Tool fans watch during their show at the Darling's Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor in May 2017. Maine has relaxed its limits on outdoor gatherings, but concert promoters still aren't hopeful there will be a summer concert season this year. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

The relaxed limits on large gatherings Gov. Janet Mills announced last week were welcome news for those longing for an end to pandemic-related restrictions. But concert promoters in Maine aren’t getting their hopes up that they’ll be able to return to a normal summer concert season.

The limits on indoor gatherings will increase to 50 percent of a venue’s capacity and outdoor gathering limits will rise to 75 percent capacity on March 26. On May 24, capacity limits will rise to 75 percent for indoor spaces and 100 percent for outdoor gatherings. Masking and 6-foot social distancing requirements will remain in place.

As it stands now, however, that won’t be enough to allow the big concerts seen at places including the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor, Thompson’s Point in Portland or the Maine Savings Pavilion in Westbrook.

“A hundred percent capacity with social distancing still means we’re only operating at about 28 to 32 percent capacity. That’s about 4,000 people in Bangor, and about 2,400 in Westbrook,” said Alex Gray, president of Waterfront Concerts, which books shows at the Bangor and Westbrook venues. “For us, that’s like getting 32 cents on the dollar. There’s just no way it’s worth it. The numbers just don’t work.”

Lauren Wayne, director and booker for both Thompson’s Point and the State Theatre, both in Portland, cheered the development, but said she’d be keeping her venues closed until it’s both safe and financially viable to reopen.

“It’s a great step in the right direction, but it’s not where we need to be to reopen,” Wayne said. “And, I can’t put my staff at risk when most of them won’t be able to be vaccinated until June or July, when people in their 30s and 20s can get the shot.”

Given that most of those large shows require at least a six-month lead time to book and confirm them, sell tickets and then put them on, even if another announcement is made that again raises capacity limits for sometime in July or August, that still means that any outdoor concert season would be extremely abbreviated.

“We would need to find out in the next three weeks whether or not something like that would happen for July or August, because otherwise, there’s just no time to put it together,” Gray said.

Wayne said she might be able to squeeze in some shows at Thompson’s Point for August and September even if those new capacity levels aren’t announced until May or June — though at that point, there still might not actually be any tours to bring to Portland.

“Right now, there really aren’t any coast-to-coast national tours, because every state’s requirements are so different,” Wayne said. “It’s impossible to tour with this kind of patchwork of approaches.”

Then there’s the fact that the Canadian border remains closed, and there’s no sign it will reopen anytime soon. Gray estimates that around 30 percent of the audience for Waterfront Concerts shows comes from the Maritimes and Quebec.

“Even with interstate travel opening up, we still can’t return to pre-pandemic levels without our international audience,” he said.

There are still some shows set for this summer that were rescheduled from 2020.

At the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, Luke Bryan is set for Aug. 5, KISS is set for Aug. 19 and Thomas Rhett is set for Aug. 20, while the Maine Savings Pavilion has shows including Primus on July 1, the Spirit of the South Tour on July 23, and Lindsay Stirling on Aug. 19. There are still a few shows set for the State Theatre, including moe on July 9, Melissa Etheridge on Aug. 31 and They Might Be Giants on Sept. 3. Thompson’s Point has two rescheduled shows — Wilco and Sleater-Kinney on Aug. 25, and the Ghostland festival on Sept. 4.

Regardless of specific dates when capacity levels are further lifted, Wayne and Gray feel confident that, even if there’s not much of a summer concert season in Maine, there will be a return to whatever normal is in the fall.

“Will we see shows at clubs, or theaters, or arenas this year? I think so,” Gray said. “It’ll probably be in the fall. I think we are definitely on track for that, if vaccinations keep on track and cases don’t spike. But short of divine intervention, I’m not very hopeful about the 2021 summer concert season.”

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.