A bullfighter distracts a bull named Smokin Do Dad during a show by the Professional Bull Riders Velocity Tour at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor in this 2017 file photo. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

Live events will return to Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center for the first time in 16 months when 40 of the nation’s top professional bull riders come later this month, organizers said.

The last Professional Bull Riders event in Bangor was held at the center in March 2020, the last event there before it shut down due to COVID-19. Now, the bull riders’ tour will inaugurate the return of festivities from July 23-25.

It is one of several new concerts, comedy acts and conventions coming to the Cross center in the coming months.

Pink Floyd tribute band Brit Floyd will perform at the arena in September, while comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias will perform in October. Other events planned include the Bangor State Fair and a laser light show in August, the 2021 Loggers’ Expo in September, Maine Home Shows in October and the Christmas-themed Cirque Dreams Holidaze in December.

After a year of uncertainty that made him wonder when or if events would be possible, it was a “special feeling” to be working at the Cross Center, said General Manager Anthony Vail. More than pre-pandemic normalcy, he is looking to take the center’s offering “up a notch” after more than a year of absence.

“It’s just a great feeling to be back planning events and doing what we love to do,” Vail said. “Which we couldn’t do for so long.”

Earlier this year, the Cross Center became the home of a mass vaccination site where Northern Light Health staff administered more than 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. That site shut down at the end of May amid decreasing vaccine demand.

After Gov. Janet Mills’ civil state of emergency on June 30, nearly all COVID-19 restrictions in Maine have been lifted, meaning that the venue can operate without capacity limits, Vail said.

Masks will not be required, though the Cross Center is asking that unvaccinated people wear them, following guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the City of Bangor.  

It is unlikely that the new events would be possible without the rise in vaccination rates in recent months, Vail said. About 71 percent of eligible Mainers (ages 12 and above) have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, one of the highest vaccination rates in the nation.

Some American entertainers have required vaccines at their shows regardless of state or venue policy, including Dead and Company, the modern iteration of the Grateful Dead, who are requiring proof of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine to enter the general admission pit at shows.

The center would work with organizers who wanted such an arrangement on a case-by-case basis, Vail said.

From concerts to the annual high school basketball tournament, fans from all across Maine and beyond for years flocked to the center for events. Their absence contributed to the drop in revenues seen by restaurants, hotels and bars across the Bangor area.

The return of events at the Cross Center will allow many employees laid off during the pandemic to return, Vail said. However, he said the center is still in need of part-time employees — there have been shortages of such labor across the country in recent months.

As vaccine rates rise, other events have slowly begun to be scheduled in the Bangor area: a number of performers are also scheduled to perform at the Bangor Waterfront in the coming months, including rock bands Kiss and 3 Doors Down and country artists Luke Bryan and Brad Paisley.

Vail recognized that the arena, which the city opened in 2013 to replace the Bangor Auditorium and Bangor Civic Center, played a significant role in helping businesses far outside of its own walls. He is glad to help other businesses as they emerge from a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic recession.

“I’m trying to be as aggressive as I can with booking all kinds of events,” Vail said. “Because we know that they will have a direct impact on the community.”