After a year of canceled shows and on-the-fly adaptation due to the pandemic, the Gogue Performing Arts Center will bring live, in-person music back to the Plains this month.
The Gogue Center will present five shows that were postponed last year, starting with Zakir Hussain & Masters of Percussion on April 18. The other shows include Jazz at Lincoln Center Septet with Wynton Marsalis on April 21 and 22; the Dover Quartet and Bridget Kibbey on May 7; The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra on May 13; and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center on June 7.
All five of the shows are currently sold out, although that could change, according to Christopher Heacox, executive director of the Gogue Center.
"Right now, we're saying no, but it could change on a daily basis," he said. "Right now, we're seeing that everybody is excited to come back, and we're not really seeing a lot of people giving tickets back."
The Gogue Center is expecting to announce additional outdoor performances slated for the summer soon, as well as announce its finalized fall lineup in May. The spring 2022 lineup of shows will be announced in October.
"We're taking a more measured approach based on, kind of seasonal, as opposed to announcing everything at once just because we're still operating in the middle of a pandemic, so schedules are still a little bit flexible."
The five upcoming shows will be conducted with a wide range of safety protocols for patrons, including staggered seating in two to four-person pods on the amphitheater lawn, the issuance of digital tickets, pre-paid and pre-packaged concessions, and the requirement of face coverings, among other measures.
To see the full range of safety measures, visit http://goguecenter.auburn.edu/spring2021/.
The task of kickstarting live performances again is a challenge the entire music industry is facing after more than a year hiatus.
"All of our colleagues across the U.S., if not across the world, are dealing with this right now. This isn't one of those things where maybe two or three performing arts centers or artists are dealing with — everyone's having to work through this," said Heacox. "There's a lot of innovation going on, and there's a lot of sharing."
Part of that sharing between venues and music associations dealt with best practices, he added, noting a virtual town hall meeting he attended that was organized by the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, which featured Dr. Anthony Fauci.
"One of the things he said is the safest place we can do this right now is outdoors," Heacox said. "Right now, the majority of us that are able to reopen in the spring are doing it outdoors."
Out of all industries, the pandemic arguably took the biggest toll on music venues, which were basically shuttered for a year, and musicians, who shifted to virtual performances.
"For 13 months, they've been doing ... digital work and streaming and so forth," said Heacox. "But to actually be able to produce and present live performances in person is just — it's great.
"They said at the beginning of the pandemic that our industry was the first to shut down and the last to open back up, and that's kind of what's happening."
Despite the hardships it caused, the pandemic also spawned innovation, as many venues shifted to a virtual streaming approach for performances. The Gogue Center featured a virtual concert series in the fall that allowed the venue to be able to continue to support artists in Alabama with its Alabama Artists Series.
"We were able to continue our mission. We were delivering K-12 school shows directly into schools here in Auburn, Opelika and Lee County, and also throughout the state of Alabama," said Heacox. "We were continuing doing virtual master classes with artists, with students here on campus and students in the Auburn Opelika area.
"We had two things going concurrently. We were programming and doing our educational engagement on one plane, and on the second plane we're doing reschedules and working on all the operations planned for when we're able to reopen."
Heacox said some innovations and approaches used during the pandemic would become staples of the Gogue Center's approach to programming.
"The streaming is not going away. We know that for a fact," he said. "We just don't know what it's going to look like once we start bringing audiences back into theaters."
Heacox mentioned that a hybrid model for performances might become more common, with shows offered both in-person and streaming.
"The streaming aspect really is kind of a game-changer," he said.
Heacox added that if patrons had any questions, they should call the box office at 334-844-8497 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
On a personal level, Heacox said he is just excited to have fans return for shows.
"It's what we do, and to be able to kick it off with the artists that we are bringing in here, it's wonderful," he said. "And our community has just been so supportive, and we're just thrilled to be able to bring these artists back to the Gogue Center and also bring our patrons back as well."