With many Santa Cruz County venues trying to crack the code for live music’s Covid-era return, Felton Music Hall has announced it will be trying something radical this summer: pods.
“Sometimes when you’re forced to make changes, great things come about,” says Cory Atkinson, who owns Felton Music Hall along with Thomas Cussins. The venue is teaming up with Felton’s Roaring Camp for a series of outdoor concerts this summer.
“Everyone in the music industry understands where we’re at right now, and to have this project at Roaring Camp is amazing,” says Atkinson. “It took this to make us ask, ‘Why aren’t we working together?’”
“And we’ve figured out a way to do it incredibly safely,” says Cussins, who is also the founder of music promotion company Ineffable Music Group, which he started while attending UCSC in 2006.
Here’s how it will work: Attendees can rent a two-, four- or six-person pod from the 150 that will be set up at the camp, each socially distanced from one another. Beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, will be preordered with ticket purchase, and a cooler will be waiting inside the pod upon arrival. Food will be available through Roaring Camp, and patrons can place orders for pod service via text messages throughout the night. Tickets range from $39 to $98, and promoters suggest purchasing online parking at the venue for $20.
Masks will be required when outside of the pods, and plenty of hand sanitizer will be on hand.
The series kicks off on March 22 with jam band veteran headliners Dark Star Orchestra, who will play a three-night stint May 7-9. Almost a dozen other acts have already been booked, including Dawes, the Expendables, the Brothers Comatose, Jackie Greene and more. The full lineup will be announced March 29.
The idea sprouted from Ineffable’s head talent buyer, Casey Smith. He says Roaring Camp was already on a list of locations the promoters might work with even before Covid, but the timing was right as music fans grew increasingly stir crazy over a year without live music, and touring musicians looked for a way to return to their livelihood.
“Bands were incredibly hungry to work,” says Smith, who has been busy booking shows. “So once the phone started constantly ringing from agents, that’s when we started thinking of places.”
He says “a light bulb went off” in his head when he heard Roaring Camp had reopened train tours to the public. Smith already knew about pod shows in other states and thought the two had what he calls “perfect synergy.” He pitched the idea to Cussins and Atkinson, who enthusiastically agreed.
Felton Music Hall opened in June 2019, only nine months before the pandemic hit. During a year that devastated venues, it managed to survive through adaptation, community help and ingenuity.
One example is their membership program: Patrons pay $5, $10 or $89 a month, each with different bundles of benefits ranging from early concert access to getting friends on guest lists. Owners say the community has fully supported them, with many paying the top-tier price even during the year of blacked out stages—although live music did briefly return last June.
They’ve also kept staff employed via their kitchen, serving to-go orders every Thursday through Sunday. Their Taco Thursdays and Fried Chicken Fridays are not only local favorites, but owner favorites as well.
“I was eating too much,” Cussins says about the fried chicken. “It’s so good.”
Now that Santa Cruz County is back in the red tier, Felton Music Hall is again hosting early evening, indoor, limited-capacity dinner-and-a-show services with local music acts, including Alex Lucero, the Acid Grass Boys and Jake Nielsen’s Triple Threat.
“I think everyone’s feeling pretty confident, and people can start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Smith says, adding he’s hoping to see limited-capacity concerts at the venue happen by the end of the year. “Once we have a large percentage of the population vaccinated, we’ll be there.”
For more information, go to feltonmusichall.com.