ST. CLOUD – Hundreds of patrons held tickets to see the Fabulous Armadillos perform last May at the Paramount Center for the Arts in downtown St. Cloud.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the series, as well as the rescheduled shows last fall.
But this week — after 14 months with no in-person shows — the Paramount is bringing back live music with a 12-show run of the Fabulous Armadillos' show, "What's Going On: Songs from the Vietnam War Era."
More than 1,800 of the original ticket holders held on to their tickets and about 400 tickets for the socially distanced shows scheduled May 6-29 went on sale in April.
"They sold within a day or two," said Gretchen Boulka, performing arts director.
Despite Gov. Tim Walz's announcement Thursday that indoor venues can open at full capacity beginning May 28, the Paramount is planning for a quiet summer, which was typical pre-pandemic, too.
There's an Ole and Lena show planned for July and a block party in August to celebrate the Paramount's 100th birthday. Most of the performances canceled last season will be on the calendar for the upcoming season.
"In the fall, we are planning a full season, I guess bravely and with bated breath," Boulka said.
The Paramount continued virtual performances throughout the past year but had to reduce a staff of about a dozen full-time employees and three dozen part-time employees to just a handful of workers. Employees are slowly being brought back on as the Paramount prepares for more events, Boulka said.
The Paramount applied for the shuttered venues operators grant to help with the revenue loss.
"We've seen a 90 percent reduction in our earned income," she said. "We are anxiously awaiting word. That would be a significant help to the Paramount as we try to reopen in the fall."
Even as people get vaccinated and new COVID-19 cases wane, some patrons are hesitant to return to indoor in- person shows. Boulka cited a national WolfBrown study that showed upward of 25% of people are not ready to go to an indoor venue whether vaccinated or not.
"That's a significant number," she said. "That will certainly make a difference on ticket sales."
In the meantime, the Paramount implemented several changes to promote safety, including a new air-filtering system and a portable sanitization system similar to those used in hospitals. The theater is also mandating masks, social distancing and staggered arrival times. The 800-seat theater will be limited to 200 ticket holders.
Although the Fabulous Armadillos have performed for crowds of nearly 20,000 at the Summertime by George concert series, the band enjoys playing more intimate shows, said keyboardist Greg Armstrong.
The group, which was formed in 2006 by local musicians with regional and national bands to their names, performs Motown, soft rock and country covers. Its Vietnam-era show features live narration from three Minnesota veterans and songs from the tumultuous, generation-defining decades of the 1960s and 1970s.
"It takes you on kind of a trip. You get to know all these vets through their stories pretty well throughout the show," Armstrong said. "And it's not acting. They are telling it from their heart. They lived this stuff. They lost their friends and people standing right next to them. Those stories are powerful."
The band's first Vietnam-era show was in 2018. Since then, the group has performed it about four dozen times, Armstrong said.
"The show still has all the gravitas to me that it had when we first started playing it," he said. "These songs still resonate — when there's the political storm we've been going through, when there's war or people coming back from Afghanistan, for instance. Those lyrics still resonate loudly."
Virtual performance tickets go on sale at 7 p.m. Friday. A $20 ticket allows the purchaser to watch the show any time through May 29.
Jenny Berg • 612-673-7299