From couples dancing, to guitarists frantically chorusing on the stage apron, to Southside rocker Johnny and keyboardist Jeff Kazee singing a song face to face into the mic, it felt like another gig.
A Friday night audience peek at the Providence Performing Arts Center for the theater’s first live performance since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the main difference: the masks.
Face coverings were mandatory for staff and audiences throughout the concert by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The step was preventative while the delta variant of COVID still proves to be a potentially deadly challenge. The only exception was while eating or drinking.
It was a comfort to many in a house three quarters full.
“We’re both in the medical field, so we understand,” said Larry Bywell of Rehoboth, who was sitting with his wife, Kathy.
” It is fabulous ! Kathy said. “We were sorely lacking in live entertainment. It’s nice to go out and see live shows.
Coming from Fall River, 101-year-old Ovilon Boullard’s eyes narrowed into a smile as he spoke of returning to PPAC for a concert.
“I love hearing music,” he said, adding that he was not nervous to be in the audience because he had been vaccinated.
Jeanne and John Medeiros of West Greenwich have been longtime fans of the Rhode Island-based Cafferty since playing at Schiller’s and Bon Vue in Narragansett.
“I’m glad everyone has to wear masks. We are vaccinated, but we are still as careful as possible, ”said John Medeiros, adding that they had dined out before the show. “It’s nice to start dating again.
No one was happier to be back than the PPAC staff, most of whom were on leave for 18 months during the pandemic.
“It’s just the best, it’s ecstasy!” exclaimed Betsy Menders, events manager in charge of security and house staff. “It’s our life, our home, our family. We work together seven days a week. Having music and happy people in the audience again will be awesome!
Technical Director Amanda Motta is used to responding to a myriad of show requests – she tracks down scuba tanks and easily oversees the installation of nets over the orchestra pit – so collecting vaccine cards and l enforcing COVID security measures have been easy.
“It’s definitely different, but nothing that we haven’t had to deal with before,” she said before the show. “People will do whatever it takes at this point because they just want to get back to work.”
Hearing the soundcheck from his office on Friday afternoon, however, was touching.
“It feels like the first day of school in your senior year – you’re happy to see your friends again. Even the groups were jamming like little kids on Christmas morning, ”she said.
It was a little more scary for Linda Bogosian and her crew. Supervisor of the aisle captain, Bogosian supervises the volunteer ushers.
“It’s very exciting and we’re happy to be back, but we want everyone to be covered up and I just hope it goes well,” she said. “In my 20 years here, we haven’t had anything like this.
During the show, while many remained dutifully masked, others pushed against the warrant a bit, sometimes to the point of embarrassing others.
“I was not nervous to come tonight when I saw that they needed masks,” said a woman who declined to be identified. “Unfortunately, the mask requirement is not really enforced.”