“Never a cover, not even a roof…” This clever saying was coined by regular Lucca Beer Garden musician and Benicia friend, Brian Hough. The quip was often attached to Lucca media notices promoting its music lineup, referring to the outdoor music venue with open admission and no cover charge since opening in 2016.

Imagine the nuance behind the decision to open the Lucca Beer Garden 2021 music season in March with required seat assignments and a $5 reservation fee. Referring to this as the “New Normal,” Covid-19 restrictions required space and capacity limitations. Great consideration went into an operation that could still be welcoming, safe and viable after over a year of closure and no music. The overwhelming popularity of Lucca Bar and Grill’s outdoor annex needed considered focus. The possibility that throngs of returning happy revelers could overflow the premises and hamper Lucca’s requirement to reduce and comply with County and State regulations to reopen were problematic.

With fans, musicians, employees and business operators all being anxious to get back to work and the tonic of music, something resembling “normal” needed creation. Hard decisions to move heavy redwood picnic tables from upper level to lower levels paid off with a great socially distanced space. Café tables were shuffled continuously until an alignment allowing appropriate adherence to guidelines was achieved throughout the space’s various levels. The greatest creation of all was gathering a new staff – along with the return of some stalwart regulars. With long dark periods over last summer and winter, staff attrition was an issue. A revamped kitchen staff and menu and a whole month of music events in the books see Lucca’s operating as well as ever. Outside. In the meantime, Lucca Bar and Grill’s dining room remains dormant, awaiting pandemic relief and a and a County-approved indoor dining capacity that would make it profitable to open.

Did someone mention music? Before a single note could be played, all the considerations above needed to be addressed and the music needed to be scaled to the level of Covid-19 compliance. Enjoying an established balance of “regular” bands and new talent, we’ve built our schedule around those performers that could readily adjust to playing as duos. Building our initial repertoire around smaller acts keeps the space allowed by Covid requirements in compliance for the stage and musicians. At a certain point, the music schedule will expand to full bands once Solano County makes its way through changing tiers and restrictions go away. As of publication, there are still uncertainties about what Solano County’s tier status could be.

Here are some observations from within our immediate music region – I like to envision Southern Solano County and Northern Contra Costa County (SoSoCo/NoCoCo?) as a cohesive music appellation sharing fans, talent and venues:

The Rellik “Retreat” was created downtown as the City of Benicia enabled temporary dwellings for restaurants to accommodate expanded outdoor business. The establishment of these allowances enabled outdoor performance spaces and have directly helped the Rellik Tavern to survive the pandemic. These more modest music offerings and reduced occupancy have engendered a great appreciation for the talent and enhanced engagement between bands and the audience. “The new atmosphere, and live music’s inclusion have been a ‘release,’” according to Rellik Tavern Proprietor, Deb Rollans.

Don Bassey – Band Leader  / Music Producer and Lucca Beer Garden mainstay: As a working musician, I’ve dearly missed performing for a live audience, being with my musical partners and taking in a live show from time to time. Of course, all of our bank accounts have taken a hit. I expect that if people are mindful of the guidelines we’re asked to follow, by summer we may be able to enjoy more and more live music in less restrictive settings.

Marilyn Carver – Marilyn’s Weekly Calendar: Now that music is starting up, everybody’s excited. Fans are so happy to have live music back that they’re very generous about tipping. Everybody’s really happy to see each other again – bands and audiences alike. I’m hoping people continue to be cautious. See Marilyn’s music event listings at https://www.facebook.com/groups/438516136339459/

Chris ‘CB’ Bryant of GarageLand Rodeo: Getting back in on the resurgent music scene full tilt, Chris Bryant, front man for Martinez-based band GarageLand Rodeo states, “now that we’re back to full band rehearsal – all band members are vaccinated or in process – we still wear masks, run air filtration, wipe surfaces and mics, etc, in the studio.”

CB goes on to say “we are starting to do live performances – distancing ourselves from audiences and requesting that folks remain seated and in their social groups as much as possible.”

While staging and promoting shows they present, GarageLand Rodeo maintains social distance and wears masks on stage when they are not singing. They insist audiences maintain masks when not actively eating or drinking, and groups are asked to remain seated and not mix.

Tough as it may be, attendees need to be reminded that dancing is still not allowed under the current restrictions.

It’s time for live music. Bring your mask, keep your distance and save the dancing urge for when there’s more room to spread out. And don’t forget rule #1 – Let’s have a good time!