As concerts go in these pandemic times, the Sept. 13 performance by the country band Hayfire at Flagler Auditorium will, of course, be a bit unusual.
The Orlando-area band will perform on an outdoor stage in the parking lot. Patrons, who must acquire their tickets online, will arrive by car – at $20 a carload. Masks and social distancing will be required as each carload of concert-goers is escorted to one of many spaces in the parking lot that will be marked off in the shape of a heart. The concert is, after all, a part of the auditorium’s annual celebration of National Arts in Education Week, an effort to foster appreciation and love of the arts.
Once inside their heart, patrons can de-mask, but trips outside the heart will be limited, one exception being to use the auditorium’s indoor restrooms, and fans must mask up to do that.
But strangest of all might be what happens on the state-of-the-art stage rented by Flagler Auditorium for the event. Along with performing the hits of traditional old-school country legends such as Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard and Hank Williams Jr., more modern artists such as Shania Twain and Dwight Yoakam, and contemporary stars such as Miranda Lambert, Luke Combs, Lady A, Jon Pardi and Jason Aldean, Hayfire has a few tricks up its sleeve.
“We do these mixes,” says Hayfire singer-guitarist Brooks Vaughan. “One of our famous ones is Dolly Parton mixed with Pink Floyd — a Dolly Parton-Pink Floyd mash-up. It’s so seamless and it’s fantastic and people love it.”
Flagler Auditorium director Amelia Fulmer says she and her staff “just felt we needed to show the community that we can still do a show. Shows are really about people coming together and seeing the entertainment, not just about the building. We were going to have a concert at the end of July, but we decided that was not going to work because too much was unknown. We still are facing unknowns, but we talked to the health department and looked into it, and outdoors is not as much of a risk as indoors.
“We’re not going to take a bunch of people and throw them in a mosh pit with a bunch of beers and say ‘Have at it.’ It’s just good for our mental health to get out of our homes and go do something, and listening to music is never a bad thing. We’re going to have a very controlled environment, and any show feels like a win right now.”
All proceeds from the concert will benefit three area arts organizations: the Palm Coast Arts Foundation, Flagler Playhouse and City Repertory Theatre. Each of those groups will make a presentation before the start of the concert.
“I’m hoping to make this about the arts and trying to keep the creative community continuing and bring us together,” Fulmer says.
Flagler Auditorium, which stands on the campus of Flagler Palm Coast High School, will not reap any of the concert’s proceeds. The 1000-seat venue, which was created by a public bond issue in 1991, operates as a nonprofit. It stages touring Broadway shows, big-name concerts and other professional entertainment performances, as well as community performances and activities. The venue also is home to numerous Flagler County school activities, including theatrical productions as well as housing the high school’s band room.
While arts organizations locally and across the country have taken financial hits due to shutdowns forced by the pandemic, the auditorium “did okay because of the fixed assets of being part of the school,” Fulmer says. “We don’t pay rent.”
However, Fulmer said, “For our students in arts education, it’s been heartbreaking. Some waited until their last senior year to be the lead in the musical, and now the musical is canceled.” Likewise, the auditorium typically hosts “Dance Month” during June – a series of student classes and performances – but all those activities were scuttled by the pandemic.
“You look at Flagler Playhouse — they were going to do ‘Guys and Dolls’ and everybody had their part and they were learning their lines, and now it’s all gone,” Fulmer says. “They don’t know when they are going to get back. City Repertory too — John Sbordone (co-founder and director) does some great shows there, and he has a lot of serious actors who love to come there. People who like to create and be together and work together, that’s their identity. It’s something they do to fulfill themselves.
“The auditorium’s original articles of incorporation in 1991 basically say the purpose of this venue is to create a favorable climate for the arts in the community, to expand the reach of arts activities into the community and encourage greater community awareness of arts activity. We want to do something to celebrate the arts in our community during Arts in Education Week anyway, so this concert became a fundraiser.”
Funding for the concert, including the stage rental and band fee, is coming from state grant revenues generated by the sales of arts-themed car tags. Use of those funds is restricted to staging arts activities, Fulmer said.
As the frontman of one of the most popular cover bands in Central Florida (as voted on by the readers of Orlando Weekly), Vaughan has experienced firsthand the financial upheavals of the pandemic. Yes, he has a day job – he’s manager at one of the Orlando area Sam Ash Music Stores. Or, perhaps that day-job designation should be reversed.
Due to gigs lost from the shutdown of bars, entertainment venues and festivals, as well as scaled-down weddings and other private events, “essentially we’ve lost thousands, thousands of dollars,” Vaughan says of himself and his five bandmates. “We generate about a quarter million dollars a year as a band. So you can divide that up into the section of time from March until now and do the math – it hasn’t been good.”
Hayfire returned to work briefly this summer when Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a phased reopening of venues, but then came a second shutdown as Covid-19 cases spiked out of control. So Hayfire staged their own multi-band concert in Palm Bay over the Fourth of July weekend, charging at the door and checking the temperatures of fans.
“It rained like crazy and ruined our crowd, but even then after paying all the bills, every musician made $143 apiece,” Vaughan says. “We were satisfied to make a few dollars, but really it was great just to play and have some camaraderie, and then also to stick the finger to the governor because he’s not really helping us. They’re not, they’re really not. They don’t give a shit about the bartenders, servers, the musicians.
“In counties like Orange County, they will tell you that because you don’t have a Sunbiz license (the state’s registration for business entities, trade and service marks, etc.) with them, then you aren’t eligible to get their $10,000 assistance because I run the band as a sole proprietorship with a Schedule C and a 1099 for all the guys every year. We’re talking a lot a lot of money I put into the economy around here. But they don’t recognize me as a regular business and they didn’t give me any assistance whatsoever.
“The SBA said they would give me a $10,000 loan that I would have to pay back,” he said of the Small Business Administration. “I didn’t tell them anything really but in my mind I told them to stick it. I’m not going to borrow $10,000 that I have to pay back. I’d just as soon buckle down and let everybody do what they gotta do. I had the whole year booked, but most of those gigs probably aren’t going to happen. It’s frustrating.”
As for the 2020-2021 season of Flagler Auditorium, which typically stages some two dozen shows from October through April, not including innumerable community and school shows, “Everything is very fluid,” Fulmer says. The 1,000-seat venue typically needs to sell 500 tickets to make any one show financially viable, “but we can’t social-distance 500 people in our auditorium. Will people feel comfortable coming back with 500 people? So, you have to think out-of-the-box.”
Due to the still-fluctuating conditions of the pandemic, Fulmer is uncertain how many of the previously booked shows will remain on the schedule. The auditorium plans to announce its new season in October, she says.
“But we know this – we are going to celebrate together and celebrate Arts in Education Week, and we are going to try to show some goodwill to each other about it all,” Fulmer says. “I think we have such a strong arts community, but we’re not putting our heads together enough. When I took this position, I said my goal is to bring the arts community together, and I think the pandemic has the power to make that happen faster.”
If You Go
The country band Hayfire will be in concert Sunday Sept. 13 outdoors at Flagler Auditorium, 5500 S.R. 100, Palm Coast. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. with the entrance on Bulldog Drive. Local arts groups will begin presentations at 6 p.m. Hayfire takes the stage at 7 p.m. The stage will be near the marquee and performers will face east.
Tickets are $20 per carload and are available only online here at flaglerauditorium.org, or by calling the box office at 386-437-7547. Patrons must provide an email address so that tickets and attendance guidelines can be sent to them electronically. Tickets will not be available in person at the box office, or sold at the gate.
“We are working with risk management from the school system and with Bob Snyder (administrator to the Florida Department of Health in Flagler County) on guidelines for the show,” Fulmer says.
Patrons should bring lawn chairs. Small, flexible coolers are allowed, but no alcohol. At press time, plans call for no concessions to be sold. However, Fulmer said organizers are considering the possibility of having local restaurants provide “tailgate packs.”
Once parked, patrons must be masked and will be escorted to their “heart space.” Patrons may take off their masks within that space, but must put them on whenever they leave it.
Patrons will be able to use the indoor restrooms one at a time at the auditorium. Restrooms will be monitored by an attendant and cleaned after each use. Two Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies will be on site at the event “to make sure everyone is compliant,” Fulmer says.