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Summer concerts on hold … except Austintown

In a normal year, concertgoers sitting in lawn chairs or on blankets and watching live music in a local park is a familiar sight in the Mahoning Valley.

There’s nothing normal about 2020, but Austintown Township Park offered a glimpse of the familiar on Tuesday by starting its Summer Concerts in the Park series. Close to 200 people came out to see the acoustic duo Sunshine Riders, the first of a dozen concerts planned through Aug. 18.

Austintown is the only one opening on schedule as other communities take a wait-and-see approach on the outdoor gatherings.

Parks Supervisor Todd Shaffer said he decided to go forward because they believed they could present the concert within the guidelines issued by the state in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The field is very large,” he said the day before the concert. “It will be quite easy for everyone to social distance in front of the bandshell … At this point, people need something to do, and music is a good way to do that. You can bring your lawn chair, stay away from everyone else and listen to the music.”

Few people were wearing masks outdoors, but those in attendance sat with those they came with and maintained plenty of space away from the other concertgoers. Steve Vuich and Jim Behmer of Sunshine Riders reminded the audience every few songs about the protocols in place.

“Don’t come up here and get a mosh pit going,” Behmer joked, and Vuich sang a bit of an original song called “Six Feet Away.”

Linda Glunt of Austintown said she was glad the concert series was back.

“If I stayed home and did nothing, I’d go crazy,” Glunt said.

“I just wish we could dance,” her friend, Janice Pitzer, added.

Shaffer talked with all of the acts who were booked for the summer to make sure they felt comfortable playing, and the performers will practice social distancing on stage. One change they made to accommodate the guidelines is the June 30 concert will feature an 8-to-12-member ensemble from the Canfield Community Concert Band instead of the full band.

Canfield planned on moving forward with its concert series, which was supposed to start Monday on the village green with J.D. Eicher, but the village decided earlier this week to postpone its June schedule.

Patricia Bernat, clerk of council, said they were advised by their attorney that concerts were not covered by the state guideline that allows up to 300 people in a banquet hall for a reception.

“We hope that maybe in July we can have the rest of the series,” she said.

While some groups have scrapped their summer concerts entirely — Mill Creek MetroParks, Niles McKinley Memorial Library, Kinsman Library and Vienna — others have the same hopes that Canfield does.

The W.D. Packard Band announced this week it was canceling at least its first three outdoor shows, including the popular Fourth of July concert with fireworks. Three other full band concerts as well as shows by the Big Band Sound of Packard and the Packard Dixieland Band remain on the schedule, and Executive Director Thomas Groth said there’s a possibility the fireworks concert could be rescheduled if restrictions are lifted and it can be done safely for the band and the audience.

Boardman Park and Buhl Farm Park in Hermitage, Pa., also canceled June events but have not ruled out July and August concert.

McDonald doesn’t start its concert series until July 9 and hasn’t postponed anything yet, and a final decision could be made at the village council meeting later this month.

Amy Cunningham, secretary of Mayor Glen M. Puckett, said, “Right now everything is on hold, but we’re cautiously moving forward. We’re hoping to be able to do it, but we’re not sure it will be in the cards.”

Austintown summer concerts in the park

Concerts take place at Township Park, 6000 Kirk Road, Austintown, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays.

Tuesday — Train Wreck (modern country)

June 16 — The Vegas Band (top 40)

June 23 — Take Solo (bluegrass)

June 30 — Ensemble from the Canfield Community Concert Band

July 7 — Erie Heights Brass Ensemble

July 14 — Wrangler Band (modern country / classic rock)

July 21 — Leanne Binder (classic rock / R&B)

July 28 — Youngstown Area Community Concert Band

Aug. 4 — Sound Bite (classic rock)

Aug. 11 — Jim Frank Combo (big band / polka)

Aug. 18 — Blue Siren (classic rock / modern country)

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