SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Rachel Johnson along with her friend, Kathy Cargill, pulled up some lawn chairs near the side of the Pump House Music Works stone building on Kingstown Road.
Yes, the bar was nearby, but that wasn’t the only reason they were a considerable distance from the crowd gathering for an afternoon concert with Mystic Dead, bringing alive good ol’ Grateful Dead music, and opening for Jabbawaukee out of Providence.
They wanted some safe social distancing, which Pump House owner Dan Collins was insisting everyone follow to be sure the Pump House remained a cool spot and didn’t become a hot spot for the coronavirus.
Just to make sure that people followed the example set by Johnson and Cargill, Collins has a social distance observer – and nudger if people got too close – in older brother Abel Collins, who is also South Kingstown Town Council president.
“I haven’t see a concert since last summer and I’m ready to get out,” said Johnson, who like others, knows the value of social distancing, had her mask nearby and was ready to enjoy the music. She comes to Narragansett each weekend from Worcester and didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity.
Cargill, new to Wakefield, put is more directly: “It’s like Christmas Eve, New Year’s Day and any big holiday. It’s time to get out again.”
The coronavirus has stopped indoor concerts and other artistic performances or gatherings, but as states have loosened some restrictions people are starting to gather again, but this time outdoors. It’s the same fun, they say, but done just a different way.
“This is such a relief. This is something I need,” said Mark Dempsey, of South Kingstown, about simply hearing – with or without a mask – live music. Social distancing didn’t matter to him or others because the music wasn’t confined by the distance requirements.
As the sound of the guitars floated loudly and liberally through the appropriately distanced groups of people on the lawn, they smiled, tapped their feet, joked with each other and seemed content.
People gathered mostly around picnic tables widely separated from each other and even markers were on the lawn as reminders about the distance to keep away from each other.
“This is our church – live music,” said Khrystal Coish who drove from Groton with friends and fiancé Jason Joyner to see Mystic Dead, which they plan to have play at their wedding.
Whether patrons or performers, everyone at this event had a mask in hand, though nearly all took them off when separated from others and just in their groups.
A few miles away, in the center of Wakefield, the Contemporary Theater Company has also just recently re-opened to only outdoor patio performances with limited numbers of people so that social distancing and safety is maintained.
“I went to a couple of improv performances at CTC on the patio. It was great to see my friends taking chances, swinging for the fences to entertain us,” said Terry Simpson, president of the theater company’s Board of Directors.
“Live performance is rarely perfect, but always great to experience. We were socially distanced and mask protected, but even still it was well worth seeing and doing,” said Simpson, who also takes in outdoor jazz music at the CTC.
“Sitting on the patio at CTC, feeling the summer breeze coming off the Saugatucket, listening to live jazz, sipping a cold Pilsner thru my mask and all my worries disappear for a couple of hours on a Monday night,” he said.
Son Christopher J. Simpson, who founded the theater, said, he’s happy some form of entertainment can resume.
“It’s wonderful having the space active again and being utilized. Out of necessity it is much less social and free than it used to be, but that is both temporary and to be expected,” he said.
“Mostly it is just wonderful to see old friends, to share in the joy of being outside and together, and to keep the spark of live performance alive!” Simpson added.
That is a sentiment echoed by long-time CTC troupe member Christine Cauchon, noting, “We’re back performing a fully improvised musical, outside, with masks on.”
“While there are significant obstacles (such as) competing against outside noise, muffled sound in the masks, breathing, singing, and running around in masks in 80-plus degree heat, it feels truly amazing to be back onstage with my friends,” she said.
“I did little-to-no artistic work online during the lockdown because I believed it wouldn’t give me the same feelings of joy and satisfaction as performing together in person,” Cauchon said.
“Being able to see my scene partner’s smiling eyes along with having an in-person live audience makes the restrictions for performing right now well worth it to me.” she added.