Innovation has been the name of the game when it comes to live music in the pandemic. First came postponed albums and tour cancellations, then came live streams and virtual concerts and today we see outdoor grid shows. Born from a combination of financial and social need, artists and independent venues across Connecticut have found a way to hold live concerts safely while upholding the CDC and government guidelines.
These concerts are held outdoors, often in a parking lot or open field, and attendees are spaced according to social distancing regulations through a grid layout. Each venue has their own rules on how the grids are organized, however they are consistently seen to be larger than 6 feet by 6 feet with an aisle on all four sides that is at least double the size of the grid itself. This setup allows for social distancing both inside the grid and while walking around the event.
Along with the grid setup, staff members, performers and attendees must undergo a health check prior to their entrance to the event. Attendees are also required to remain in their grid for the duration of the event unless they are going to the rest room or concession stands. Masks are required at all times.
As an avid concertgoer who hasn’t been to a show in seven months, I had to check this format out for myself. On October 3, I attended the second show of The Main Stage at The Klein Concert Series in Bridgeport featuring four local Connecticut bands: Phat A$tronaut, Ceschi, Mandala and The Hooch.
This concert was particularly interesting because it is a fundraiser in collaboration with Mental Health CT. A portion of the proceeds from each ticket was donated to raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention.
Kenny Mercer from Full Blast Booking, the booking company that organized the event with The Klein, originally organized a summer tour through NY, MA and CT in honor of his friend that took his own life, but that tour was postponed due to the pandemic. The Main Stage series is a short preview to that tour, titled #tourforlife, which has been postponed to 2021.
These concerts have been taking place in the parking lot for The Klein Memorial Auditorium on Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport. The lot is large enough to accommodate parking, the grid layout, Snappy Dawgs food truck and free COVID-19 testing provided by Southwest Health Center.
The grid layout was adapted from the parking spots already in place, however it was rather confusing and less organized than other venues with similar shows. They had both small boxes and full sized parking spaces being used by both smaller and larger groups, which at times made groups look closer than they should be.
Upon arriving at the venue, we had our temperatures taken and answered basic health questions while still inside our car. Once we passed the health check, we parked and were escorted by staff to our assigned grid where we could set up lawn chairs and blankets – both necessities since the pavement can be uncomfortable to sit on alone. It was a beautiful day, not too hot and not a cloud in the sky, exactly what you want for an outdoor concert.
First up was The Hooch, an acoustic and folk-rock duo based out of New Haven. They played a mix of covers and originals, but what was most impressive was their upbeat and unique guitar skills. They successfully got the audience energized and ready for the next three bands.
Next up was Mandala, an indie rock band based out of my hometown of Waterbury. Going to Mandala concerts is one of my friends and my’s favorite things to do because their energetic stage presence and impressive guitar solos are incredibly entertaining. They played both old, new and unreleased songs creating a balanced setlist that both fans and first-timers could enjoy. The highlight of the set was when lead singer Morgan Fasanelli jumped off stage and ran around the venue playing the tambourine (in a mask, of course).
Popular hip-hop and folk-rap artist Ceschi Ramos from New Haven followed Mandala’s set. Ceschi is well known in the CT hip-hop scene having won the Connecticut Music Awards for Best Hip Hop in 2014. He gave a dynamic performance that featured both English and Spanish songs, he even broke out his guitar at one point. However the most memorable part of the night was when he joined Phat A$tronaut on stage during their set to perform their song “Summer Love.”
Closing out the show was Phat A$tronaut, a funk, soul and R&B band also based out of New Haven. They were a large ensemble featuring several instrumentalists including two guitars, a flute, a saxophone, keys, drums and an additional percussionist. Front man Chad Browne-Springer added impressive, funky hip-hop vocals that sometimes included vocal effects. The sheer talent that went into composing and performing these songs was respectable on its own and was definitely worth sticking around to see.
Chad Browne-Springer will even be performing a live stream performance and interview for WHUS Radio on October 24 that will be free to watch, so if you want to see this experimental soul in action make sure to tune in!
Not only was The Main Stage at The Klein an entertaining and safe way to enjoy live music during the pandemic but it also raised money for an important cause that is relevant in many people’s lives, especially now. If you have a chance to get to a grid concert, I highly recommend it. I’m excited to see what will come next for The Klein and other CT venues in the spring. Mercer from Full Blast Booking said it best when he said, “The Klein brought music when we really needed it.”