The first time I heard Brown Stallion perform, I was in a prison yard at Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem.
I wasn’t there as an inmate but invited by the band as a part of an Oregon prison tour. As Brown Stallion played the music of Ween, the adults-in-custody allowed to attend the concert listened while they sat, stood and played basketball.
When Brown Stallion plays a show at WildCraft, the audience will enjoy the show under a different set of restrictions — from a pod. It’s how the Hult Center and the cider house venue are adapting in the COVID age to keep audiences socially distant but also offer live music.
Now, the audience isn’t trapped inside of some futuristic container or alien species to prevent the spread of COVID at these shows. Hult Center Director of Programming and Booking Vicki Infinito says staff will chalk six feet between “pods” in WildCraft’s parking lot. The VIP pods will have seating and tables.
Infinito says rather than buying by ticket, people purchase pods that range in size from two, four and six people. The audience has to submit contact tracing forms in case someone tests positive later. The pods consist of chairs, though the VIP upgrade includes a table.
While at the show, she adds, show-goers can’t leave the pod unless they’re going to the bathroom. WildCraft does have an online ordering system, so your food and drink can be delivered.
Infinito says there were no applications for the venues to send to the state of Oregon, but there are guidelines to follow. The capacity for everyone — vendors, staff, performers and audience — is at 250 people.
The Hult Center doesn’t have the infrastructure for outdoor shows with pods, Infinito says, so hosting shows at WildCraft “fell in our lap.” She says that the Hult Center had a show run for two weeks at the cider house in February. A week before Labor Day, she says the owner of WildCraft called her and said, “I have a crazy idea. What do you think about doing shows in the parking lot in September?”
She says the Hult Center was talking all summer about what to do for performances.
Director of Marketing Rich Hobby says holding outdoor performances at Hult is limited by available square footage and audience angles. And it couldn’t use the city-owned Cuthbert for outdoor shows because of size limitations and it’s under contract with Kesey Enterprises. The Cuthbert was also being used for childcare during summer.
“We had thrown around a ton of ideas that were cost-prohibitive,” Infinito says. “So when this came up, it was a good opportunity, and we felt it was the right time to jump on it.”
She adds that the idea of pod shows was thrown around at the Hult Center since the start of Phase 2 of Oregon’s reopening, but the organization had to find the right location and partner.
Of course, not even outdoor shows during the pandemic are immune from kinks. The three-day run of concerts was originally planned for Sept. 17-19 but was postponed because of hazardous air quality in Eugene-Springfield from the nearby Holiday Farm Fire.
Under Phase 2, indoor gatherings are capped at 100 people, so implementing pods indoors makes planning much more difficult for the Hult Center, Infinito says.
“We are trying to come up with plans of things we can do in the fall. We likely won’t call them pods like this,” she says.
One plan the Hult Center has is to sell tickets up to five for a group and seat them together. But like any plan during the COVID age, that can change, she adds.
Although the Hult Center probably won’t pursue pods in the future, Infinito says a lot can be said for the idea of pods.
“It gives you availability to have your own space,” she says. “It could be looked at in the future if you’re bringing a large group or if you’re buying a VIP ticket.”
And in the meantime, pods are offering a concert-hungry population some sort of satisfaction. When the Hult Center first announced the pod concerts at WildCraft, Infinito says they didn’t have to spend money on marketing — the shows quickly went on the way to selling out.
“People missed it — whether it’s a rock show, acoustic show or dance,” she adds.
Brown Stallion performs 7 pm Thursday, Sept. 24; Free Creatures is 8 pm Friday, Sept. 25; and M5 Vibe, Julian Outlaw and others play 6:30 pm Saturday, Sept. 26. WildCraft Cider Works is at 232 Lincoln Street. Visit HultCenter.org to buy tickets. Prices range from $20 to $60.