Live music slowly starts to rebound

Jay Goldberg

Promoter Jay Goldberg stands next to an empty stage as COVID-19 sweeps the country. He has sponsored shows in the Peoria area for nearly 50 years. (PHOTO BY BILL KNIGHT)

Remembering music from the ’60s, one wonders when the pandemic will ease enough to move from “The Sounds of Silence” to “I Can Hear Music.”

Live music is often a sidelight to fans or local musicians, but for others it’s vital.

Bars, clubs and concerts, large and small, need people to survive. In Peoria, promoter Jay Goldberg for months grappled with whether people would be there if he could have Summer Camp Aug. 21-23 at Three Sisters Park south of Chillicothe.

But recently, the nine-stage extravaganza – already postponed from May 22-24 – was cancelled outright.

“It’s self-serving to want to do the show, I guess,” he says. “At the same time, I care about people. I want to do the right thing.”

Goldberg, 69, started producing entertainment in 1971 with the band Uriah Heep at The Barn in Peoria.

“I started doing concerts at the Bradley Fieldhouse,” he says. “I believe that first show there was The Carpenters in October 1972.”

His last show was March 7, so he’s been limited – yet busy.

“I have done a lot of yard work at my home and played some golf [but] most of my time is spent trying to reschedule the concerts that had been affected by the pandemic,” he says. “It’s a lot of work to find new dates that work for all concerned: the bands, the venues and other activities. We are also trying to figure out new dates and routings for future shows.”

All of Summer Camp’s 10 headliners had committed to play this month, but the threat to public health overrode their willingness to perform – and people’s eagerness to go.

“Obviously, the risk is people’s health,” Goldberg says. “That is the number-one perspective. Other considerations would include: would people come out and purchase tickets, what locations work at different stages of the pandemic, [and] what are the added costs involved?

“Associated costs come into play,” he continues, laughing. “Have you priced a single Porta Potty lately and the cost to clean?”

Current tickets to Summer Camp will be valid for next spring’s event, or ticketholders can get refunds, according to

Meanwhile, some 15 miles from Summer Camp’s site, veteran musician Dave Hoffman meditates, misses music and muses about a summer with fewer performances.

“I don’t think there will be a lot, but maybe people will be so needing music that it will work,” says Hoffman, who in 13 years as trumpet soloist and arranger for Ray Charles toured the world before returning to central Illinois to play locally and teach at Bradley and Knox.

“I’m not sure if things will ever get back to what we used to term normal in my lifetime,” he says. “I fear that many places are in survival mode. But we will all adapt and do what we can.

“For me most everything is on hold,” he adds. “I’ve not had trouble filling my time; trumpet takes daily diligence. I have been spending quite a bit of time writing music. Nothing’s like playing a gig though. I miss camaraderie with my fellow musicians and with the audiences. I’m spending more time trying to look inward instead of outward.”

Hoffman, 65, can’t play some scheduled shows.

“This summer was supposed to be quite busy with touring so it’s certainly a disappointment,” he says. “I had planned to go to Belize to play at their Jazz Festival, and we were working on a tour of Europe with the Ray Charles tribute that I play in with other members of the band. I hope that all of this will happen next summer.”

The pandemic is “the weirdest time in my experience,” he says. “None of us knows what the future holds. We’re all just trying to hang in there and hope for the best.”

It should have taken more than hope at national and local levels, Hoffman says.

“Our response to this virus has been so ineffective, and people are going out and acting like fools, not wearing masks and not practicing social distancing, and I fear that will set us back quite a bit. In fact, it already has with cases going up in many states that opened early,” he says. “Without people following the common-sense guidelines, who knows how long this will be with us? We obviously need more leadership and better examples.”

Goldberg agrees, saying, “The government didn’t know what decisions to make. So much is up in the air.”

Before the pandemic, Goldberg cancellations were “few and far between,” he says. “We’ve been fortunate.”

In his 49-year career, Goldberg doesn’t cite any artist or venue as huge, whether Bob Dylan starting the U.S. leg of his 1989 “Never Ending” tour at Peoria’s Civic Center or outdoor concerts at Glen Oak Park. Instead, a milestone for him, he says, was launching annual events ranging from the Blues & Heritage Music Festival and the Women’s Lifestyle Show to Summer Camp, which hopes to mark its 20th year May 28-30, 2021, having grown from 1,500 to 22,000 festival goers.

Now, music confronts options like audiences wearing face coverings and frequent cleaning or promoters checking temperatures or limiting capacity (although Goldberg notes that Three Sisters could accommodate 100,000, so there’s plenty of room). Nationally, ideas range from “drive-in” concerts with audiences confined to cars to hear tunes via FM radio (and masked if they use the restroom) to “virtual reality” shows since livestream has become mainstream.

None are simple and no approach seems that promising, Goldberg says.

“We are looking at other opportunities or ways to put on a live-music show,” he says. “We’ve looked at the drive-in concepts, streaming, Zooming, you name it. It still all comes down to how many people can you expect to share the costs of putting on a major presentation?”

Elsewhere in the area, some music is returning. Betty Jayne Brimmer Center for the Performing Arts in Peoria Heights revived music and comedy in June for lawn seating (where Hoffman is tentatively scheduled to play with Central Illinois Jazz Society musicians Aug. 13), and Rhythm Kitchen Music Café – which before the shutdown regularly booked the Derel Monteith Trio, the Mark Tonelli Trio and Nathan Taylor & Friends – has operated for weeks with curbside pickup of food and recently started live music at its outdoor seating area.

Meanwhile, optimists say it could be six months before a vaccine and treatment end the pandemic.

Anthony Matchett, CEO of Melody VR, said he’s planning full-production shows on stage for virtual-reality presentation, but he told Rolling Stone, “Touring is going to be changed for a number of years.”

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