Singer and songwriter Don Campbell, one of Maine’s most popular touring acts, plans to play at Jonathan’s in Ogunquit in June, accompanied by a plastic performance shield. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Eager to return to the performance stage, singer and songwriter Don Campbell has constructed what he is calling a “performer’s courtesy shield” made from clear plastic glass that will separate him from the audience and, he hopes, offer safety and comfort to his fans who come to hear him perform.

He’ll try it out for the first time at Jonathan’s in Ogunquit on June 13, nearly three months to the day since his last gig. Jonathan’s, a restaurant that can seat about 240 people in the live-performance space, will sell a maximum of 50 tickets at $30 each to Campbell’s show. If the show sells out, a second show will be added. Restaurants in York County should be able to begin accommodating up to 50 people at a time beginning June 1, when the second phase of Maine’s planned reopening of the economy is expected to begin.

“It’s an added courtesy to people sitting there listening,” Campbell, one of Maine’s most popular touring musicians, said of the shield. “It’s an effort to keep any droplets from me in my own zone. It reaches from about a foot over my head to my waistline and creates a barrier, but it’s crystal clear. I will get into the habit of using it and wiping it down until there’s a vaccine or a way I won’t need to use it anymore.”

Recent reports suggest singers infected with COVID-19 could spread the virus as much as 16 feet when they project with their voice. The shield, which measures about 4-feet wide and 3-feet high and is framed with PVC, will provide a physical barrier between Campbell and his audience, he said. He will stand directly behind the shield when he sings, but it won’t interfere with the speakers, which will be located outside the shielded area.

In some ways, the shield is similar to the chicken wire that Texas roadhouses sometimes put up to protect the band from beer bottles hurled by unruly audience members.

The musician described his return to the stage as an experiment.

“We will see how people will feel about coming out. I am trying to do everything I can to add confidence to people,” he said. “We are in unfamiliar territory.”

Campbell demonstrates how it will look when he performs behind the shield he made to protect his audiences. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Campbell, 56, plays between 250 and 300 gigs a year, as a soloist, in a duo, trio and as part of a five- or six-piece band. He hasn’t tallied the economic toll of three months of lost gigs, but it’s several thousand dollars. He has lost dozens of shows since the shutdown, some with guarantees of $300 and others for which he and the band would have earned up to $4,000.

Campbell is also talking to other restaurants in the area about staging parking lot concerts on a flatbed, with the audience seated in their cars. He hasn’t booked anything yet, but he’s had conversations about prospective gigs.

He’s itching to get back out there. Campbell has built two shields for use with different configurations of musicians. Since he posted a photo of the shield on Facebook over the weekend, Campbell said he was inundated with requests for specs from other musicians, as well as music presenters.

Among those most interested in Campbell’s innovation was Mike Williams, a manager at the Royal Anchor Resort in Old Orchard Beach, where Campbell and the band perform regularly on summer Sundays at an outdoor tiki bar near the ocean. Williams said he was going to construct a similar system to what Campbell devised to accommodate Campbell’s band and other musicians. The shield will be 8- or 10-feet wide, he said, and will be constructed to withstand ocean breezes.

He hopes to start presenting concerts by Campbell and his band in July, when bars in York County are expected to be allowed to open. “It will be a trial-and-error type of thing, but it’s definitely doable,” Williams said. “Don is our highlight act. He played for us last year 15 or 16 times total, and he brings in the big crowd. We are looking at 250-plus people in our space who come out to listen to Don.”

At least to begin the summer, that crowd will be restricted to 50 people. To limit the crowd, the Royal Anchor Resort is considering admitting people into the bar in shifts with each set of music, or asking them to reserve a time slot to hear the band. But Williams said the biggest challenge to presenting live music will be keeping enthusiastic fans away from the stage and interacting directly with the band. “Don is the master. He lightens up the whole beach,” Williams said. “People want to dance and grab the mike and sing. Our stage is right on the floor with the audience, and people can go right up and say hi. We will have to limit that as much as we can. We will put up ropes to keep folks from going directly up to Don.”

That will be less of an issue at Jonathan’s, which will arrange tables at least 6 feet apart and set them back from the stage, said owner Jonathan West. “It kind of reminds me of 1960s Las Vegas in terms of how it looks and feels – small, intimate and comfortable,” he said.

He said he was at ease with the precautions that Campbell and the restaurant are making to help ensure the safety of customers, and is eager to open for the season on June 4. Jonathan’s is hosting performances by comedian Bob Marley in early June, as well as psychic medium Vickie Monroe later in the month. They, like Campbell, are Mainers and not bound by the travel restrictions that apply to out-of-state visitors. West said he does not expect Marley or Monroe will use a protective shield, nor does he think they will need one, because they won’t be singing.

Jonathan’s will implement a table-based point-of-sale system without paper, so people can pay without handing over a credit card, and patrons will be asked to use different doors for entering and exiting. Employees will be masked, he said. “I am very comfortable (with) everything we are doing to meet sensible sanitation guidelines. My whole staff, everyone is trained in sanitation,” he said. “The biggest issue is, half my guests I hug on the way in. I probably won’t do that.”

Campbell said he didn’t think the shield would negatively impact his interaction with the audience. If anything, he hopes it will make members of his audience feel more comfortable. He also said he would sing through a mask if that made the audience feel more at ease. “I would have no problem singing through a mask if I had to. I would do whatever I have to do,” he said, adding that he suspects members of his band also would wear masks.

“I just expect it’s going to be a different atmosphere. I am used to playing with tons of people, elbow to elbow in a room,” he said. “I have an old saying: Evolve or dissolve. You just have to roll with it and do what you can do to morph into it and change with it.”

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