Lexi James performs as part of the 2016 Johnson Hall Summer Waterfront Concert Series on July 1, 2016, in Gardiner’s Waterfront Park. The free concert series has been canceled for the summer due to the coronavirus pandemic. Kennebec Journal file photo by Joe Phelan

Johnson Hall’s annual summer concert series, which draws up to 4,000 people to Gardiner’s Waterfront Park for live music on Fridays, has been canceled for 2020.

“We are very sad that we will not be able to do that,” Mike Miclon, Johnson Hall’s executive artistic director, said on a video posted on Facebook Thursday. “But that seems to be the way things are going all over the state.”

Instead, every two weeks, starting June 6 and running at least through October, Johnson Hall will host regularly scheduled livestreamed events from its Studio Theater.

On the first Saturday of the month, Miclon will present his Early Evening Show, his spoof of late-night talk shows. The second show of the month will feature a singer/songwriter or a small band. Miclon said he’s in the process of talking to musicians now.

As restrictions on public gatherings are lifted, Miclon said, he’ll be able to schedule comedy, improv and variety shows for small live audiences. They will also be livestreamed.

“We are going to come back incrementally,” he said. “We’re going to open slowly. There will be no public in here for shows for the foreseeable future. But, once they say we can, we’re going to start inviting you back in.”

This move has been in the works since the end of March, when Miclon hosted a livestream of his Early Evening Show at Johnson Hall, featuring acts performed remotely by Early Show regulars and performances by his sons Shane and Collin in the theater.

Johnson Hall, on April 16 in downtown Gardiner. There will be no free summer concert series this summer, but the theater has announced plans for regularly scheduled livestream shows. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

When the global coronavirus pandemic was declared in mid-March, schools, government offices and non-essential businesses were closed down across Maine and large public gatherings were banned to slow the spread of the highly contagious virus that causes the serious and potentially deadly respiratory disease COVID-19.

At that point, Miclon canceled the remaining shows in the 2019-20 season, and he started thinking ahead to the summer concert series, and whether any of it might happen.

Those decisions were also being considered by other summer performing arts organizations like the Theater at Monmouth and the Maine State Music Theater in Brunswick. Like Johnson Hall, they have since canceled their summer performances.

Miclon and his board of directors also had been considering putting on other ticketed livestreamed events at Johnson Hall, but the performing arts center was not considered an essential business allowed to operate per order of Gov. Janet Mills.

Miclon said he put a request for an exemption to the state to be allowed to put on shows — none of which would violate the ban on gatherings of more than 10 or distancing requirements — three weeks ago Thursday with the help of state Rep. Thom Harnett.

Harnett, who represents Gardiner and Farmingdale, said the request went to the state Department of Economic and Community Development for review.

In an email to the DECD, Harnett noted Johnson Hall only wanted to host the shows with the state’s approval.

“They think, as do I, that they can do this while not compromising public health in the least,” Hartnett wrote.

Miclon said he received a response Thursday.

“They made me wait long enough that they weren’t doing the essential business thing anymore,” Miclon said. “We never got an official designation, but they said we’re OK as long as we follow the guidelines.”

Tickets for these performances will be available online at Johnson Hall’s website, johnsonhall.org.

“We’re going to continue doing what we do because we love to do it,” Miclon said in the video. “Our job has always been to bring you the best in performing arts that we can possibly do, and now we’re going to do it directly to your house. Slowly but surely we’ll have you guys come back and we’re so looking forward to it.”

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