People wait outside of Darling's Waterfront Pavilion on Bangor's waterfront to see country artist Luke Bryan perform on Aug. 5, 2021. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

The last show of an abbreviated season at Bangor’s outdoor waterfront concert venue is set for Saturday, even as Maine’s surge of COVID-19 cases persists and the Bangor area continues to be an epicenter.

Thousands of people are expected to attend this Saturday’s concert at the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, which will feature country star Brad Paisley, Jordan Davis and Kameron Marlowe. The performance follows concerts featuring Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett and KISS last month, which were the first shows the venue had hosted since 2019.

Waterfront Concerts, the Old Town-based company that runs the venue, will not require vaccines, negative COVID tests or masks for the concert. But Waterfront Concerts President

Alex Gray said he remains confident that the event will be safe due to the fact that it is outdoors. Though the concert is not sold out, ticket sales have remained steady.

“For outdoor shows like what we do at Darling’s, it’s relatively easy for us,” Gray said. “At the end of the day, the risk of contagion is much, much lower outdoors than it is indoors. People know that. The science shows that.”

Still, the concert is coming as Penobscot County sets records for virus cases and hospitalizations. Last Thursday, the county recorded its highest single-day number of new cases since the start of the pandemic, with 198 cases in total reported on that day. Also last week, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center set a record for COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 58 patients, the vast majority of whom are unvaccinated.

There have not been any outbreak investigations associated with the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, or with any other outdoor concerts or performances in Maine this year, according to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson Robert Long.

Gray said that as the outdoor concert season ends and concerts begin happening exclusively indoors, his company’s approach will change — in part because indoor gatherings have a much higher risk of spreading COVID, and in part because the company will be required to. Live Nation, the entertainment giant that books concerts at venues nationwide, including at the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, announced last month that, effective Oct. 4, all its associated venues would have to require that concert goers be vaccinated or produce a negative COVID-19 test. The company also said it would require all employees to be vaccinated.

“Indoors is definitely a different story. Once you go back inside, you definitely need more precautions,” said Gray, who said Thursday’s concert featuring pop band AJR at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland will require proof of vaccination or a negative test.

In this July 29, 2021 file photo, fans gather and cheer on day one of the Lollapalooza music festival at Grant Park in Chicago. Credit: Shafkat Anowar / AP

There’s mixed evidence as to whether outdoor concerts and festivals have contributed significantly to the spread of COVID-19.

The Lollapalooza Festival, held in Chicago in late July and which required vaccination or a negative test, only resulted in a reported 203 cases of COVID among its 385,000 attendees. But the Watershed Music Festival, a country music festival held outside Seattle also in late July and which did not require vaccinations, reported just over 230 cases among a much smaller number of attendees, 28,000.

While the U.S. CDC says that being outdoors around people who don’t live with you is much safer than being indoors, it still recommends that people in general remain 6 feet away from strangers. That’s hard to do at a crowded outdoor venue, however. The rise of the highly transmissible Delta variant has also complicated matters.

“The delta variant has added a little bit of uncertainty about outdoor transmission,” Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, told Health Magazine last month. “It’s possible that since people shed so much more virus with this variant that it may increase the risk of transmission in outdoor settings.”

Experts agree that people who are unvaccinated or immunocompromised should wear masks in both indoor and outdoor settings, and also suggest that vaccinated people consider wearing masks when in crowded areas, which at concerts could be places like entrance lines, or lines for concessions or bathrooms.

In Portland, the indoor, 1,870-capacity State Theatre requires vaccination or proof of a negative test from within the previous 48 hours. The outdoor Thompson’s Point venue — which has a capacity of  7,500 — also has the same requirements. Neither venue requires mask wearing. Of the 10 concerts that have been held at Thompson’s Point this year, several have sold out, including shows from Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Brandi Carlisle and Lake Street Dive.

Lauren Wayne, general manager for both venues, said that fan reactions to the vaccine requirements have been overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s all gone very smoothly,” Wayne said. “The only thing we are concerned about is trying to keep our audiences as safe as possible and we are absolutely confident that our proof of vaccination policy was the right decision to make. The positive comments and encouragement from our fans who want to feel safe in our venues far outweigh the few people who have complained.”

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.