Sacramento is facing another Memorial Day with no music. Or at least the bounty of live concerts that used to pack venues in years past. But with easing COVID-19 restrictions on the horizon, musicians are planning to hit the stage again this summer and fall.
The three-day weekend historically marked the start of the music festival season in the region. But with Sacramento County still in the red tier of California's COVID-19 reopening plan and the state's reopening weeks away, many musicians will take the weekend off.
"We were all working our butts off Memorial Day weekend and this year I think we're going to be up in the mountains just chilling out waiting for things to come back," said Rick Lotter, the drummer for Mumbo Gumbo. The seven-member Sacramento band has been a staple of music festivals in the region for 30 years, playing a genre-bending Americana stew of sound with elements of rock, country, zydeco and Afro-Caribbean music.
“This Memorial Day weekend is our second year in a row that we've been canceled on a main stage set,” said Lotter. “It's hard to see these dates flip over on the calendar and not be there seeing the community."
Mumbo Gumbo will be getting back together for live performances this summer, first with intimate, private events. And they’ll likely have new material.
"I've been personally writing a lot of songs so I'm looking forward to fleshing all those out with the band when we get back together," said Tracy Walton, Mumbo Gumbo’s chief songwriter and one of the lead singers.
Most venues are waiting for California's reopening date of June 15 to book shows, when the state will do away with capacity limits at indoor and outdoor events, though some large indoor events will still require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. But some places aren't.
The Russ Room has scheduled shows for the first week of June. The venue, named for Tower Records founder Russ Solomon, is located atop Solomon's Delicatessen at K and 8th streets.
"We are a restaurant, so we're abiding by the restaurant rules of the capacity that we're allowed to do,” said Ira Skinner, who books shows at the venue. He says they're limiting the number of audience members to 20% capacity.
"It was a little difficult trying to pull together lineups when we're very unsure what the future of live music looked like in our town,” said Skinner. “A lot of bands weren't really willing to go out and play shows yet, obviously we're still kind of in the middle of this pandemic. Part of it was like calling in favors. A lot of the bands that are playing these first couple of weeks are really close friends of mine.”
The first live show at The Russ Room is Friday, June 4 with The Golden Cadillacs and MerryGold.
"The thought of everything getting back to normal is definitely feeling more real and it's beyond exciting to come back to being in front of people," said Adam Wade, the Golden Cadillacs’ bassist.
That excitement Wade describes illustrates how eager musicians are to perform again.
"There's so much pent up demand from the artists that I think you'll see a lot of tours, especially the second half of the year," said Mike Testa with Visit Sacramento, the city's non-profit economic development agency.
"Unfortunately, it will be a relatively quiet Memorial Day weekend from a concert standpoint,” said Testa, “but I think the challenge for the consumer, honestly, over the next six months or so is where you want to spend your money because I don't think there'll be any short list of concerts."
Those concerts include big acts at the Golden 1 Center like Celine Dion, Alejandro Fernandez and Harry Styles. There's also the huge three-day Aftershock festival this fall in Discovery Park, the largest heavy metal rock event on the West Coast. It's set for early October, but is already sold out.
“Metallica is headlining two nights of that festival,” said Testa. “You mix in Bottle Rock in Napa on Labor Day weekend and all the venues in Sacramento that I'm hoping will have live acts playing then too, I think the second half of 2021 looks really good for live music and I know personally and from a lot of people that we've talked to, it's been greatly missed so it'll be great to see that back."
Meanwhile, Rick Lotter and Tracy Walton of Mumbo Gumbo are practicing for their first big show as part of the Sand Harbor concert series at Lake Tahoe in mid-August.
“Musicians have been developing their inside voices for the last year,” said Lotter, “and we're all going to have to really begin working out, in fact we are already working out, redeveloping, strengthening our outside voices."
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