CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA — Among the first things to shut down when the pandemic encircled the globe last year were events. Public gatherings officially received the greenlight to return from Governor Gavin Newsom and health officials last month and now your favorite concerts, festivals and other public events are finally starting to come back.
This month, long-established traditional local events are starting up, helping the public regain the sense of community which comes along with the entertainment, food and beverage, relaxation, camaraderie, fun and experiences that are integral to events.
Both Clayton and Concord begin their free downtown evening music series this week. Concord’s Thursday Night Music & Market is back in Todos Santos Plaza with a concert (6:30 – 8 p.m.) and Farmer’s Market (opening at 4 p.m.) scheduled every Thursday through Sept. 30.
Concerts in The Grove return to Clayton with five Saturday performances through early September starting this Saturday at six o’clock with Carnaval, A Tribute to Santana. Former Mayor Howard Geller started the concert series in 2008 and has booked and MC’d the shows from the beginning. He had all 10 acts booked for 2020 before the pandemic hit and has five of those bands slated for this year’s shows and the other five will kick off the hopefully full 2022 schedule.
Some events missing
Sadly, not all of your favorite events will take place in 2021. Among those that are missing for a second year are the Contra Costa County Fair, Clayton Art and Wine Festival, Clayton BBQ Cookoff, Clayton Oktoberfest, Walnut Creek Art & Wine Festival as well as the first half of the Concord Pavilion season.
The financial ramifications to chambers of commerce, community organizations and even government entities of canceling large festivals and fairs are far reaching. Several organizations in the county said a third year canceling their annual events—which for some provide the bulk of their revenue—might make their very existence problematic.
John Rubiales Jr. is in his second stint at president of the Clayton Business & Community Association. He says his organization has not been able to make annual donations of over $150,000 for scholarships and support of community efforts in Clayton in 2020 and 2021. “Our board held off from making donations to make sure we are fully prepared to operate once the pandemic ended. We have been very, very careful to be ready for the time we can put on events again.”
He says Halloween and the December holidays may offer opportunities for CBCA to host events this year. “We have dedicated committees with volunteers who work very hard for months planning each event. They are already targeting the 2022 Art & Wine Festival in late spring.”
KidFest is back on Labor Day Weekend
Bay Area KidFest was a casualty of the pandemic last May and this year’s 31st KidFest has moved to the Sept. 4-6 Labor Day Weekend at Mt. Diablo High School in downtown Concord. America’s No. 1 kids’ attraction PAW PATROL will have popular characters there to meet and greet the audience. The popular entertainment, food, rides, attractions and activities that have made KidFest the longest running family event in the East Bay will be back for kids of all ages to enjoy.
The first Concord Pavilion concert of the season is this Sunday with Spirit West Coast 2021 featuring Christian music artist Chris Tomlin. Among the other headliners in the season running into October are Alanis Morissette, King Crimson, Megadeath, The Black Crowes, Maroon 5 and TLC. A handful of Pavilion shows scheduled for earlier this season have already set 2022 dates.
Jazz is back in Concord
Speaking of the Pavilion, Visit Concord is again honoring the city’s legacy of ongoing appreciation of jazz with a five-day, live celebration Aug. 4-8. The Concord Jazz Festival began at Concord Neighborhood Park on Concord Blvd. in 1969, providing the impetus for the construction of the Pavilion where the annual event continued for decades.
In 2019 Concord celebrated the Jazz Festival’s 50th Anniversary with a month-long celebration at various venues around the city. This year’s event features five days of jazz performances at The Veranda, Concord Tap House, Music & Market concert Aug. 5 at Todos Santos Plaza and capped with a concert at the Concord Historical Museum.
The Pleasant Hill Art, Wine & Music Festival will not be held for the second October in a row and the sponsoring Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce intends to move to May dates starting in 2022. Also not happening for the second time is Pleasant Hill Blues and Brews this month.
The first indoor event this year is Contra Costa Con 2 this Sunday at the Hilton Concord. Performers from “Star Wars” and “Power Rangers” are featured guests along with a socially distanced ballroom full of collectibles, toys, Lego, anime, comics, art, apparel and more. There’s also a family-friendly Cosplay Costume Contest with cash prizes.
Later this year the sponsoring Bay Area Festivals will present Bay Area Kids’ Book Fair Oct. 17 and Tri-Valley Halloween Con Oct. 31 in Dublin and during the holidays 12th annual Super Holiday Boutiques Dec. 4-5 in Pleasant Hill and Concord, respectively.
Most traditional 4th of July parades and fireworks were canceled and the three local Oktoberfest’s in Clayton, Concord and Walnut Creek will not be held this fall.
Fireworks at Pavilion on the 4th
The Concord Fireworks show on the 4th of July was moved from Mt. Diablo High to the Pavilion and there were more fireworks than expected.
The show was formatted like a drive-in movie with admission limited to 1000 cars parked in every other space to allow for social distancing. The soldout event opened at 7 p.m. for families to be able to picnic, play cornhole and toss around footballs before the main event at 9:30.
The fireworks show synced to music (received over FM radio) was scheduled for 20 minutes but was twice stopped when small fire spots broke out in the dry grass and hillside surrounding the venue. They were quickly extinguished and the show ended up lasting 40-45 minutes.
Social media was filled with complaints from Pavilion neighbors and attendees about traffic, fire safety and noise.
Tim McGallian spearheaded establishing the 4th of July Celebration at Mt. Diablo High in 2014 after the Singing Flag show ended a 25-year run. Now as mayor of Concord McGallian led the effort to hold fireworks at the Pavilion this year when the pandemic made the traditional event impractical. Decades ago, the outdoor Pavilion annually had a symphony orchestra concert on the 4th that culminated with fireworks under the Pavilion roof and limited aerial displays.
McGallian understood the “concerned emails and calls” which came into City Hall in advance of the July 4th event.
He explained, “We determined that the Pavilion was the most appropriate and safest place for the largest group of people to tailgate, picnic and enjoy fireworks within COVID-19 restrictions. Everything that happened was prepared for. We halted the show for the two small fire sports out of an abundance of caution.”
Word around the festival world is that turnouts at the first events coming back this summer have far exceeded expectations and even past years. The public is thirsty to enjoy themselves once again with family, friends and complete strangers, just like they’ve done for many years at their favorite events.
See the Pioneer Calendar page for a list of upcoming events.