It was the day the music stopped, quite literally.
The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdowns of business of all kinds and the truncating of our social interaction has weighed heavy on many, perhaps on no industry more than concert venues. They likely will be among the last businesses to open their doors under Gov. Ned Lamont’s phased “re-openings” and a loosening of gatherings of groups of, well, more than one or two.
Naturally, the Infinity Music Halls and Bistros in Norfolk and Hartford were forced to close and cancel or reschedule acts that had the faithful waiting in anticipation of good times earlier this year. Infinity hasn’t staged a show since the middle of March. The Norfolk Infinity Music Hall holds 300 and the Hartford venue 700. The theaters have become intensely popular with all ages because of their varied acts and the accompanying bistro where concertgoers can have dinner and drinks.
“We were one of the first businesses to close and will be one of the last to reopen,” said Tyler Grill, CEO/co-founder of GoodWorks Entertainment, which purchased the Infinity halls and bistros last year and procures talent for several other entertainment venues in the state. “There is no question it has been a difficult time for us.” While restaurants have at least been able to sell food for takeout and delivery, concert venues have had no income, which means they have had to lay off staff. “There are no shows, so there is no work. It’s been a financial challenge, although we are hoping the latest PPP assistance from the state and Federal government will be helpful.”
Fairfield-based GoodWorks Entertainment, has been expanding its Connecticut footprint. It has been the exclusive talent buyer for Fairfield Theatre Company for more than a decade. As mentioned it is also a preferred promoter and talent-buyer for other regional venues.
Grill said shows scheduled for the last four months and into early July at the Infinity theaters have been canceled or pushed back on the schedule. “In a few instances, the artists, some of whom may be older, have not felt comfortable with the current pandemic and are cautious. And we have to consider that some acts will draw an older audience that also may be hesitant to be in a concert venue, no matter how much social distancing we can adjust for.”
And just how social distancing will look like in a concert venue is anybody’s guess right now, said Grill. “Is it every third or fourth seat, every other row, will we be limited to 25 percent capacity or 50 percent capacity? The latter issue may be problematic because we may be allowed to have 50 percent capacity for shows but social distancing and other guidelines may mean that the figure drops down towards 25 percent. And if you come to a show with a friend are you going to want to sit three seats away from that friend? How enjoyable is that going to be?”
Grill and his staff have been reviewing “creative ideas” that will allow the Infinity venues to resume something like normal activity once they are allowed to re-open. It may involve staggering arrival times for various sections of the venues, trying to eliminate long lines, and continual deep cleaning of the venue. “We are looking at crowd control and how we can allow people to get in and out safely, enjoy our events and make the experience as normal as possible based upon what the experience was before the virus hit. Actually, this is the first time since the purchase that we have had time to reflect upon best operations and how we can make our venues and shows even better moving forward. So it has had some benefit.”
Grill believes a best case scenario involves a re-opening of the Infinity Halls and Bistros in late July or early August, but that depends on how the first phases of re-opening of the state have progressed, and if the government feels concerts and crowds, no matter how far apart or controlled in their movement, can assemble safely.
The Infinity theaters have been giving individuals that purchased tickets to canceled or postponed shows refunds or credits for future shows. “Our audience has stuck with us and are eagerly waiting for the time when will be back in business. We have been keeping in contact with our customers, informing them of planned new dates, and most people have been excited to take tickets to the new dates for postponed shows. We have a strong lineup planned for late summer, the fall and into next year.”
Grill foresees a time when the theaters will be offering shows “like nothing ever happened.” He added, “I think we will learn a lot from this experience and improve on things. We want people to feel comfortable and safe that they can come to our halls and bistros and meet their new best friends or wife or husband. We will follow government and CDC guidelines to make that happen and give our customers a near typical experience.”
Grill urges those interested in attending shows at the two Infinity Halls and Bistros to visit the website www.infinityhall.com to check on concerts and dates and stay informed.
Many are waiting for the music and laughter to again echo in the cozy confines of Norfolk’s and Hartford’s Infinity Halls and Bistros, perhaps most of all ownership, management and staff at those entertainment and dining venues.