The socially distanced fans in the sparse crowds at Hadlock Field this spring could soon have lots of company. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The state’s decision to lift outdoor capacity limits and distancing requirements on May 24 has opened up options for entertainment in Maine this summer, prompting the Portland Sea Dogs to increase to full capacity in June and outdoor concert venues to start booking shows for August.

After Gov. Janet Mills’ announcement Thursday lifting COVID-19 restrictions, Portland’s minor league baseball team quickly announced that it would allow fans to fill Hadlock Field to full capacity for games starting in June. Currently, the Sea Dogs allow only 28 percent capacity, 2,087 fans, at the ballpark.

“It’s good news, I think, for everyone,” said Geoff Iacuessa, the Sea Dogs’ president and general manager. “It’s another step in the right direction.”

At the same time, major concert venue operators said they started making arrangements for shows this summer.

“I’m more than excited about the governor’s announcement today and very ready to move forward with concerts,” said Lauren Wayne. The general manager of Portland’s State Theatre, Wayne also books outdoor shows with national acts at Thompson’s Point in Portland.

“We’ll be open and ready to go. We’re happy. I’m spending the rest of the day talking to agents and managers all over the country,” said Alex Gray, whose Waterfront Concerts organizes large outdoor shows with national acts at the Maine Savings Pavilion at Rock Row in Westbrook and Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor.

The new protocols from the Mills administration lift all capacity limits for indoor and outdoor venues, and all requirements for physical distancing outdoors. But physical distancing is still required in “settings where people are eating and drinking” and would be removing masks, like indoor restaurants and bars.

Therefore the impact of Mills’ announcement seemed less clear on other entertainment and leisure businesses where food and drink is served, including indoor music venues.

Ken Bell, owner of the Portland House of Music, an indoor venue, called Thursday’s announcement “a big step” toward his 292-capacity space reopening for concerts. He was planning to reopen in August, following whatever state rules would be in place at that time. He’s hopeful that he’ll be able to open at full capacity in August and already has local and national acts booked.

Bell also was encouraged by Thursday’s news that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is saying vaccinated people now may go most places, indoor or outdoor, without a mask. When asked if he’d consider requiring his patrons to show proof of vaccination, Bell said he’d follow whatever guidance the state and U.S. CDC offer.

Fans cheer for Thundercat on opening night at Maine Savings Pavilion at Rock Row in May 2019. After a lost 2020, the venue in Westbrook is planning to host shows again this year. “We’ll be open and ready to go,” said Alex Gray of Waterfront Concerts.  Jill Brady/Portland Press Herald

Iacuessa said the Sea Dogs have followed guidance from state and federal officials, as well as Major League Baseball, throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so going forward. So, masks will no longer be required while outside watching the game. But masks will continue to be required for entry into the ballpark and while indoors in the concourse and restrooms. Iacuessa said that although new guidelines from the federal CDC eased indoor requirements for wearing masks, the Sea Dogs will continue to follow the state protocol that calls for wearing masks indoors.

“We’ll take our cue from the state,” he said. “If they lift them, we will too.”

Most large music venues in Maine, indoor and outdoor, have been closed since March 2020. Unlike some businesses, concert promoters said they could not open at lower capacities, partly because travel restrictions stopped acts from touring. Concert promoters had been hoping and planning to reopen venues this summer and fall and some began booking shows before Thursday’s announcement. 

Wayne said the State Theatre would probably not reopen for concerts until late August, but that outdoor shows at Thompson’s Point would be starting in early August and acts will be announced in the next few weeks. One show at Thompson’s Point already scheduled is Wilco and Sleater-Kinney on Aug. 25.

Gray did not know when his company would start hosting indoor concerts, but he does have several outdoor shows scheduled, including Brothers Osborne at the Maine Savings Pavilion July 31 and Luke Bryan at Darling’s Waterfont Pavilion Aug. 5. Gray stressed that holding those shows still depends on a lot of factors, including whether bands can put together a tour that makes coming to Maine possible.

“Now that we have guidance we can plot a course forward and try to make these shows happen,” Gray said. “But we may not be successful on multiple fronts.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe contributed to this report.


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