SEATTLE — It’s been two years since we’ve had a proper summer concert season. For a while, it looked like 2021 might bring another summer spent in hibernation, with a handful of Washington’s marquee festivals throwing in the towel for the second consecutive year amid the COVID-19 chaos.
Though it was too late for some, Gov. Jay Inslee’s May 13 announcement that the state would fully reopen by the end of June meant that bands and beer gardens would convene again under the sun.
“It was like we’d been waiting for Christmas to come for more than a year and it finally came,” says Jeff Trisler, head of Live Nation’s Pacific Northwest division, which runs the Gorge Amphitheatre and Auburn’s White River Amphitheatre. “It’s such a joyous time for all of us — everybody in the world and all of us who work in the concert industry, who were feeling like we were never going to be able to do this again. It’s like suddenly the floodgates have opened up.”
The floodgates may have opened, but it’s going to be a minute before the water starts flowing. By the time Inslee pegged that June 30 reopening date, with the potential to resume full-capacity events sooner if statewide vaccination rates hit 70%, venues had mostly cleared their concert calendars through July or August.
As it stands, the annual Watershed Festival (July 30-Aug. 1), the state’s premier country fest at the Gorge Amphitheatre, could be the first large-scale show without capacity limits to kick off the outdoor concert season. (As of this writing, folk rockers the Avett Brothers still have a July 18 date at WaMu Theater on the books, one of the few touring acts yet to postpone or cancel a July show at a Seattle club or theater.)
A week or so after country fans are scheduled to swarm the Gorge, the White River Amphitheatre hopes to reopen with pop rockers Maroon 5 (Aug. 10) kicking off their North American tour.
Trisler says there’s “no question” that those earliest August shows at the amphitheaters will happen as planned. But given the rolling nature of tour cancellations and rescheduling, any summer tour date announced more than a month ago seems fluid. Despite Inslee clearing the path for July concerts, Trisler doesn’t expect to add anything else before August, though some unannounced shows are in the works for August or later.
“Once that word came down that we were back in business June 30, we have been pedal to the metal trying to get as many quality things together as we can, in addition to what we had sitting there waiting to go,” he says.
With the first two months of summer clipped, both venues are stretching the season into early October, with events like EDM festival Beyond Wonderland (initially slated for June) now set for Oct. 1-2 at the Gorge.
Ryan Crowther, who runs the Everett Music Initiative, saw the writing on the wall. After taking his Fisherman’s Village Music Festival online last year, the event producer started planning a later date this year for his laid-back fest, typically held in late May in various downtown Everett venues. Though a formal announcement is expected mid-June, the small fest heavy on local and Northwest artists is planned for Sept. 9-11, with Pacific Northwest favorites like Built to Spill, The Microphones and Seattle’s Lady A playing an outdoor main stage and a few indoor venues.
Despite the governor’s green light, Crowther’s doing his best to keep his three-day fest — which peaks at around 3,000 to 4,000 people on its busiest day — nimble in case the state or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hand down any unexpected guidelines before opening night. After being thrown a year’s worth of curveballs, Crowther is cautiously optimistic.
”If we’ve learned anything the last year, it’s that we can’t predict anything and good news doesn’t always just mean good news,” he says.
Beyond Fisherman’s, Crowther has a live music series in the works with Dick’s Drive-In set for Friday nights in August, bringing top local bands to downtown Everett’s Wetmore Theater Plaza. Smaller community-focused block parties and pop-up outdoor shows could help carry the live music torch during an in-between summer in which many tentpole events like Capitol Hill Block Party and Bumbershoot will take another year off.
For Summer Meltdown organizers, Inslee’s announcement was too little too late. The husband-and-wife team behind the Darrington festival merging jam rock, electronic music and regional all-stars had already set a May 7 deadline to decide whether or not to forge ahead with their four-day camping festival in early August.
Roughly a week earlier, Inslee had hinted at a possible rollback in the state’s phased reopening plans amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.
The venue at which they were planning to hold the festival was already wary of hosting one of the first large events post-shutdown, says Summer Meltdown founder Josh Clauson, and delaying the decision came with increased financial risk. Amid the pandemic, artists and vendors are requiring higher deposits and guarantees, Clauson says, meaning independent promoters like him and his wife could be stuck with a hefty bill should the show not go on.
Weighing the potential of an unexpected case surge or the state handing down new event guidelines, Clauson decided it was too big of a gamble — especially while venue operators and event producers are still waiting for long-delayed federal relief grants. Days after Inslee’s announcement, Summer Meltdown pulled the plug on what would have been the 20th edition of the festival that draws around 5,000 per day.
“It felt bad,” Clauson says of the timing. “That was part of the anguish. ... Now all of a sudden the focus gets turned to the event operators — ‘We need you guys now!’ — after waiting for months for any kind of relief and any kind of attention on ways we could move forward.”
Among the region’s summer event staples, it’s a hodgepodge of late starts, cancellations and altered plans. Marymoor Park’s concert series is currently set to return with bizarro alt-rockers Primus on Aug. 14. Chateau Ste. Michelle plans to host live music in some capacity this year, but as of this writing, wasn’t ready to uncork the details.
While KEXP’s Concerts at the Mural is off, Jimmy Fallon’s favorite radio station is curating a scaled-down, all-local version of the Woodland Park Zoo’s popular ZooTunes series. Although the first show (currently The Posies on July 18) comes weeks after the state’s reopening date, zoo brass will keep the fan-favorite series at half capacity throughout the summer, selling tickets in socially distanced pods for up to 10 people.
Capping ticket sales at 1,800, just below 50% capacity, provides some leeway should a new variant force a rollback, says the zoo’s concert manager Romy Brock, though she’s confident the series will kick off as planned. There’s also the social considerations as people resume activities they enjoyed before the pandemic. “We want people to feel comfortable and not be a free-for-all, for lack of a better word,” Brock says.
While outside food will not be allowed this year, the assigned pod seating means fans won’t need to arrive early to stake out prime real estate on the lawn. And so far, the lack of national headliners hasn’t seemed to deter fans, with the first three shows announced quickly selling out.
”They just want to be in the meadow with their friends and have it done safely,” Brock says. “They want to have that experience again.”
TOKYO — The head of Japan’s Olympics organizing committee ruled out today another suspension of the Games, despite deep disquiet at the prospect of thousands of athletes and officials arriving during a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections.
Already postponed from last year at the cost of an extra $3.5 billion, a scaled-down version of the Games, with no foreign spectators, is set to start on July 23.
But with a slow vaccine rollout, Tokyo and nine other regions under a state of emergency, and rising numbers of severe coronavirus cases, most Japanese oppose hosting the Olympics.
Most of the capital’s city council, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, agree, the Tokyo Shimbun paper reported today.
Illustrating the public anxiety, residents in one training venue, Ota City, were furious over a decision to give preferential vaccinations to staff attending to visiting Australian softball players, media also said.
However, organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto countered the gloom, telling the Nikkan Sports newspaper: “We cannot postpone again.”
Hashimoto, who competed in seven summer and winter Olympics as a cyclist and skater, also told the BBC that while Japanese were understandably worried, they should be reassured that a “bubble situation” was being carefully constructed.
“I believe that the possibility of these Games going on is 100% that we will do this,” she added. “One thing the organizing committee commits and promises to all the athletes out there is that we will defend and protect their health.”
Authorities have not decided whether Japanese spectators will be allowed to attend Olympics events. There are fears that shouting, hugging and high-fiving could promote contagion.
In the latest upsets in the run-up to the Olympics, Kurume City pulled out of hosting Kenya’s training camp, while a player on Ghana’s Under-24 team tested positive after arriving for a friendly match.
Taiwan’s baseball team, which is ranked fourth in the world, pulled out of the final qualifying tournament for the Olympics as it could not find anywhere safe to practice at home and was worried about health risks at the event in Mexico.
Even so, Taiwan still hopes its athletes will have a chance to compete, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters, saying efforts by Japan and international Olympic officials to put on the event were highly appreciated.
Though avoiding the rates of some other nations, serious cases of COVID-19 are rising in Japan, where the infection tally stands at nearly 750,000, with more than 13,000 deaths.
The nation’s most senior medical adviser said today that public health guidance, including his, was not reaching the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in charge of the event.
“We are now considering where we should give our advice,” Shigeru Omi told lawmakers. “If they want to hold (the Games), it’s our job to tell them what the risks are.”
Though Olympic advertisements are sprinkled around Tokyo, it is a far cry from the usual glitz and buzz, with many sponsors unsure how to proceed with events. Thousands of volunteers have quit also, public broadcaster NHK said this week.
Hashimoto acknowledged the sadness of having no outside spectators at an event that is normally an enormous global party.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they (athletes) can compete in the Games,” she said in the BBC interview.
“To not be able to have family members and friends who have supported them all along must be a very painful thing and that has caused me pain, too.”
OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is set to announce incentives for people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to his office.
The announcement is set to come in a news conference today, according to Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee. Lee declined to give details on what types of incentives will be announced.
The governor will be joined in Thursday’s news conference by Marcus Glasper, director of the Washington State Lottery, according to a news statement.
Various states have offered financial incentives to prod people to get vaccinated.
Perhaps most notable is Ohio, where residents who do get vaccinated have a chance to win $1 million. In New Mexico, officials announced there will be a $5 million prize, and a total pool of $10 million.
With large segments of Washingtonians vaccinated, health officials have been trying to reach people skeptical of the vaccine, or who haven’t been able to find a way to get their shots. During news conferences on the state’s COVID-19 response, Inslee has consistently urged people to get vaccinated.
As of late May, more than 76% of Seattle residents eligible to be vaccinated had gotten at least one shot and 60% were completely vaccinated, according to city officials.
With the pool of city residents still eligible for a vaccine diminishing, the city announced it would soon shut down all but one of its fixed mass-vaccination sites, including the one at the Lumen Field Event Center.
About 43% of state residents have been fully vaccinated, according to Washington health officials.
Health officials on Wednesday announced 703 new coronavirus cases and 12 new deaths, for a total of 5,801 fatalities.
Last month, Inslee announced he was planning to lift broad COVID-19 economic restrictions by June 30, if not earlier. At the same time, the governor said, completely vaccinated people would be subject to fewer requirements regarding wearing masks, and could attend funerals, weddings and sporting events without capacity limits.
“We know that vaccines are fundamental to this next chapter of this journey, so we don’t have to rely on social distancing and restrictions,” said Inslee at the time.
He credited in that news conference a plateau in Washington’s fourth wave of cases that amounted to a decline in virus activity.
Republicans have continued to call for the governor to open the state up more swiftly.
“The time to move our state forward is now,” said GOP state legislative leaders in a statement Tuesday. “Washingtonians want to return to a sense of normalcy and businesses need more certainty as they attempt to recover.”
WENATCHEE — Wenatchee Downtown Association’s Linda Haglund spends her days talking to business owners. Part of her job is figuring out how the nonprofit organization can help its members.
At the moment, the discussion is all about finding workers.
“I am hearing a consistent issue and that is finding help,” she said. “It’s across industry sectors. Not just food service.”
Haglund’s WDA and the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce are putting their problem-solving skills into action by sponsoring an in-person job fair — set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 23 at the Wenatchee Convention Center.
It’s the first time the two business organizations have partnered on a job fair — at least in the past 10 years, Haglund said, though the chamber has organized similar events before.
They are now looking for businesses of all types and sizes interested in reserving a booth to promote any and all open positions, whether part-time, full-time or seasonal jobs. The event is free for businesses and job hunters.
The hope is the Community Job Fair will be attended by community members looking for work, students and recent graduates, who will interact with employers to learn about opportunities available in the Valley, according to a press release sent Tuesday by the chamber.
Haglund said she isn’t sure why finding employees has been such a challenge as the economy gears up to reopen from the pandemic.
“Some are struggling with calling their employees back because they are making more money on unemployment,” she said. “Some are just simply tired and stressed from the last year of COVID crazy and are struggling to get the word out about hiring.”
Her goal with the job fair, she said, is two-fold — to connect people looking for jobs to businesses who need help, and to “shine a light on this issue.”
“People are assuming this is all about the unemployment options right now, and I don’t necessarily believe it is all about that. I have talked to people who said they are not hearing of open jobs. There are people in this valley who want to work. No better time to find a good job, in my opinion.”
The location provides plenty of space for job providers and job seekers.
“We want as many as we can possibly have,” she said.
The Chelan-Douglas Health District also will be onsite at the event to administer Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines to anyone 18 and older who is interested. Appointments are not required.
To sign up for a booth at the job fair or for information, call the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce at (509) 662-2116, or the Wenatchee Downtown
Association at (509) 662-0059.