For Irish bands, the week of St. Patrick’s Day is their bread and butter, but a global pandemic destroyed that in March of 2020.
Last year, celebrations were shut down all over the country and for Tim Freeman, 47, the lead singer of Gainesville-based Scuttered the Bruce, that meant not being able to play at Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub in Gainesville.
“We wound up losing two of our main gigs that we were supposed to do, which was First Magnitude and Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub, which was our home bar where we used to play for years and years,” said Freeman. “That was pretty devastating.”
Durty Nelly’s was Scuttered the Bruce’s go-to spot for the holiday. Freeman said the band played there every year in the past and without the venue they felt lost without a home.
Freeman might never play Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub again. The establishment closed in June due to the pandemic.
After nearly a year, Alachua County has seen 22,860 positive COVID-19 cases. From March 9 to 15 there have been 185 cases, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Total vaccinations in Alachua County have totaled 57,175 as of March 15, 42,972 of which have received both doses.
While it is true that vaccinations continue to increase and COVID-19 infections have been declining recently, many Gainesville residents remain cautious about celebrating on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day.
“We’re very wary about going back out into the bar or pub atmosphere and considering the risks,” Freeman said. “So, we’ve tried to play only at places that have big outdoor venues.”
Cypress & Grove Brewing Company will host an outdoor event Wednesday night. Gainesville Dance Academy will perform Irish Dancing from 6:30 to 7 p.m. Scuttered the Bruce will play from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Alongside the live performances, Chameleon Food Truck will be available from 4-8 p.m., serving food.
Last year Cypress & Grove Brewing Company planned a similar event that was canceled due to the pandemic, said Anna Heineman, the brewery’s co-owner.
“It was unbelievably hard for us and for so many people,” said Heineman. “But over the course of the year I guess we’ve learned how to navigate COVID safely, and thankfully our setup makes that reasonably easy.”
Heineman said the staff and customers’ safety is her number one priority.
“In the last year we’ve worked on making sure that people are safe,” she said. “The only way that we can do that is to have people outside and have mask mandates when you’re walking around.”
She said customers have been excited to have a small return to normalcy.
Freeman’s band, Scuttered the Bruce is booked to play live at Cypress & Grove Brewing Company for St. Patrick’s Day, Wednesday, after nearly a year off.
“Until last Saturday we had not played a single gig in all of that time,” Freeman said. “Being able to play again after a year of hiatus was fantastic.”
“When we do have live music, it’s lovely to experience kind of normalcy in a safe way,” Heineman said. “That’s the feedback we’re getting from people is that ‘ah, we can drink a beer in public, and listen to live music, but yet we feel safe.’”
However, she said the crowds are not what they used to be.
“We’ve had live music now a number of times, and for that our crowds are not what they used to be, and I don’t expect it to be up to our normal size for a year or two years,” she said. “And that’s OK. So it’s nice that even though we’re promoting fun St. Patrick’s Day event it will not be overrun with people.”
Other area establishments are taking precautions due to the pandemic.
Queen’s Arms Pub in Haile Plantation threw block parties to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day that included live music. That will not be happening this year, said Lori Chalfin, 52, the pub’s bartender.
“This year we’re not doing any of that,” Chalfin said. “We’re just having food specials and drink specials and inviting everybody to come out and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day safely.”
A dining room attached to the bar will offer the same specials while following social distancing guidelines, Chalfin said. Outside seating will also be available for those who feel uncomfortable sitting inside. All staff will be wearing face coverings, but masks are optional for customers.
Chalfin also doesn’t expect a bigger crowd during St. Patrick’s Day. However, she said she has a few customers who plan on coming in to celebrate the holiday.
Heineman acknowledges that people still don’t feel fully safe to go back to normal, and although celebrations are occurring, turnout won’t be the same.