Ramie Ford of Brandon Parks and Recreation and Brandon Amphitheater talks about the impact of closures amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Mississippi Clarion Ledger
‘We’re going to protect every individual. We want people to know we’ve thought this through really well to make them feel comfortable.’
While shuttered businesses and restaurants are reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic, popular entertainment venues and some museums in Mississippi remain in limbo.
“Right now, we just don’t know,” said Ramie Ford, Brandon’s parks director who oversees the Brandon Amphitheater. “I don’t want to speculate on what’s going to happen because we simply don’t know.”
Although he hopes not, Ford said the 2020 season at the amphitheater may be lost, but if allowed to open, he intends to provide the entertainment Mississippians have been missing.
“If this gets lifted and we are permitted to do so, even if we have to cram a whole season into six months, we fully intend to do so,” Ford said.
If that’s the case, Ford said keeping the amphitheater clean will be a priority to keep workers and guests safe, but he isn’t sure what other measures can be taken.
“I don’t know how you can make 7,000 people wear masks and eat and drink,” Ford said.
Reduced crowds, reduced profits
Arden Barnett of the Jackson-based entertainment company Ardenland said booking acts is difficult with so many unknowns.
“We’re at a standstill right now as to when we can open and how we can open,” Barnett said. “I don’t have anything booked until August.”
Barnett said he’s currently working on deals for music performances at Duling Hall that include reduced capacity shows, but reduced capacity means reduced income. That income is further reduced by fewer alcohol sales and possibly pulling revenue down to the point of financial loss. Barnett said more outdoor music events may be an option, but he’s unsure of that as well.
“It’s a bit of an unknown right now,” Barnett said.
Keeping tabs on the industry’s pulse
David Lewis is the deputy director of Cultural Services for Jackson and provides oversight of attractions such as Thalia Mara Hall and the Smith-Robertson Museum and Cultural Center. He’s checking the pulse of the situation, but doesn’t know what actions will be taken to safely reopen doors.
“Quite honestly, we’re monitoring what venues are doing regionally and nationally,” Lewis said. “At this point, we’re still trying to formulate how to do that. We’re still trying to research and talk with people around the state and regionally to see what they’re doing.”
In the case of Thalia Mara Hall, Lewis said summer is typically a slow season, so that is allowing his department time to order cleaning supplies and plan.
“I think we’re still weeks away from coming online,” Lewis said. “I would imagine Smith Robertson coming online before Thalia Mara because the daily patronage would be different. They aren’t going to have 2,000 people coming in and out in two hours.”
Smaller groups for museums
Although an opening date has not been set, Charles Knight, director of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson, said things will be different.
“The operations will be different,” Knight said. “We don’t have details about numbers, but we’ll try to not have large groups.”
Plans to keep people safe will likely include smaller groups with directional tours that move from one area to another with little cross-traffic. Knight said areas will be cleaned after each group leaves.
“We need to do everything to make them feel comfortable that we can do this and minimize risks,” Knight said. “We’re going to protect every individual. We want people to know we’ve thought this through really well to make them feel comfortable.”
How will Mississippians react?
But will they feel comfortable? Mississippians have watched the state and national death tolls from coronavirus rise for months. Will they be willing to assemble in large groups before the pandemic is far behind us? Jamie Grissom of Brandon said yes.
“I would 100% feel comfortable being around a lot of people,” Grissom said. “I don’t know a single sick person in Mississippi.
“The majority of the Mississippi residents I know and here in Rankin County, they’re not worried about it. We can’t live in a ‘what if’ world.”
Jimmy Carman of Florence feels differently. Due to his advanced years and health conditions, he said coronavirus is a threat.
“At a place like Thalia Mara, I would not feel comfortable even if they are six feet apart,” Carman said. “You’re still walking by people coming and going.
“If someone is sick they’re going to pass it on to you or somebody else. That would be a nightmare.”
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What to expect
- Large venues’ plans are on hold for concerts in the immediate future
- Booking acts for reduced capacity shows in smaller venues a challenge, crowds affect profit margin
- Museums that open will be handling smaller groups and sanitizing frequently.
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