COVID-19 disrupts local summer concert schedules

Mountain Jam, Old Songs Festival already canceled; other concerts and concert series in limbo

In photo: The Freedom Park Summer Concert Series in Scotia, like many summer events, is still in limbo. Organizers say they are weighing their options. Above, Sawyer Fredericks performs at Freedom Park on June 21, 2017.

The consistently growing list of canceled or postponed summer concerts proves that sometimes the show can’t go on. 

Across the greater Capital Region, venues are seeing cancellations from artists like Justin Bieber, Zac Brown Band and Dead and Company, due to concerns over COVID-19. 

Some organizations, like the Luzerne Music Center, are canceling their summer seasons altogether; others are still deciding how to handle their summer seasons, all under a shroud of uncertainty. 


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“There is tremendous uncertainty. As long as the virus is as prevalent as it is – and without reliable and proven testing, vaccines and safety measures – it would be irresponsible to allow large gatherings to occur,” said Elizabeth Sobol, the president and CEO of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. 

“Needless to say, the health and safety of our community during COVID-19 is our most important priority. That said, we continue to look at all options for the possibility of making reopening safe and viable.”

SPAC’s summer season, which features the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra each summer, among others, is still in limbo. The same is true for many local concert series. 

Rivers Casino & Resort, which organizes Harbor Jam, said that it’s weighing its options for all summer entertainment. Organizers of the Freedom Park concert series, which is slated to kick off on June 17, say they’re doing the same thing. 

There’s been a New York State-mandated ban on large gatherings since mid-March. 

The ban is one reason Old Songs postponed its summer festival, which was slated to feature concerts, jam sessions and dances at the Altamont Fairgrounds.  

“We don’t know when it’s going to be safe to have gatherings of the size that we would have normally, which is close to 3,500 people,” said Joy Bennett, the executive director of Old Songs. 

It was scheduled for June 26-28, 2020, and has been postponed until June 25-27, 2021. This summer would have been the festival’s 40th anniversary and it’s the first time the festival has been postponed. 

“It has to do a lot with people’s health, that was the major concern, and then you have to look at the financial viability of holding an event like that in these times,” Bennett said. 

While ticket sales were healthy in February, they dropped off when COVID-19 started becoming more of a concern for people in the Capital Region. 

“. . .  as this thing went on there were no sales of tickets because the reality is everybody’s afraid of what’s happening,” Bennett said.

When Old Songs made the announcement to postpone the festival last week, most people responded positively. 

“At the end of the day, it really is about safety and people’s health and since we had no idea, and we still have no idea whether the ban on large gatherings will be lifted even come May 15, It didn’t make any sense to draw this out further,” Bennett said. 

In the last few weeks, some venues, like Caffe Lena, have found ways to live-stream concerts and series like the Williamstown Theatre Festival are turning to Audible to present spoken word performances. 

The New York City Ballet has released digital performances as well, but digital offerings will only go so far. When asked whether SPAC might work with the NYCB or the Philadelphia Orchestra to present its summer concerts digitally, Sobol said: 

“Our partners are already putting out a tremendous amount of digital content that we are helping to make available through our own channels, but this was all content created before the current restrictions came into play. Don’t forget that an orchestra or ballet company are in themselves  ‘large gatherings,’ with 100-plus performers, not to mention staff, crews, recording engineers. So, how to create new content of that sort while social distancing is still in effect is a huge conundrum. How do you, for instance, enforce social distancing in a pas-de-deux?”

No doubt, it’s a conundrum that many musicians, artists and venues will be grappling with in the coming weeks. 

Here’s a look at some of the shows that have been canceled or postponed: 

  • Mountain Jam, slated for May 29-31 at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, has been canceled. 
  • Boston Pops has canceled its spring 2020 season at Symphony Hall in Boston.
  • Celtic Woman canceled its summer tour, including a June 7 date at SPAC
  • Zac Brown Band canceled its summer tour, including a June 13 date at SPAC
  • Big Rock Summer Tour has postponed its June 14 show at Bethel Woods. 
  • James Taylor and Jackson Browne postponed their Jun. 19 concert at Bethel Woods.
  • Old Songs Festival has been postponed until June 25-27, 2021. 
  • Roger Waters has postponed his July 25 show at the Times Union Center.
  • Dead and Company canceled its summer tour, including an Aug. 3 date at SPAC
  • Ann Wilson canceled Aug. 20 performance at The Egg.
  • Justin Bieber canceled his summer tour, including an Aug. 26th date at the Times Union Center
  • Luzerne Music Center has canceled its 2020 summer season.


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Categories: Entertainment, Life & Arts, News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

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