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‘People are very excited to return’ to live concerts: Bethel Woods CEO

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Eric Frances, Bethel Woods CEO, joins Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous to discuss the reopening of concert venues amid the pandemic.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: We know the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the concert industry. But there are signs of hope. Bethel Woods, the iconic site of the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival, is reopening its museum in just a couple of weeks. And it's planning to reopen its outdoor concert venue in the coming weeks. Joining me now is the CEO of Bethel Woods, Eric Frances.

Eric, good to see you. So I was looking at your concert calendar. It's pretty ambitious. You got some great acts coming up-- James Taylor, Steely Dan, The Black Crows. I know these are still a few months away. Have you started to sell tickets for those events yet? And if so, what has demand been like?

ERIC FRANCES: So those shows are actually ones that were booked last year and were postponed because of the pandemic. But they are still on sale. We're working closely with the state of New York, the Department of Health to concrete our plans in for this summer but our hope is that we will be opening this summer at some point safely when we can do so.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I'm sure you've given a lot of thought as to the mechanics of reopening. Can you share with us some of those plans? Will it mean that people who buy tickets and come to concerts will have to show proof of a negative COVID test, for instance?

ERIC FRANCES: Well, our hope right now is that as the vaccinations are rolling out and continued lower rates here in New York, that hopefully at the end of May, some of those requirements will go away. Because it's a very difficult thing to require those on the mass scale when you're trying to do a 16,000 person concert.

So, our hopes is that that will go away, but I think we will clearly try to operate as safely as we can when you're trying to deal with lots of people. But keeping people spaced out, and we've always been very good at cleaning the venue. And those types of measures will be in place. So I think we're ready to do it. We have many different plans based on what comes down from Albany in terms of regulations.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Mm-hmm. I mean, I've been to your venue. It's beautiful. You're lucky that it is an outdoor space, so that's helpful right in and of itself. But in very much the same way a lot of sports stadiums are doing it, are you selling tickets right now, spaced quite a bit apart so that there can be social distancing?

ERIC FRANCES: Presently not because most of the shows were already-- some of them were already sold in 2020. However, we do have multiple plans on how to open if we were to reduce capacity. So, yes, we're very lucky that we're an outdoor venue and that we have a very spacious one so that we could put people in pods and quarantining pods, families, and things. So we have all those plans in place. We just need to really know where we're going from the regulation side before we can roll those out.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: So I know a lot of these acts, and in fact, most of them, were supposed to be happening in 2020. You've now rebooked them for now. So you do have folks who presumably held on to those tickets. Are you hearing from them? Are they planning on attending? Or have they just said, you know what? No, we're going to sit this one out.

ERIC FRANCES: I think we're hearing a lot of positives, especially lately, as you had referenced for, people are still buying tickets. So we have seen a lot of positivity coming out of the marketplace. And just last year being closed, at least from the concert side of our business, we've heard from those concert fans saying we didn't know what we had until it was gone.

So we believe there is pent-up demand and people are very excited to return to live. And it's very important not only just for our community on an economic basis and the artists that need to work. Many of them could not afford to take a year off. But there's also the mental health issues that we're seeing. And I think only people coming together and the arts can solve some of those problems.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Now of course, you're at the site, like I said when we started the piece, of that iconic Woodstock Music Festival back in 1969 in bucolic Sullivan County. What does coming back-- what does the venue, Bethel Woods, reopening mean to the larger community there in the Catskills?

ERIC FRANCES: Well, it's the cornerstone of the revival of the Catskills, which saw its decline through the '60s and '70s as the major Borscht Belt hotels closed. But this was the starting point of the growth of this area again. And I feel as though COVID proved that people from the city came up here. They've been up here since last year, and they've stayed. But Bethel Woods was that beacon of hope that brought people here, showed the world what was here.

But it's an important economic driver for our region. I mean, since the first shovel hit the ground here for construction in 2004, it's been $600 million plus to the economic output in New York State. So it's big. It's big for the community, restaurants, and the like around us.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: In sort of the 40 seconds I have left, I know you're a non for profit. Having to shut down last year was very painful for you. I mean, what ways did you pivot so that you could still have the business survive?

ERIC FRANCES: Well, we were lucky enough to have great donors, season-long ticket holders and members who supported us to keep us alive. We did a couple of different things this year like Launch Day Holiday Light Show that we plan to grow in the future, where people can drive through. And it was very safe, but we want to grow that. And we did things that we were allowed to do like farmer's markets and dinners at a small scale. So we pivoted to do the things where we could, jumped online where it made sense. But the future has to be reopening in order for us to be viable.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: We're certainly looking forward to those concerts coming back online. Eric Frances, CEO of Bethel Woods, thanks and best of luck to you.