Pedestrians walk along State Street past One Longfellow Square. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The other night, I spent several minutes writing concert dates that cover about the next five months on my kitchen calendar. I have several hundred dollars tied up in these tickets, but far more importantly, I really want to see these shows!

My plans include geeking out to power ballads with Air Supply at the State Theatre in a few weeks and finally hearing Gladys Knight sing “Midnight Train to Georgia,” one of my all-time favorite songs, live at Merrill Auditorium in March.

But will these shows happen? Will I feel comfortable going? After finally feeling confident enough about the safety of concert venues and likelihood of shows going on as scheduled to make these purchases, the omicron variant of COVID-19 has put seeing live music back in limbo.

When someone in a band gets sick or there’s been an exposure with other key people like crew members, tours get stopped in their tracks. There’s no way around that cold, hard fact at the moment. Meanwhile, every single day, I look at case numbers, deaths and hospitalizations in Maine and feel a chill down my spine every time.

What if I get it, don’t realize for a few days and then visit my elderly parents in Massachusetts and give it to them? This is where my mind goes and what makes the decision about whether to attend concerts a complicated one.

Gladys Knight performing in July of 2019 in The Netherlands. Knight is scheduled to play at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium on March 11. Ben Houdijk/Shutterstock.com

Live music was one of the hardest hit industries at the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago, but with vaccines and then boosters, the industry literally staged an epic comeback and many of us have been joyfully, though cautiously, enjoying seeing live shows again. Hot, uncomfortable masks and standing in line in the cold a little bit longer while vaccination status is verified are minor inconveniences that I will gladly endure for as long as it takes. But I haven’t been to a show in about a month because I’m nervous.

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One local venue made the decision for me. Portland House of Music owner Ken Bell temporarily closed his doors on Dec. 23 because of COVID-19. He hopes to open this week but is making moment-to-moment decisions with bands. Bell said they’ll continue to follow all mandates when they do reopen to the public.

“Today we are getting one day closer to getting through this,” added Bell, whose optimism I appreciate immensely.

At One Longfellow Square, the effects of the highly contagious variant are evident. Jeff Beam, interim executive director of the 200-seat venue, said he’s seen an uptick lately in show postponements because of omicron. And even when the show goes on, it’s not the same.

“We’re seeing lower attendance across the board, even for artists who are well established,” said Beam. “Leading up to January, I’d experienced reluctance from some booking agents about confirming shows in early 2022, so our calendar is already a bit lighter than it would be for a normal January or February.”

Beam said that One Longfellow Square will always follow the science and postpone shows if necessary, but he believes people can feel safe at his venue when protocols are followed.

As for me, I’m taking things one day at a time and sort of feel like Harrison Ford in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Not because I’m a brilliant archaeologist who looks sharp in a fedora, but rather because I feel like I’m about to take a leap of faith from the lion’s head to get to the holy grail. Only in this case, I’m not looking for eternal life, I just wanna pretend I’m one of Gladys’ Pips and sing the line “A superstar, but he didn’t get far” with all my might, with a huge smile behind my mask.


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