OGDEN — Step by step, inch by inch, arts and cultural events are coming back.
But with many still jittery about COVID-19, it’s been slow going, with many seats remaining empty at the few events that have been held. The Ogden Musical Theatre held a pair of concerts over the summer at Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden, for instance, with attendance on the busiest of the two nights totaling around 150-170.
“I think people are still a little leery of coming to live events like that,” said Ross Reeder, director of sales and marketing at Peery’s.
Even so, there’s a contingent hungry for live events, many of them cancelled or otherwise put off due to the COVID-19 pandemic and health guidelines meant to guard against its spread. Marty Smith, director of culture, parks and recreation for Weber County, hears from them.
Many who attended Weber County Fair events last month and other equestrian events that have been held at the fairgrounds complex “have gone out of their way to thank us for doing something,” he said.
Michael Palumbo, conductor of Chamber Orchestra Ogden, also senses interest, and the orchestral group will join the ranks of organizations resuming live activities with a concert at Peery’s on Saturday. The concert, with only string instruments, starts at 7:30 p.m. and will feature a range of pieces by Aaron Copeland, Antonio Vivaldi and other classical composers.
“We need live music. Having a live concert, I’m finding, is important to a lot of people,” Palumbo said.
How ready the broader public is for live activities, though, whether jitters and concerns are thawing — even as the COVID-19 case count grows in Utah — remains to be seen. “It’s hard to say how people will feel until the show when they show up,” Palumbo said.
At any rate, Palumbo, Smith and other officials emphasize that as live events slowly return, restrictions and measures are in place to guard against COVID-19’s spread. At Saturday’s Chamber Orchestra Ogden concert at Peery’s, every other row in the venue will be closed and groups of concertgoers will be asked to keep several open seats between them to assure distancing. Likewise, masks will be required among attendees, and the musicians will also use face coverings.
“We’re following the lead of the major orchestras in the country,” Palumbo said, noting that woodwind and brass instruments were purposefully excluded to avoid the possibility of airborne aerosol emissions containing COVID-19 coming from the instruments. “I can tell you everyone is taking it very seriously. Everybody wants this to be safe.”
More details on Saturday’s concert and ticket information is available on the chamber orchestra’s Facebook page, facebook.com/ChamberOrchestraOgden.
‘ARE WE READY?’
Per the COVID-19 guidelines currently in effect in Weber County, indoor events with up to 3,000 people would be permissible depending on the capacity of the venue, presuming everyone wears a mask, according to Kassi Bybee, the Peery’s general manager. Thus, Peery’s could theoretically allow up to 800 people, the capacity of the theater.
“But are we ready for that? And is the community comfortable with that?” Bybee wonders.
Some might be leery, so theater officials have opted instead to limit seating to assure social-distancing. The capacity of Peery’s with the restrictions in place is perhaps 300 to 400. “I think it makes people more comfortable,” Bybee said.
Similarly, mask, distancing and other requirements have been in effect at other events that have been held. The public has generally complied, and Reeder and Smith report no COVID-19 cases attributable to events at Weber County venues, including Peery’s and the fairgrounds complex. The Weber County Fair activities last month, scaled back from prior years, included a rodeo, an outdoor concert with attendees remaining in or near their autos and the Junior Livestock Show.
Looking ahead, the Ogden Mustangs hockey team holds its home season opener on Saturday at the Ice Sheet, operated by Weber County. Face coverings will be required, among other safety precautions. Bybee said Ogden Musical Theatre has started planning and auditions for a Christmas show planned for November and December. Activities at the Eccles Conference Center, also operated by Weber County, are also slowly picking up, with safety protocols in effect.
“We are eager to get going,” said Palumbo, voicing the sentiments of the Ogden Chamber Orchestra musicians to perform Saturday. “It’s been a long time since we’ve worked together.”