The Maine Savings Pavilion at Rock Row in Westbrook could possibly be this empty all summer because of the pandemic. Chance Viles / American Journal

WESTBROOK — The cloudy outlook for Rock Row’s summer concert season has rocked some live music fans with disappointment, including the concert booker.

No concerts have been booked and the schedule remains up in the air due to uncertainties about coronavirus vaccine rollouts and a lack of touring acts because of the pandemic, said Alex Gray, owner of Waterfront Concerts, which books the events at the Maine Savings Pavilion at Rock Row.

“The amphitheater needs star power. Star power is global,” Gray said.

The outdoor venue, which has an audience capacity of 8,200, attracts a “very large Canadian presence and those borders and those borders are closed,” he said. “There are a ton of moving variables within that dynamic as well.”

Gray said he’s still looking at ways to make concerts work this summer, but the chance remains that they just won’t happen.

“We take a while to organize events, operating 9-24 months in advance of record release and music cycles,” Gray said. “We’d really benefit from a red light-green light system similar to what the schools are operating in for our business, but there’s no playbook here.”

Sixteen concerts were held during the venue’s inaugural summer of 2019, none took place in 2020 because of the pandemic and 16 booking spots had been planned for this summer.

Residents who spoke with the American Journal said while although they are concerned about attending large gatherings during the pandemic they are also concerned about the potential of a summer without live music.

“Talking to people, it’s one of the things they miss most,” said Steve Noyes, a Westbrook resident and drummer for the disco party band Motor Booty Affair.

He suggests that organizers cut the venue’s capacity in half to allow for social distancing and then get on with the shows. With that arrangement, “I think people would pay double the ticket price to go to a show,” he said. 

Resident Steve Richard liked the idea of holding concerts at Rock Row with a reduced audience capacity.

“I need concerts,” Richard said. “Do them drive-in style if need be.”

A lack of concerts doesn’t disappoint all residents, however. Some cited their concern about super-spreader events.

“Let’s not support large gatherings this year,” Kathleen Cole said. “I’ll be happy if the numbers are down by then and we can worry less.”

Noyes said that Rock Row concert uncertainty is a sign of hardship in the entertainment industry as a whole. Motor Booty Affair hasn’t performed since a show last March at Fenway Park.

And it’s not just the performers who are impacted by the pandemic, he said, like caterers and parking lot attendants.

Motion Sound and Lighting in Portland does our calendar, and we check in to see if they are doing OK,” Noyes said. “This guy has so much equipment invested sitting in a warehouse.”

Noyes said he loves having a music venue so close to home and is proud of it.

“I go in and look at the production and the way trucks get into the back, it has easy load-in and load-out, right off the highway,” he said. ” It was perfect for big artists who do not do the stadium thing. I saw the Anderson Paak show and the production that that stage allowed, I was blown away.”

If there are no concerts this summer, Waterfront Concerts won’t be able to continue its work to mitigate noise complaints by conducting noise level testing, Gray said.

The first season of concerts sparked so many complaint calls to the Westbrook Police Department that then-Chief Janine Roberts issued a public appeal for residents to direct their complaints elsewhere.

While complaints lessened after each concert as Rock Row worked on the problem, some neighbors still reported ongoing noise issues, especially those in the Nasons Corner area.

“We’ve put a considerable amount of effort into our sound tests, and I think we have a good remediation plan in place compared to the first year there, Gray said.

But concerts need to be held in order to continue with remediation, he said.

“There is a sense of trial and error with humidity, wind drift, ground cover, foliage that we need to study the sound,” Gray said.

Fans cheer for Thundercat on opening night at Maine Savings Pavilion at Rock Row in May. Each concert has stirred noise complaints from nearby residential neighborhoods. Jill Brady / Portland Press Herald

Comments are not available on this story.