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Amid confusion over drive-in concerts, LPCA’s is canceled

State says drive-in shows are OK, but clarification comes too late for local show by ex-Rusted Root frontman

Michael Glabicki, then the frontman of the band Rusted Root, performs a free concert in Lake Placid’s Mid’s Park in July 2015, part of the Songs at the Lake series. (News photo — Lou Reuter)

LAKE PLACID — Following in the tire tracks of drive-in movies, drive-in concerts are shaping up to be a big trend of the summer of COVID-19. Now, however, one scheduled for Lake Placid next week has been canceled, allegedly because drive-in concerts are not allowed in New York state.

But that’s not actually true. After a period of confusion among state and local officials Tuesday afternoon, Kristin Devoe of Empire State Development, the main state agency handling reopening decisions, issued a statement saying drive-in concerts are allowed, as long as everyone stays in their vehicles.

“Concerts at drive in theaters are currently allowable as long as patrons remain in their vehicle during the performance except to use rest room facilities,” Devoe wrote in an email. “The venue must follow all guidelines in regards to cleaning and disinfecting and social distancing as per the NYS Department of Health.”

That clarification came too late for the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, which announced Tuesday that a drive-in concert it was staging featuring Uprooted — a band led by former Rusted Root frontman Michael Glabicki — has been called off for Saturday, Aug. 1 at the North Elba Show Grounds in Lake Placid.

But it’s good news for other drive-in concerts scheduled around the state. At some, the band will perform off site and be screened live, such as shows by country music star Garth Brooks and a combo show from Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani and Trace Adkins. Other shows would have the bands set up their gear and perform on site. Jam band moe. plans to play live two nights next week, July 31 and Aug. 1, at the Vernon Downs horse racetrack in Central New York; the second date was added after the first sold out in a few hours. Tickets range from $150 to $260 per car, with a maximum of four people per vehicle.

At each show, attendees can tune in their FM radios to hear the music broadcast live from the stage.

The LPCA said in a press release it was “saddened” to learn this week that drive-in concerts are no longer included in the state’s guidelines for Phase 4 reopening from the pandemic shutdown. LPCA Executive Director James Lemons said he was told that Monday night by a state Department of Health official. He added that the North Country Regional Control Room, which makes reopening decisions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, affirmed the decision Tuesday.

The DOH official who talked to Lemons is not allowed to speak to reporters, but the questions were passed around multiple state agencies Tuesday until eventually the answer came from ESD.

Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shaun Gillilland, R-Willsboro, a member of the Regional Control Room, said the governor has issued so many executive orders that it is sometimes hard to keep straight what is allowed and what isn’t.

Told Tuesday night that the state does allow drive-in concerts, Lemons laughed but said it’s too late to bring back the Uprooted show.

“Unfortunately for us it’s pretty much done,” he said. The band was informed Tuesday morning that the show had been canceled, and the LPCA is automatically processing refunds this week for everyone who bought tickets. Lemons said music artists’ schedules are complicated, and it isn’t fair to cancel on them and then try to bring them back.

Also, he said, the show was a financial risk, and it was looking like the LPCA might lose money on it. The nonprofit organization has already reallocated those funds to other projects, including two not-yet-announced events in September and October.

Tickets for Uprooted cost $55 per car. The LPCA had said chairs and picnics would be allowed within designated parking spaces, but ESD’s Devoe said that would violate the state requirement for everyone to stay in cars.

Lemons said he doesn’t want to point fingers.

“The trickiest part about this is we just want to serve our community,” the LPCA director said. If that can be done by putting on a concert, great, he said, but “if it’s better to serve our community by not having this event, that’s fine.”

The LPCA invites ticket holders donate the amount of their ticket to the local arts organization, and as a thank-you gesture will give the donor $5 off tickets to the next LPCA live music event. These donations should be made before noon Thursday by contacting Program Manager Lorraine Draper at lorraine@lakeplacidarts.org.

“With each event cancellation, the LPCA experiences a significant loss in expected revenue, which affects capacity for future programming,” the LPCA wrote in a press release. “Each generous contribution will help bring the next band to Lake Placid as soon as health guidelines allow.”