Seasonal shamrocks were dangling from the ceiling. The bandstand was overcrowded with 17 performers. But only one concertgoer was sitting within 10 feet of the stage at Crooners Lounge and Supper Club in Fridley on Sunday night.
And she was alone.
Twin Cities vocal stars Robert Robinson and Debbie Duncan were joined by a cast of backup singers and musicians for what may have been, at least for the time being, the last concert in the metro with a live audience.
Those empty seats were no-shows. Tables were spread farther apart than usual for social distancing. The seating policy was modified so tables were limited to people who came together. About 70 folks — maybe half the capacity — showed up.
“Forget about the outside world,” Crooners owner Mary Tjosvold urged when welcoming the audience.
But the outside world intervened on Monday after Gov. Tim Walz gave an executive order that includes barring restaurants and bars from dine-in service beginning at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Crooners, which features live music and dinner nightly, had been a hold out, leaving it up to musicians if they wanted to perform. Even if there was no music, Crooners planned dinner service from 5 to 8 p.m. Other Twin Cities venues offering live music nightly, including First Avenue and the Dakota, pulled the plug on concerts over the weekend.
“We will do everything they ask us to do,” Tjosvold said Monday after hearing the governor’s order.
However, Crooners will not offer takeout and delivery; the restaurant/bar has never prioritized those services.
The five-year-old supper club, about a 12-minute drive from downtown Minneapolis, had been persistent about staying open, even considering trimming concert capacity to 50 people.
“People don’t want to be socially isolated,” Tjosvold, who also runs 33 residential health care facilities, said Sunday. “It’s up to the performers; it’s their call. I don’t want to push anybody away.”
Bands for Monday and Tuesday opted to cancel before the governor’s announcement.
Robinson, one of the area’s most prominent gospel singers, had no hesitation about performing on Sunday.
“I’m a person of faith,” he said at the end of the night. “We can’t stop living our lives. We have to be watchful, we have to be prudent, we have to be careful. We’re pulling ourselves further apart. We should bring ourselves together to heal the world.”
Despite his determination, others don’t seem to have as much faith as Robinson. He was notified over the weekend that six of his upcoming performances, mostly at churches, were canceled. Still, he’s undaunted.
“There’s no need to stop me now,” he said. “I’m going to be me. God made a way.”
Music lovers who showed up Sunday echoed Robinson’s words.
“If you follow the CDC rules, you can be comfortable going anywhere,” said Jimmy Stroud, a substitute teacher in the St. Paul school system. “I don’t have a problem being here.”
Sunday’s show was festive and uplifting, buoyed by band leader William Duncan, a keyboardist/singer and Debbie’s brother.
“Let me hear you scream,” William Duncan implored at the beginning of the second set. “OK, that’s what all the sports teams are missing.”
Then his group delivered “Yes, We Can Can,” a song of optimism made popular by The Pointers Sisters back in the 1970s.
This was a program of faith, strength and determination, with William Duncan originals such as “I Yield” and “We Give Thanks” as well as Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today” and a wondrous reading of the old show tune “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which earned Robinson a standing ovation.
Music lover Marcia Leatham, a medical device consultant from Minneapolis, didn’t think twice about going to Crooners on Sunday.
“I like what Crooners is doing to make it as safe as possible,” said Leatham, who typically attends four to six concerts a month. “There are no guarantees. I’m not going into big crowds. I will go to the Eagles [April 3 at Xcel Energy Center] if they still have it. I have tickets.”
Meanwhile, Crooners is looking into the possibility of livestreaming concerts from the club.
Tjosvold said her staff will use the unplanned down time “to strategize how to be better, to be more creative.”
“Until [Monday] afternoon, we were optimistic.”