Even in the best of times, we look forward to being entertained and letting off some steam at a concert, sporting event or family show. Now, in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic and the stay-at-home isolation it’s brought for most of us, we could use a show more than ever.
“I like saying the show will go on, but just not right now,” said Will Beekman, the general manager at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. “We have to do the smart thing and do what’s best for everyone that’s involved. Stay home and try to get this thing over with. Once we turn the corner, we’re going to have a lot of fun again.”
For many area music fans, the Tool concert originally booked for May 1 at the arena is at top of mind. It’s a big deal for the venue, too.
“It was sold out,” Beekman said. “We say sold out — there were a few single seats here and there in the upper level in the corners. We sold 7,500 tickets in less than a day. That has been postponed. We are working with them actively as recently as [this week] to identify a new date. I think it’s going to be in the winter, probably in December.”
The show, he said, stands to gross at least three-quarters of a million dollars and is “one that we really can’t afford, quite literally, to lose. It’s a sold-out event, and if that goes away, it’s a big hit for us.”
The Bob Dylan concert with Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats at the arena is still set for July 7, but Beekman said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets pushed back a little bit.” The June 17 Alice Cooper show, with Tesla and Lita Ford, is also still on for now.
The F.M. Kirby Center, a 2-and-a-half-mile drive from the arena in downtown Wilkes-Barre, is in a similar situation. Anne Rodella, the theater’s artistic director, said March had a relatively light schedule, but the venue lost “Dinosaur World Live!,” a sold-out kids show that was slated for March 14. Because it was the last date of the tour it can’t be rescheduled, but tickets will be honored for the “Dragons and Mythical Beasts” event, created by the same producers, on Jan. 15, 2021; ticketholders can also get a refund if they prefer.
A venerable act up there in years but not quite as old as the dinosaurs that was also wiped from the Kirby schedule for now is the Beach Boys.
“The biggest one [name-wise] honestly is the Beach Boys,” Rodella said. “We were so thrilled to have the Beach Boys back in the building.”
The Joe Nardone-presented doo-wop shows “always sell really well,” said Rodella, and the latest edition, booked for March 28 and featuring acts like The Duprees and Gary U.S. Bonds, will now take place on May 29, the earliest rescheduled coronavirus-affected date at the Kirby.
“Currently, most of the tours are looking for the fall,” she said. “One is looking at August or September, and October and November are really popular. There doesn’ seem to be a hard rule as of yet.”
Rescheduling isn’t as simple as dragging the date to another square on your Google Calendar.
“It very quickly affects the lives of everyone. People backstage, onstage, people on the road. It all comes to a halt. It affects budget, cashflow and lives. Without the shows we don’t have anything to do, we don’t have any money coming in.”
Will Beekman, Mohegan Sun Arena general manager
“Because of the way the contracts and tours are structured, it’s very difficult to take unilateral decisions unless you’re willing to take those repercussions,” said Joe Student, a NEPA native who is the senior director of live events and marketing at the Carolina Theatre of Durham in North Carolina. “Shutting down affects your own promotions, outside promoters and presenters and artists, and there are contracts tied to all of these things, and that’s really the issues that we had.”
Stressing, as did Beekman and Rodella, that the venue’s first priority is the safety of its guests, Student said, “it panned out very similarly to how we treated a natural disaster, a snowstorm or a hurricane or something of that nature, because once you start to get into the governor of North Carolina declaring a state of emergency, then you realize that there’s a definite potential for some travel restrictions or movement restrictions.”
So far, the pandemic has impacted about 40 events at the venue in the town that is home to Duke University.
“We knew we had a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band show that Thursday, a sold-out Amy Grant show that Saturday and we had some rentals,” Student said. “We had a full week of shows for that week and four sold-out shows in March.”
The theater was able to squeeze in the March 12 Nitty Gritty show, staying in contact with the band’s manager “right up to show time, and really kind of making a showtime call.” He said the venue issued a lot of refunds and credits to those who decided to stay home.
Two other sold-out shows that were supposed to happen in March were former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett on March 17 (rescheduled to April 6, 2021) and “Letterkenny Live!” with a new date TBA. “That’s an example of a show that was a tour of a web TV series, and we probably could’ve added a second show if we had squared that up early enough,” Student said. “Maybe on the postponed date we can do that.”
With staff at the arena, the Kirby and the Carolina Theater working from home, no full-time employees have lost their jobs, but a dark stage is a scary proposition for all three.
“It very quickly affects the lives of everyone,” Beekman said. “People backstage, onstage, people on the road. It all comes to a halt. It affects budget, cashflow and lives. Without the shows we don’t have anything to do, we don’t have any money coming in.”
Rodella said the most important thing she’s learned from the chaos is “how unprepared we were to work from home.”
“I was frustrated at one point and saying, ‘Why is this so hard?’ My friend said, ‘Haven’t you learned from the other pandemics you’ve gone through in your life?'” she said, which helped give her perspective on the unprecedented nature of the situation.
The box office phone line is still open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and is being manned by homebound Kirby employees.
With the lights off, the seats empty and the sound system muted, the Kirby, which is a nonprofit, sent an email to members Monday, before sharing it publicly, stating, “What was once revenue from upcoming performances is now becoming an expense with refunds and cancellations. In the midst of all of this, we are still incurring every day expenses of maintaining our beautiful, historical building and compensating or staff working from home to communicate with customers and tours.” The email goes on to let people know they can help support the theater by buying a certificate now for a future performance at this link.
“It’s definitely a puzzle with a lot of different pieces for sure,” Beekman said of the rescheduling process. “From what I’ve seen, people are assuming that this is a 60-day window right now, and we’re pushing it back about 60 days. March and April are gone. I always try to be glass-half-full. If 45 to 60 days pass and if that happens, we’re all in for an amazing second half of 2020. We’re going to have a ton of artists looking to get back on the road and a long line at the box office, and I can’t wait to see that.”
Top photo: Rob Halford performs with Judas Priest at the Mohegan Sun Arena. (Alex Seeley)