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Musicians, venues still face pandemic challenges
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Musicians, venues still face pandemic challenges

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The past year has been tough for the music industry, from venues to those used to performing live or touring around the country.

Even a popular act like The Oak Ridge Boys, which averages 150 days on the road, has felt the pressure of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was about this time last year we played our last date in Myrtle Beach,” Richard Sterban, the quartet’s bass singer, said in an interview with the Dothan Eagle. “We had no idea on the way home that when we got home and parked the bus that it going to stay parked for a long time, but it did. All of a sudden our dates started canceling.”

And it’s not just the performers themselves who are impacted, Sterban said. For a group like The Oak Ridge Boys, there’s a much larger group of people employed for a tour – road crew, band members and others who depend on touring and performing to make a living. For March, the band only has a few performances scheduled.

“April is pretty slim; May is pretty slim,” Sterban said. “If we can make it to June, our schedule picks up and if nothing else cancels for the rest of the year, I think we’ll be pretty good.”

The Oak Ridge Boys will perform Sunday, March 28, at 3 p.m. during the three-day 60th Annual Rattlesnake Rodeo in Opp. Country singer and Geneva County native Shane Owens will perform at 1 p.m. Sterban said the group, best known for country hits like “Elvira,” “Bobbie Sue,” and “Fancy Free,”

“Walking on stage and singing – it’s really what we love doing,” Sterban said. “Taking our music live to our fans and to our audiences that is what we live for.”

What concerts The Oak Ridge Boys have done, including Christmas shows at Opryland, have adhered to social distancing guidelines.

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Sterban said the time off from touring did give the group time to get in the studio and record a new album, “Front Porch Singing,” set for release in June – a mix of old songs, gospel, bluegrass and new country tunes.

“It’s like down-home kind of stuff; like guys gathering on a front porch just singing and harmonizing,” Sterban said.

The Rattlesnake Rodeo, set for March 26-28, isn’t the only event gearing back up after a year of canceled events and postponed shows.

Organizers of the Southeast Alabama Highland Games, canceled for 2020 in the early weeks after the virus first appeared in Alabama, has announced plans to hold a 2021 event on Sept. 18 and at Culpepper Park in Daleville rather than at the Houston County Farm Center in Dothan where it has been held in the past.

And, the National Peanut Festival plans to host Fireworks at the Fairgrounds on July 3 as well as the festival itself Nov. 5-14. The fairgrounds closed for events for much of 2020 and the Peanut Festival was canceled due to the pandemic. The fairgrounds are also back open as a venue. Reithoffer Shows, the longtime fair operator at the Peanut Festival, is hold a Spring Fling and Casting Crowns will be in concert at the fairgrounds on April 12.

Smaller venues like The Plant are also hosting events, including John Popper with Whiskey Bent on April 6.

The Dothan Civic Center and Opera House is also rescheduling shows that were supposed to be held in 2020 and scheduling new performances. Country singer Travis Tritt will perform an acoustic concert at the Civic Center on June 11. Gene Watson is performing Sept. 2, and Zach Williams – who has been rescheduled four times during the pandemic – will now be performing Oct. 24.

But it’s a balancing act between life returning to normal and keeping the public safe, Dothan Performing Arts Director Marshall Perry said. It has required staff to constantly sanitize seating and surfaces during events such as graduations or even performances by local art groups. Perry said staff tried to do their work as discreetly as possible around the public so as not to create unnecessary fear around touching a door knob or sitting in seats.

The Civic Center staff is also responsible for cleaning city offices located within the Dothan Civic Center when an employee tested positive for COVID-19. Luckily, he said, none of his staff tested positive during the past year.

“We did everything we could that we could think of to try and make things as safe as possible for everyone,” Perry said.

Peggy Ussery is a Dothan Eagle staff writer and can be reached at aussery@dothaneagle.com or 334-712-7963. Support her work and that of other Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.

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