As Illinois slowly reopens, live music is also trying to make a comeback -- at least in a few places.
With large-scale gatherings still a no-no in Illinois, big shows and music festivals have mostly been canceled or postponed. But some smaller locations are taking tentative steps beyond virtual or small outdoor offerings.
Melissa Mercado is executive director of The Venue in Aurora. The performance space is operated by the nonprofit Fox Valley Music Foundation. It’s been offering virtual concerts from its stage the last few months. She said the state’s move to allow some gatherings indoors gave the facility an opening to try a live, in-person event. But doing so safely is not easy.
“There are just so many variables at play here,” she said, “that we have to address, and it’s -- it’s challenging.”
The facility can hold close to 200 people, but for this concert the audience is limited to 50 -- the maximum allowed under state rules, to allow for social distancing. Tables will be spread apart and limited to two people, and masks will be required.
Mercado said these measures and others The Venue is taking are important for both the audience and the musicians. She said many of them are anxious to get back out and play, but like everyone else, they’re also fearful of venturing out in public during a pandemic.
“You know," she said, "we’re taking all the precautions and stuff as set forth by the, you know, Centers for Disease Control and [the] Illinois Public Health Association, but -- it’s a big deal.”
Mercado said she knows of others -- she cited a blues bar in Chicago, for example -- that are also presenting live music indoors, but with tight restrictions and by reservation only. Others are sticking with small outdoor performances, like Books on First in Dixon with its Stoop Music Saturdays. She's even heard from bands in Minneapolis and Dubuque who are playing curbside concerts from the backs of pickup trucks.
Mercado said The Venue will continue to present live streamed concerts, with performances before an audience sprinkled in. She said the latter will also be streamed for those not yet ready to come to a concert in person.
Before the pandemic, The Venue was planning on celebrating its first anniversary this summer. Instead, like others around the state, its July 18 concert with blues guitarist Larry McCray will mark a grand RE-opening.