to present indoor concerts.
“We have no immediate plans to open inside,” Dakota proprietor Lowell Pickett said. “It’s not an easy answer. You want to make everyone safe — the performers, the staff and the patrons.”
Among the other indoor live-music venues not reopening are Cedar Cultural Center, Amsterdam Bar, Mortimer’s and the Orpheum, State and Pantages theaters.
First Avenue staff is using the down time, Kranz said, to do some deferred maintenance like painting dressing rooms and repairing the Turf Club, which suffered extensive water damage from sprinklers because of fires during the recent unrest following the death of George Floyd while in police custody.
Xcel Energy Center and Treasure Island Casino have no concerts slated until September. Target Center lists a Dan + Shay show rescheduled for Aug. 29 while Mystic Lake Casino has Dwight Yoakam for July 30, the only gig on his itinerary until September.
Walker Art Center has scrapped all live performances — indoors and out — for the summer. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has canceled all concerts in June and not booked anything yet for the popular Lake Harriet Band Shell.
“Nothing is scheduled for July as it would be next to impossible to cap the crowds at 250 people,” said spokesperson Robin Smothers. “If things change and more people are allowed to gather, we will revisit.”
Resourceful promoter/performer Mick Sterling, who produces more than two dozen tribute shows, is presenting The Relief Sessions, a Friday-night series of drive-in-style concerts in a Burnsville parking lot, starting June 26 with two shows, the Johnnie Brown Experience and the Jorgensens. There is room for 105 vehicles. Food trucks will be available but no alcohol. Concertgoers will be able to sit in lawn chairs.
“I’m grateful Burnsville is allowing this to happen,” Sterling said. “We’re finding a middle ground. It’s not ideal. I performed at Crooners drive-in on Wednesday and it was great to do what we do again — for the audience and for the band members. It’s a good comeback story. People like comeback stories.”
Following a two-decade tradition, Tally’s Dockside on White Bear Lake will host live music three nights a week, including Dee Miller on Saturday on an outdoor patio. Advance reservations and a minimum purchase are required.
While the Cabooze is exploring the possibilities of livestreaming shows with a small in-person audience in July, the Aster and Bunkers stand as the only clubs planning indoor concerts.
“Social distancing will be a self-discipline for the customers,” Klein of Bunkers said. “We’re not going to demand that people wear masks. It’s going to be a work in progress. I don’t think there’s one simple answer.”
Staff writer Chris Riemenschneider contributed to this report.