Summer Events at Bayfront in Limbo due to Pandemic
Officials, event organizers and acts are all looking at other ways to hopefully bring their art to fans.
DULUTH, Minn.- The COVID-19 pandemic has left musical acts and festivals at Bayfront Festival Park in unprecedented uncertainty–forcing organizers and artists to explore different ways to give fans an experience if shows are a no-go.
Bayfront has become synonymous with summer fun, filling up every season with concert-goers, food lovers, and fireworks.
But the empty, bleak park you see right now is a fear of what could become a norm this season, during this abnormal time.
“Hold tight, we want to have you down here when we can,” said Jeff Stark, Director of Bayfront, “but we want to obviously make sure everybody that steps through those gates behind me is safe as they walk in.”
After losing Grandma’s Marathon in June, the risk of losing more events is disastrous for the whole city.
“So everybody that’s coming down here is buying meals over at Canal Park, or they’re at a restaurant, they’re at a hotel and staying here as well,” Stark said. “So there is a ripple effect that ends up happening with events being canceled down here.”
It’s especially difficult for the Park’s biggest sellers, like Bayfront Reggae and World Music Festival in July.
“We have so many people travel from out of the state, the other thing is our artists often travel from out of the country and so that is another situation to think about with the folks and their ability to travel safely,” said Chief Manager Janna Dreher.
If the concert is eventually canceled, organizers are exploring a virtual experience to bring world music to the 2,500 people who usually attend. “If it’s not going to happen, then we want people to have people still continue to feel uplifted on a celebration day of that music,” Dreher said.
But it’s not easy for all acts to dance to that different tune.
Hairball’s concert alone shakes and rumbles the lakeshore with about 5,000-7,000 audience members. They can’t have a headbanging experience without their signature production full of pyrotechnics.
“I’m old school, I grab a guitar and I play on real strings and y’know, we scream into real microphones and stuff, we’re not a band that sits and plays into computers and stuff,” said Happy, Lead Guitarist.
“We’re real face-to-face, interactive, full-contact rock’n’roll,” he said.
While the band isn’t a fan of virtual concerts, Happy said, they’re not opposed to trying new ways to rock with their fans by posting individual videos from home on Facebook.
“It’s therapeutic, I think, for us. The guys in the band who have done that,” he said.
It seems to have a similar effect on their fans as well. “We’ve got a lot of feedback from people who are just cooped up, that the outlet means so much to them.”
The band members grabbing an acoustic instrument and singing off the dome, or having one-man jam sessions in their garage, give fans a raw, uncut look at their skills
“You’re kind of finding out who can play and sing in some ways,” said Happy.
It’s an uncertain time for many right now. Organizers and officials say they will start announcing postponements, changes, and/or cancellations in a few weeks.
“I wouldn’t be in this business if I wasn’t hopeful and if I wasn’t an optimist,” Stark said, the barren park looming behind. “But it’s a measured hope, it’s a measured optimism.”
But those entertainers are more determined than ever to play on that stage.
“We look forward to being back, and we will be back,” said Happy. “And that you can take to the bank.”