COVID-19 essentially wiped out most of the Valley’s entertainment and festivals for most of 2020. Now, with vaccines continuing to roll out and lower trends in new cases, a “cautious optimism” is emerging.
Sunbury officials have already announced plans to bring back Sunbury Celebration and River Festival in some form this year. Danville business leaders are pairing up Danville’s summer Heritage Festival with its annual Fall Arts and Crafts Festival the first weekend in September.
“The people with whom I’ve chatted recently have shared a cautious optimism and excitement about what the first six months of the year may bring,” Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau Executive Director Andrew J. Miller said. “Between the increased vaccines with the president’s goal for all to be vaccinated by the end of May plus the recent relaxed mitigation from Pennsylvania and the hopes more to come soon, people share hope and encouragement about what lies ahead.”
Sunbury City Administrator Derrick Backer said the city will slowly bring back its downtown events.
“The city is looking forward to getting back to the normal swing of things and to have the citizens come out and enjoy the festivals through the spring and summer and fall months,” he said. “Even though we aren’t quite there yet there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Movies on the River will return but times and dates are still to be determined. The popular Sandwich Stroll is also slated to return as well as Sunbury Celebration and River Festival which is already set for Aug. 13 and 14. Brews on Lake Augusta is set for Sept. 18.
“The increased possibility that this will happen sooner than later is almost palpable when talking with people,” Miller said. “Industry experts have stated that tourism will begin with residents venturing out to experience and support local businesses and events. And let’s be honest, after a full year of COVID-19 people are suffering from cabin fever and have a very strong desire to explore, discover and experience. Literally, everything old will be new again.”
Restrictions on crowd sizes, both indoor and outdoor, by Gov. Tom Wolf, limited most venues from hosting any sort of significant event.
That led to the cancellation of high-profile events like Fourth of July celebrations in Lewisburg and Mifflinburg, many Valley spring musicals and scheduled big shows at Hershey, Spyglass Ridge and the Bryce Jordan Center.
Earlier this month, Wolf eased restrictions on large gatherings and ended a requirement that out-of-state travelers get tested for COVID-19 or quarantine upon their return.
Revised maximum occupancy limits for indoor events now allow for 15 percent of maximum occupancy, regardless of venue size. Core public health measures such as face-covering (mask-wearing), social distancing, and hand hygiene still must be enforced. Maximum occupancy of 15 percent is permitted only if attendees and workers are able to comply with the 6-foot physical distancing requirement. Indoor crowds had been capped at 10 percent for gatherings of less than 2,000 people, with 5 percent for crowds between 2,001 and 10,000 people and indoor gatherings over 10,000 people had been banned.
In Shamokin, Councilwoman Jennifer Seidel said she is excited for the city to get back to normal with community events.
“We are very excited to partner with so many wonderful community groups this summer,” she said. “SABER (Shamokin Area Businesses for Economic Revitalization) has a full slate of events to promote Shamokin, including their Independence Day on Independence Street event which was canceled last year, due to the pandemic. It has been a tough year for many organizations, and the citizens of Shamokin. Hopefully, by bringing back these events, bigger and better than ever, we will be able to come together as a community and celebrate the great things happening in Shamokin.”
One of those will take place on March 27 with festivities on Arch Street between Market and 6th streets from 2 p.m. through 8 p.m.
Local food vendors with their regional specialties live music throughout the day and multiple fire pits and heaters will be placed around the event.
Events were missed
Miller said people in the Valley missed the events that were part of their community, neighborhood, downtown and annual to-do list.
“To have these begin to come back and enjoy not only makes us begin to feel that normal may be around the corner, but it makes us feel more alive and connected than we have in the past year,” he said.
Looking ahead Miller said the Valley should begin to see old events and even some new ones in 2021.
“We’re also expecting a lot of pop-up events to happen,” he said. “Those that are easy to create and manage. The ‘pop-up’ nature will reflect the increased desire for people to enjoy and celebrate.”
Some of the bigger events being held this summer will be at Spyglass Ridge Winery, where the likes of rock n’ roll bands, Styx, Creed, and Blues Traveler are set to hit the stage, after Valley entertainment fans missed out on the likes of The Steve Miller Band and comedian Jeff Dunham in 2020 when the state closed down.
“We are set to go and are hoping restrictions continue to go away,” Spyglass Ridge Winery owner Tom Webb said. “2020 was a tough year for all of us and I think people just want to get back out and see their friends and family and enjoy themselves.”
Valley resident Maria Diehl, 43, said she is looking forward to Music in the Park to return to various Valley areas.
“Those are nice because I can take my grandmother and sit outside and enjoy a summer night,” she said. “I think after not being able to do these types of things all year, these types of events will see much bigger crowds. The old saying is true, you only realize you will really miss something when you can’t have it.”
Lists of outside events are beginning to pop up on various municipality websites and Miller said many downtowns are starting to announce that plans are in the works and specific details will be announced.
“Things will be different but they are excited to bring back these popular summer events,” he said. “I think there is a ton of excited anticipation from downtowns, local musicians and locals who are more than ready to get back outside, enjoying fun, fellowship and the best in local live music. Now that we are a year into COVID, safety protocols and creative thinking are enabling these kinds of events to be planned safely plus with vaccines and a lower number of cases and deaths, there is hope in the light at the end of the tunnel. People can’t wait to get back to normal and music in the parks is an easier, safe, socially distanced and outdoor event to enjoy.”
Miller said even the arts and entertainment venues are also ramping up.
“They are figuring out how to open safely and adding performances to their schedules,” he said.
Miller said Milton has announced that May through October on each first Friday Music in the Park will happen in Lincoln Park. The Rudy Gelnett Summer Series has been starting to release more events as well as Mifflinburg which announced a Spring Flight Festival & Blues Party Saturday, May 22, at the VFW Carnival Grounds.