Get ready to rock: Lack of restrictions means summer concerts at Bayfront and beyond are a go
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has removed attendance guidelines for outdoor events. Hairball, Fourth Fest and For King & Country concerts will go on.
Good news for fans of the glam rockers who traditionally play Fourth of July eve at Bayfront Festival Park — and, frankly, anyone whose summer fun includes large-scale events: The shows will go on.
On Thursday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz removed limit guidelines for outdoor events and dining with mandatory masking required only in groups of 500 or more starting at noon Friday. This is a game-changer for local concert promoters who were either waiting to announce ticket sales or gambling that the governor’s guidelines would bend before their summer events.
“This announcement gives us exactly what we’re asking for: guideposts along the way and certainty with upcoming concerts at Bayfront and the DECC,” said Jeff Stark, who is in charge of venue operations at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center — which also manages Bayfront. “It gives us the answers we want and allows us to move forward and rebuild our business that has been devastated for the last 14 months.
“(There has been) a collective sigh of relief and a jig that was danced to.”
Hairball, an act that draws on the pageantry and pyrotechnics of the arena rockers of yesteryear, typically draws between 5,000-7,000 fans to its regularly-scheduled show on the bay. Under the previous guidelines — the three-acre park was restricted to just more than 2,400 bodies — it wouldn’t have made financial sense to book that band or others like it.
Until Thursday's announcement, Stark said, events like Hairball, Fourth Fest and Country Jam have had asterisks next to them. But now:
“Within the next few weeks, we’ll make sure to get those tickets online,” he said. “This really allows us to move forward and be profitable for artists and for promoters.”
Expect to see more concert announcements in upcoming weeks. Of note: Trampled By Turtles is seemingly not playing Bayfront Festival Park this summer. The locally-grown band will be at Red Rocks during its usual Duluth dates.
In the spring of 2020, Twin Ports Entertainment pushed all its concert events to this summer. In February, they decided to boldly forge ahead with that plan.
One of this region’s major promoters — they are behind events like City on the Hill Music Festival and Bayfront Country Jam — they made their researched leap based on, among other things, vaccination rates, the reopening of major cities, and updates about the Minnesota State Fair.
Walt Aplin remained modest with his business plans for early summer. For instance, Bayfront Brat Festival, on June 26, is divided into an afternoon and evening session to limit crowds to numbers that match the former state guidelines.
He was more aggressive about Twin Ports Entertainment’s later events, including a For King & Country concert on Aug. 5. The Australian Christian pop duo trends toward sell-out crowds of at least 5,000.
“We did gamble a bit on For King & Country,” Aplin said. “It was a safe gamble.”
Aplin and company weren’t the only promoters with an eye toward eased restrictions. Bayfront Blues Festival, which draws thousands to Bayfront Festival Park for three days and two stages' worth of acts, announced some of its lineup in late April, including The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Tommy Castro and the Painkillers, Jack Knife & The Sharps.
Like Twin Ports Entertainment, Big Top Chautauqua, an outdoor tented venue near Bayfield, has also repositioned some of its 2020 acts into 2021. The venue operates according to Bayfield County guidelines. In an interview earlier this week, executive director Terry Matier said that would mean spaced seating, masks and limits on the number of available tickets.
But it’s still bringing in acts like Tanya Tucker, The Mavericks, Wynonna and the Big Noise, KT Tunstall, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Paula Poundstone.
“We’re going to move forward,” Matier said. “We’re going to lose money on it, but we did get grants that will help convert losses.”
This past year, like other arts organizations, they went online. Tiny Tent Show, hosted by Michael Perry, featured some of Big Top’s regular musicians, and the prerecorded material went live on Friday nights. It would sometimes draw hundreds of viewers, she said.
“This was really something that got me through the lockdown,” Matier said. “I felt like I was sitting with everyone. It really meant a lot to us. We felt it was win-win.”
At the Cedar Lounge in Superior, which tends to follow Minnesota guidelines, the limitations of last year opened the door for Earth Rider Festival Grounds — the field between the brewery and its taproom — as its own venue.
“This is where, I think, the future is going to be,” Tom Fabjance recalled thinking. “We built a stage, got the tent … the Cedar closed for an entire year. That was the only way we could operate.”
The venue hosted events throughout the summer of 2020 — and has even more planned for this summer: Keller Williams, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, Pert Near Sandstone, Gitchigrass Fest and a new Sunday afternoon blues series with acts curated by Charlie Parr.
The goal, Fabjance said, is six nights of music, with events extending into October.
Earlier this week, even before Walz’s announcement, Aplin was feeling good about this summer.
“(People) are going to just want to get out to Bayfront,” he said. “They’re starving for live entertainment. I think every show, everything happening, from Blues Fest to Tribute Fest to Reggae Fest, will all do very well.”