Excessive demand for tickets to reside leisure venues, leaves some patrons out of luck

Ricky Askey, who lives in Grandview Heights, required serious planning to attend live music concerts amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m probably more on Facebook than I should, and I see these events pop up and get involved as soon as I see them,” said Askey, 37. “Within a few days, I’d be saying these shows.” are sold out. “

If Askey hadn’t bought tickets to the Trippin ‘Zoo at Natalie’s Music Hall & Kitchen or the High Definitions and Caroline Louise in Ace of Cups, he probably would have missed it altogether – as he did when he thought about checking it out Worn flints at Ace of Cups, but swayed.

“I hesitated,” said Askey. “Then, literally, three days later, I couldn’t get tickets.”

Given the pandemic-era capacity constraints that limited the number of attendees at indoor entertainment venues – restrictions that won’t officially end until early next month – the Askey experience is far from unusual: there are more eager fans than tickets.

“More and more people are feeling like they’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Charlie Jackson, co-owner of Natalie’s Music Hall & Kitchen in Grandview Heights and Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza and Live Music in Worthington (both) again late last summer open for live music, closed later in fall and reopened earlier this year).

A potential trailblazer came Wednesday when Governor Mike DeWine announced that government health contracts, including those with limited audience capacity in theaters, concert halls and clubs, would be lifted on June 2.

However, many venues don’t plan to return to full capacity immediately.

Both of Natalie’s locations were operating at half their normal capacity with tables about two meters apart (equivalent to about 60 people in Grandview Heights and 40 in Worthington).

With the governor’s announcement, Jackson said he expected to move the tables closer and eventually reintroduce individual seating in the bar, but all changes will be gradual.

“Our game plan will be to watch the (coronavirus) numbers between now and early June,” Jackson said. “I see how we get involved.”

The Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA), which runs the Ohio Theater, Southern Theater, Palace Theater and other venues, welcomed the end of health care contracts but made no commitment in a statement Thursday on when it would increase its capacity Venues – even after government restrictions are over.

This means that the current shortage of tickets may continue for some time.

“For the most part, the bands we book there is a demand for them,” Jackson said. “And because it has so little capacity, we usually sell it out before the show.”

The situation is similar with Ace of Cups, which reopened its doors in March and offers up to 60 seats at tables one meter apart. According to owner Conor Stratton, most shows sell out within a week of being announced.

“Sometimes it can take a little longer based mostly on whether the band is raising awareness or not,” said Stratton, unwilling to announce changes to capacity. “But one way or another, they’re pretty much all sold out.”

To deal with the situation, some venues are adding additional performances.

Last month when the Hoodoo Soul Band sold out an evening show at Natalie’s in Grandview Heights, Jackson spontaneously added a late afternoon show.

“We definitely want as many customers as we can safely accommodate, and we want to be sensitive to people who are genuinely disappointed,” he said.

Columbus Funny Bone comedy club has allowed less than half of its 385-seat capacity since opening in August and plans to slowly add more capacity after the health orders are lifted. Business has been strong so far.

“We sell out at least a week in advance,” said Blake Blessinger, who oversees the Funny Bone clubs in the Midwest, including the Columbus Club.

Typically, when a particular show is pre-sold 80% to 85% per week, additional shows are added.

“The faster the shows sell, the faster we can add a show (and) more opportunity for the community to come out, see it, support it,” said Blessinger.

Of course, other shows can also be sold out: At Natalie in Grandview Heights, the Peter Mayer Group’s recent back-to-back performances, hosted by the lead guitarist of the Coral Reefer Band by Jimmy Buffet, were both sold out.

Classical music concerts, which may attract older people than other genres, have also been constantly or near-busy.

Last September, the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra was among the first performing arts organizations in the region to return to live performances, from outdoor and drive-up performances to indoor relocation.

“I think a lot of that summer was attributed to being one of the first to go live again after a six-month hiatus,” said CEO Janet Chen, but even as the orchestra faced greater competition for audience attention , The most recent concerts at The Fives with around 100 seats are sold out or come close to that.

Chen notes that there are usually few no-shows at concert time, an indication of the enthusiasm of the audience.

“Almost everyone who bought a ticket shows up,” said Chen. “In a time when there is no pandemic, you sell a certain number of tickets and a handful of people don’t show up,” said Chen. “I notice that not only are tickets being sold quickly during this time, but the people who bought the tickets are also coming.”

The directors of the Columbus Symphony, which this spring allowed around 230 people to perform at the Ohio Theater due to both capacity constraints and ongoing renovations, paint a similar picture.

“We sell it out pretty regularly now,” said managing director Denise Rehg, adding that both newcomers and long-term customers have recently been in the audience.

“Our regulars show up and they are a group that got vaccinated early,” said Rehg.

Opera Columbus reports that its latest production of Don Giovanni, which was performed at COSI in late April and early May to 150 viewers per performance, was also sold out.

For those looking to dip their toes back into the central Ohio arts scene, hope is not lost.

Sound engineer Sam Beaumier gives his thumbs up to recently starting a Peter Mayer Group show at Natalie's in Grandview Heights.

Andy Basista, a Columbus resident who is a regular at Natalie, Ace of Cups, and the Rambling House, hasn’t missed too many shows since the venues reopened. When he sees an announcement for an action he’s interested in, he immediately orders tickets.

“I’ve always been good at getting in there quickly,” said Basista, 57. “They fill up pretty quickly, but I always manage to beat them.”

In the end, this is the advice of the pros: keep an eye on the websites or social media channels of your favorite venues or performers, and if you like a show, don’t hesitate to buy it.

“Every time we get confirmed action, we put it on the website,” said Blessinger, who encourages prospects to check back frequently to see when tickets go on sale. “Buy these tickets ASAP as we sell out a lot in advance.”

In the case of Columbus Funny Bone, when a show is advertised on social media, it’s almost too late to pick up tickets, Blessinger said.

At Natalie, Jackson will not hold unoccupied tables for more than 15 minutes after a concert has started. Jackson therefore suggests that those who haven’t received tickets just show up, have a drink or eat, and hope that a table will become available.

“Let us know, ‘Hey, I’m here. If something opens up, can you let me know? Asked Jackson. “We’re trying to accommodate everyone.”

While government-mandated capacity restrictions will soon be a thing of the past, the transition to full capacity could be difficult for some venues.

For example, Columbus Funny Bone has fewer employees than before due to the downsizing – not enough to accommodate changes that result in greater capacity or less strict social distancing.

“Staffing will be a big problem across the hospitality industry,” said Blessinger. “With a snap of your finger (officials might say), ‘Hey, you don’t need those six feet anymore – you only need three.’ Well, that will add another 75 people. With those 75 people, I need four more servers. “

Headache and inconvenience aside, many concert-goers in central Ohio are just happy to get out – even if a sold-out show doesn’t quite mean the same thing as it does in a pre-COVID world.

“We’re dying for it,” said Askey. “The live music experience for those who appreciate it is something that has nothing else to do with it.”

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