Ruth Eckerd Hall to host socially distanced concert next week

Greg Billings will play for a limited audience in the Clearwater venue’s new lobby.
Ruth Eckerd Hall, which remains closed due to coronavirus, is illuminated with blue lights on April 21, 2020.
Ruth Eckerd Hall, which remains closed due to coronavirus, is illuminated with blue lights on April 21, 2020. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jun. 3, 2020|Updated Jun. 3, 2020

Ruth Eckerd Hall is testing the waters of socially distanced concerts.

Local rocker Greg Billings will play a series of intimate Thursday concerts at the Clearwater performing arts hall, starting at 7:30 p.m. June 11. Instead of the venue’s main stage, he’ll perform in its new grand lobby, which opened last fall after extensive renovations.

The show will take place with cafe-style seating. Audience members will occupy about 20 tables for four. Tickets, $40 apiece, are good for one table of four, which means a ticketholder can bring up to three guests. Each ticket will include a charcuterie tray; drinks will be available for purchase via table service. Audience members are asked to observe other personal safety measures. The venue expects a crowd of no more than 100, in a room with a capacity of 250.

“We are excited to bring a little joy back,” Ruth Eckerd Hall president and CEO Susan Crockett said in a statement. “It will be a long road and we’re a skeleton crew; still, we wanted to find a way to safely serve our patrons well within current guidelines.”

Related: As more Tampa Bay concerts get canceled, a lost summer of entertainment looms

Phase one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s guidelines for reopening allows concert halls to operate at 50 percent capacity, with significant social distancing measures in place, including a 6-foot gap between parties. Crockett said such seating would only enable a 30 percent capacity in their venues, “which is a challenge from both an economic and experiential standpont.”

“One reality we’ve seen during these weeks is that virtual programming is a poor replacement for what we do,” she said in a separate statement. “Our audiences have been very supportive and patient. The artists tell us they are excited to get back to performing live. Our goal is to protect that special experience for concertgoer and artist within the safety guidelines, which is difficult in this phase.”

Other performing arts halls have yet to resume any sort of public performances. The Central Park Performing Arts Center in Largo reopened Monday for ticket sales, tours and future rental inquiries, although no events are scheduled until August. Officials at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts have tossed around ideas for outdoor, socially distanced events, but nothing has been booked.

Related: Ruth Eckerd Hall's new $12 million lobby: Here's what's inside

Billings fronted the ’80s band Stranger, and now performs frequently around Tampa Bay in his own Greg Billings Band. At each show, he’ll be joined by a guest, with McLean Mannix coming out Thursday, George Harris and Kyle Ashley on June 18, and the Black Honkeys’ Brother Phil on June 25.

Tickets to the events go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday. Click here for details.