For the past 14 summers in Arroyo Grande, residents of all kinds and ages have spent every other Sunday afternoon between June and September spread out on blankets and relaxing in lawn chairs in Heritage Square Park, eating, drinking, and listening to free live music.
The Arroyo Grande Village Summer Concert Series typically starts in early June and includes eight shows throughout the summer, but this year is the event's 15th anniversary, and manager Curtis Reinhardt had hoped to kick it off on Memorial Day Weekend to draw a larger crowd. Then COVID-19 hit.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF CURTIS REINHARDT
- CONCERTS IN THE VILLAGE The Arroyo Grande Village Summer Concert Series typically starts in early June, but was pushed back to July 4 this year due to coronavirus-related closures. Organizers hope SLO County will allow outdoor gathering by then.
It's becoming increasingly clear that the summer of 2020 could be one without many of the usual treats, from graduation ceremonies to fireworks on Independence Day. While some SLO County summer concert series have been delayed until September or canceled entirely, Reinhardt is holding out hope that Arroyo Grande's will be allowed to begin July 4.
"I think it's important to keep our tradition going," Reinhardt said, "and I think it's important for the community to have something to rally around.
In a letter to the SLO County Board of Supervisors and Public Health Department, Reinhardt asked that outdoor community concerts be considered and treated differently during the county's phased reopening plan than other large gatherings, which likely won't be allowed for the foreseeable future.
The events, Reinhardt said, should be treated similar to other outdoor areas like the beaches or farmers' markets that have largely remained open throughout the pandemic.
"Surely concert attendees in our park locations can more easily be guided and monitored than in other existing 'essential' business facilities like Walmart, Costco, Vons and the local hardware store," Reinhardt wrote in the letter. "How can movie theaters, health clubs, and churches be considered for opening in early phases but outside concerts in city parks not be considered until possibly the last phase?"
Atascadero's summer concert series features nine concerts, the first of which was recently pushed back to July 11. But with the reopening plan as it stands now, Atascadero spokesperson Terrie Banish said the city is planning to host the July 11 concert virtually. The following show on July 25 may have to be virtual as well, but Banish said Atascadero Lake Park, where the concerts are hosted each summer, is a large outdoor space where appropriate social distancing could be easily enforced, so the city is still exploring other live, in person options.
"It just feels like with our bandstand in that location there's so much room to work with," Banish told New Times.
There could be a drive-in concert, or the city might draw out 10-foot-by-10-foot spaces in the park where family and home units could sit together.
But not all SLO County cities are confident that they could monitor physical distancing at their summer concerts.
San Luis Obispo canceled its 2020 Concerts in the Plaza on May 5. Templeton is prepared to push its concerts back to September, as is Paso Robles. While Atascadero and Arroyo Grande's concerts typically draw 100 to 300 attendees, Paso Robles organizer Lynda Plescia said an average of 2,500 residents attend the concerts in Paso Robles.
She's still hoping things will return to something resembling normal by August.
"It doesn't hurt to be optimistic," Plescia said. Δ