PORT ANGELES — This is the first year the Juan de Fuca Foundation for the Arts is presenting the annual Concerts on the Pier series, and it’s been a roller-coaster ride so far.
Normally running from mid-June through early September on the City Pier stage, the free shows — with bands including Joy in Mudville from Port Angeles, Abakis from Port Townsend and Seattle’s Lonely Hearts Club, a Beatles tribute act — are in the process of being rescheduled for September and October.
The Concerts on the Pier can happen if Clallam County has reached Phase 4 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan for pandemic recovery by September. That’s the phase which will allow gatherings of 50 or more people, provided they practice social distancing and wear face coverings.
The summertime shows, formerly presented by the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce, have attracted 300 or more, noted JFFA executive director Kayla Oakes.
At the start of this year, Oakes invited bands from across the Puget Sound region to apply; she put together the lineup and was poised to announce it in April.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which canceled a multitude of concerts and festivals around the world.
Oakes put the pier concert plans on pause. In May, Clallam County Public Health Officer Dr. Alison Unthank cautioned event presenters: Don’t expect any big gatherings until September.
As both Clallam and Jefferson counties moved into Phase 2 of the Safe Start framework and started to prepare for a possible move into Phase 3, Oakes began to study how the Concerts on the Pier could be deferred and condensed.
As she watches and waits for Clallam to move ahead with reopening, Oakes is contacting bands to see whether they can perform during a window from late summer to early fall.
Earlier this month, JFFA, collaborating with the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra, emailed the Arts Patron COVID-19 Survey to some 3,500 supporters of both organizations. The 399 respondents answered questions about the new normal in concert-going: Would they attend an indoor or outdoor gathering of more than 50 people? What safety protocols would they want to see at those events?
Nearly 78 percent of respondents indicated they’re very or somewhat likely to join a gathering of 50 or more — outdoors and with social distancing. Fourteen percent said they’re unlikely to go to such an event, while 7.7 percent don’t plan to attend it until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine.
“If we reach Phase 4 before September,” Oakes said, “JFFA will launch Concerts on the Pier on Sept. 2 and keep them coming through Oct. 7, hoping for beautiful fall weather.”
If the weather doesn’t cooperate, the shows could move under the Gateway pavilion at Front and Lincoln streets, she added.
The lineup of Wednesday evening performances is half local bands and half out-of-town acts, and the shows are all free thanks to sponsors: the Elwha River Casino, Kitsap Bank, the Peninsula Daily News and the Red Lion Hotel. Information about the concerts and the Juan de Fuca Foundation can be found at JFFA.org.
Joy in Mudville bassist Paul Stehr-Green said he’s “cautiously hopeful” about Port Angeles’ plans.
It’s been a rough three months of rampant cancellations, including Port Townsend’s free Concerts on the Dock and Sequim’s free Music in the Park series.
“I guess each of us musicians is dealing with the current situation in our own way,” Stehr-Green said, “but for me it’s a hollow feeling” playing no gigs at all.
“I think the Peninsula needs the celebratory and restorative energy of music. I know I do,” he said, adding JFFA and Oakes “deserve a shout-out for keeping those hopes alive” that the Concerts on the Pier will happen.
“We’ll get through this, one way or another,” said Stehr-Green, “and music needs to be a part of the ‘new normal,’ however that develops.”
Oakes expressed her gratitude.
“As soon as JFFA knows more about how successful the reopening process is going in Clallam County and feels confident in moving forward, we’ll release the schedule of bands and all of their details,” she said.
“JFFA thanks the community for its patience as we inch our way forward through these uncertain times. We so look forward to providing live music to the greater North Olympic Peninsula.”
Elsewhere on the Peninsula, Sequim’s free live concert series, Music in the Park, which is normally held at the James Center stage north of Carrie Blake Park, was canceled this spring, as was Port Townsend’s free Concerts on the Dock. Both draw hundreds of listeners and dancers.
In Sequim will be a series of drive-in-radio shows hosted by radio station KSQM 91.5 FM called Music Where You Park. The venue for the broadcasts will be different each week.
It began Tuesday with a performance by Amy Hales that was broadcast in The Pumpkin Patch parking lot. Next Tuesday, The Dukes of Dabob dixieland band will perform with attendees listening from the Sequim Elks Club parking lot, 143 Port Williams Road.
The 6 p.m. weekly concerts will continue through Aug. 25.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.