Mar. 20—2020 is the year the (live) music died, but the civic center, Vetter Stone Amphitheater and other venues are booking shows for this summer and fall.
The big unknown remains what type of COVID restrictions, if any, will be in place as the year progresses.
"We're moving ahead cautiously. The most recent restriction relaxation was the light at end of the tunnel," said Eric Jones, co-director of the civic center. He said concert agents and groups interested in booking dates began calling the day Gov. Tim Walz announced easing of capacity restrictions on indoor and outdoor events.
Tickets are on sale for three outdoor concerts that have been set for this year after they were postponed last year.
"And we hope to be adding more in the next few weeks," Jones said.
RibFest is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 5-8 at the Vetter Stone Amphitheater. But that and the Fourth of July fireworks are both uncertain because they draw such large crowds.
Civic center staff will wait until the governor announces the next step on restrictions in mid-April to see if the two big events can be held safely.
Jones said he's hopeful RibFest will be a go. "We're not sure if we'll have the whole, big show as in past years. It may be a scaled-back version."
He said they are watching how other big events, including the Minnesota State Fair and WeFest, play out in the months ahead. "They look like they're proceeding as normal so we'll watch what they decide."
Brian Sather, co-director of the civic center, said bookings have been brisk for spaces in the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center, particularly weddings. The eased restrictions allow up to 270 people at a wedding reception or other event in the large main banquet space in the center.
He said when tighter restrictions were in place limiting guest numbers to 50, no one wanted to book. "Now we have a wedding booked every Saturday from mid-May to mid-October. People want to send out their invitations," Sather said.
He said they're also getting more bookings for business meetings. "They need a bigger room to space out for banquets and nonprofits need to hold fundraisers. They're booking spring and into summer." He said groups are feeling confident restrictions will be significantly eased by fall and are starting to book bigger conventions and trade shows.
Three concerts at the Vetter Stone Amphitheater, all of which were postponed last year, are rescheduled this year. Tickets purchased for the three concerts last year will be honored:
—The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band concert will be June 18.
—Jamey Johnson with special guest Whiskey Myers will take the stage July 19.
—The Beach Boys will play Aug. 12.
Sather and Jones said they're unlikely to book any major indoor concerts at least through June as capacity restrictions would make them financially unfeasible. But they're hopeful that if vaccinations keep ramping up, more big events could be on tap for fall and into winter, including full or nearly full capacity for Minnesota State University hockey games.
Songs on the Lawn
Liz Sharp, of Greater Mankato Growth, said they are also planning for but haven't definitively set the popular Songs on the Lawn concert series, which runs four Thursdays in June outside the government center in downtown Mankato.
"We're planning as if it's going to happen. We have bands booked. If we are given the thumbs up by the state, we're ready to plug and play."
GMG also hosts the Alive After 5 concert events at the same location. Those late-afternoon shows run four Thursdays in August.
The fate of North Mankato's Fun Days is yet to be determined, said Denny Kemp, who serves on the Fun Days committee.
"Our concerns are like everyone else's. We have an open event and are we going to be close to herd immunity at that point?"
Fun Days is traditionally held the weekend after July 4. Kemp said the board discussed the possibility of moving Fun Days to later in the summer but that creates a host of logistical issues.
Kemp said they rely on a lot of volunteers and the board wants to ensure everyone will be safe.
Unlike events such as the concerts planned at Vetter Amphitheater, where the number of guests who enter can be controlled, Fun Days at Wheeler Park has no controlled access.
Kemp said if there is some type of Fun Days, he's doubtful the traditional parade can happen. He said high school marching bands have paused their programs and any social distancing rules in place couldn't be enforced along the route.
The shows go on
The Merely Players Community Theatre was hit financially by the pandemic but is ramping up for a new season.
"People are feeling more positive now that we're getting the vaccine," said Maggie Maes, creative director of Merely Players.
The group so far has three events planned. It usually does three productions at Lincoln Community Center and one at the Kato Ballroom:
—Sept. 9-10: MN Shorts Festival.
—Oct. 28, 29, 30: "Rocky Horror Picture Show" at the Kato Ballroom.
—Dec. 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19: "Rex's Exes," a farce that had to be postponed last year.
"We cannot wait," Maes said.
She said planning a new season is especially uplifting after last year.
"We did "Jesus Christ Superstar" last year about this time but only got one weekend in. We opened and closed the same weekend. That still breaks my heart. It was so hard to tell everyone. It was one I wanted to direct since I was 15, and we had a great cast and set.
"But things were starting to heat up with COVID and we needed to keep everyone safe."
The loss of the second weekend of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and the postponement of "Rex's Exes" put a financial hit on the group.
"We've always been very fiscally responsible. We rely on donations, grants, sponsors and tickets. Last year was hard but we tightened our belts."
She said many people who had purchased tickets for "Jesus Christ Superstar" donated the purchase price back to the group.
The Mankato Playhouse in Mankato Place has dinner theater shows planned.
The next is "Forbidden Broadway," with shows Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from April 30-May 16.
Area colleges and universities are also scheduling plays, concerts and other events for the summer and fall. Minnesota State University has been hosting limited-capacity audiences throughout much of the pandemic. Next week the theater department's season continues with "Desdemona" in the Andreas Theatre.