Three of Cedar Rapids’ largest entertainment venues, silenced during the COVID-19 pandemic, are ready for action — with much smaller audience capacity and plenty of safety protocols in place.
Country singer Josh Turner, whose Aug. 22 concert at the outdoor McGrath Amphitheatre was postponed in the wake of the Aug. 10 derecho, is moving indoors Friday, for the first full-arena concert at the U.S. Cellular Center. Smaller Live at the Five concerts featuring local musicians have been rocking a corner of the arena, averaging about 50 patrons, but Turner will be looking out over the entire space. Instead of a possible 7,000 faces, he’ll be seeing a maximum of 1,800 fans, in an effort to keep people physically distanced.
Beatles vs. Stones will wage “the greatest concert that never was” on Sunday night at the Paramount Theatre, with audience capacity reduced from 1,600 to 500.
And comedian Theo Von will bring his Dark Arts Tour to the McGrath Amphitheatre on Sept. 26, with seating only in chairs in physically distanced pods, with no bag chairs or blankets allowed on the lawn.
Face masks are mandatory at all three venues, except when patrons are in their seats. Metal detecting wands will be used, and only small, clear bags will be allowed, so ushers can see the contents without having to touch anything. Concessions also will be available. Everyone is expected to practice 6-foot social distancing, and take their temperatures before they leave home. Anyone with a temperature of 100.1 or higher is asked to stay home.
These are part of VenuWorks’ Return to Live safety protocols. Full rules are outlined at Uscellularcenter.com/ under the “Plan Your Visit” tab.
Open for business
While plenty of tickets are available for each show, Michael Silva, executive director for VenuWorks of Cedar Rapids, is especially heartened by the brisk sales for Theo Von’s show.
“He’s selling tickets at an unbelievably fast pace there,” Silva said. “We’re so excited, because it’s the first show to go on sale that has jumped out of the gate so quickly. It seems to be the new norm that all of this (touring) stuff drops at the last minute, so we put a show on sale this (past) week with three weeks to sell it, which by industry standards, is unheard of.
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“But recently, what we’re seeing a lot of, are artists available to tour right now, and let’s get them out on the road and here’s two or three weeks to sell the show,” he said.
“We’re excited about Theo Von selling that many tickets, because more than anything, it’s tickets sales that shows the music agents, the artists, the promoters that Cedar Rapids is open for business, and we very much want to be open for business.”
The smaller Live at the Five shows were designed to not only give local bands a place to perform, but also to give the staff a chance to see how the new protocols and social distancing could work, Silva said.
It’s also a practical matter, since 14 of the local VenuWorks full-time staff members have been laid off. That leaves eight people to not only do their own work, but pinch-hit as bartenders and tackle other unfamiliar roles behind the scenes.
“The eight of us have grown really close in the trenches together,” Silva said, “and it’s to the point now where in order to pull off the events that we are doing now, the full-timers are filling all of the staff positions.
“I’ve been the head cook for the last couple of Live at the Five shows. The (general manager) of the ice arena has been the bartender and the director of booking has been the cashier. It’s the only way we could think of to start dipping our toes again, and trying to bring some revenue back into our business unit, but also to try and see how this all works — see how the new policies are going to shift and change and evolve, and try them out.”
Live at the Five has been working, he said.
“Our greatest hope when we put it together, basically we were reaching out to local bands that normally would be playing the bar scene, but the bars have all been closed. We thought that there was a niche there, to create some entertainment.
“We only ever expected between 50 to 100 people per show, and that’s about what we’ve been doing, about 50 people per show, which has been great, because my bartenders are not very fast,” Silva said with a laugh. “That’s not their profession, but they get the job done. Everyone’s having a good time.
“It is mandatory face coverings until they get to their seating area, and it is social distancing, and we are trying to do our best to sanitize and keep everything extremely clean,” he said.
“We really have not received any resistance from the patrons coming to the events so far. There was one individual who was having a hard time putting his mask on when he would get up from his seat to go to the restroom or whatever, but we call those ‘coachable moments.’ ...
“We’ve been dipping the toes, and (this) week we’re gonna try it on a little larger scale with Josh Turner here at the Cell Center.”
He was happy that Turner’s team could find a new date for the concert, but disappointed that the Beach Boys didn’t have an open date to reschedule that concert, originally slated for Aug. 21 at the amphitheater. The derecho knocked that venue off the grid.
“From what I understand, the power has been restored to the amphitheater for streetlights and walkway lights, but they haven’t yet figured out how to restore the heavy amperage power that we need in order to do sound and lights out there,” Silva said.
“Josh Turner and the Beach Boys were going to be the first touring concerts we were going to attempt since the pandemic started,” he said, “so we were excited to get back to work, we were excited to mobilize at the amphitheater for the first time this year, and the derecho took that out of business for us.”
He said it was “an interesting conversation” with the agents and promoters in Nashville, who weren’t buying that reason.
“Mike Love from the Beach Boys said, ‘No, you’re just making that up. What is a derecho,’ because there had been no news coverage, so no one knew anything about what we had just been through.”
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Turner and his agent were “very gracious” to reschedule the concert and move it indoors, where the VenuWorks staff “knew it would be safe and be able to fully pull it off at the Cell Center,” Silva said.
The Beach Boys concert, however, couldn’t be rescheduled.
“That was a bummer,” Silva said, “because that is the show we got the most feedback from the public, along the lines of ‘We were really looking forward to that one,’ so we were really bummed out.”
The amphitheater will be able to handle the comedy show, since the technical requirements are less extensive than for a music concert, Silva noted.
“We’re excited to get back on track for (this) week,” and what follows, he said, adding that he’s “excited to be back in business.”
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If you go
• What: VenuWorks Cedar Rapids events
• Josh Turner: 8 p.m. Friday, U.S. Cellular Center Arena, 370 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids; $35 to $89
• Beatles vs. Stones: 7 p.m. Sunday, Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids; $20 to $65
• Comedian Theo Von: Dark Arts Tour: 7 p.m. Sept. 26, McGrath Amphitheatre, 475 First St. SW, Cedar Rapids; $25 to $59
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• Tickets, details: uscellularcenter.com
• Safety: Face coverings mandatory when not in your seat; practice 6-foot physical distancing; bag size limited to 8 inches by 5 inches by 1 inch and must be clear