The Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath will host concerts inside the 174-year-old church for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Photo courtesy of Amanda McDaniel

The Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath announced its fall concert season is set to be held indoors, with COVID-19-conscious restrictions, after the pandemic turned off the lights at the historic arts venue for over a year.

The upcoming concerts will be the first the arts center has held in the 174-year-old Gothic Revival style church it calls home since December 2019, according to Chocolate Church Arts Center Executive Director William Lederer. The venue’s Spring 2020, Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 seasons were all canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the arts center hosted 30-40 outdoor shows at the Maine Maritime Museum, Waterfront Park in Bath and in the backyards of residential homes in the area, Lederer said holding a show in the Chocolate Church “just feels different.”

“We’re an organization that has a real sense of place,” said Lederer. “Part of our mission is the preservation of this building. While we can bring our character to anywhere we might present an event, there’s something about having people in that room that has so much history and so many people have worked hard to preserve that’s so special.”

Built in 1847, the brown church towers over Washington Street in downtown Bath and acts as holds both a performing arts space and an art gallery, which remained open during the pandemic.

Main Street Bath Director Amanda McDaniel said attending indoor concerts at the church “will be like coming home for so many people in Bath.”

Maine folk duo Schooner Fare, comprised of brothers Stephen and Chuck Romanoff, will kick off the Chocolate Church Arts Center’s fall concert season on Friday, Sept. 17. Photo courtesy of the Chocolate Church Arts Center

“The building itself is iconic and means a lot to people here,” said McDaniel. “There are generations of Bath residents who have such a strong connection to the Chocolate Church. It’s another piece of normalcy as we slowly come out of the pandemic that we can look forward to. We can’t take these things for granted.”

The outdoor shows the arts center put on in the interim drew about 300 attendees on average, the same as what the church can hold, which helped keep the nonprofit’s lights on amid the pandemic. However, Lederer said donations from about 300 individuals and local businesses over the past 18 months helped make up for the lost revenue.

Maine folk duo Schooner Fare, comprised of brothers Stephen and Chuck Romanoff, will kick off the fall concert season on Friday, Sept. 17 followed by up-and-coming Maine band, Dead Gowns, on Sunday, Sept. 19.

Another set of brothers who hail from Maine, Sean and Jamie Oshima, known as the Oshima Brothers, will bring their harmony-rich blend of contemporary folk and acoustic pop to the Chocolate Church on Saturday, Sept. 25.

On Saturday, Oct. 9., the Chocolate Church will host Lady Lamb, the stage name used by Aly Spaltro, a folk, pop and indie rock singer and songwriter who spent much of her childhood in Brunswick.

“We built this season around artists and talent from our region, both younger up-and-coming artists and established ones who have been playing here forever,” said Lederer. He said the nonprofit wanted to support local talent who lost much of their income during the pandemic.

The Bath venue is following the lead of other Maine music venues and requiring attendees to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of the performance. Children under 12 are exempt from this policy, as they’re not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Raised in a musical family in rural Maine, the Oshima Brothers have honed a harmony-rich blend of contemporary folk and acoustic pop. Catch them live Sept. 25 at The Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath.  Contributed / Chocolate Church Arts Center

Lederer said requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test was “the only decision that made sense,” both to mitigate the spread of the virus, and because some musicians require it.

“We have to do it to keep our community and artists safe and allow us to continue bringing the arts to as many people as we can,” said Lederer. “We don’t have any other choice. We cannot be responsible for getting anyone sick. For us, it’s a matter of keeping our artists, guests, staff and volunteers safe.”

Lederer said the nonprofit received a largely positive response from the community, though “we’ve had one or two folks who aren’t happy about it.”

According to state data, nearly 76% of eligible Sagadahoc County residents were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Statewide, about 73% of eligible Mainers were fully vaccinated.

The State Theatre, Thompson’s Point, and Portland House of Music in Portland, the Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick and The Opera House at Boothbay Harbor all require proof of vaccination of a negative COVID-19 test.

Face coverings will be strongly recommended at some Chocolate Church events and required at others, per requests from performing artists.

Tickets for individual concerts are available at chocolatechurcharts.org or by calling the box office at (207) 442-8455.

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