BRT is back

BRT is back

From left, Mary Coogan, Joanie Madden, and Bruce Foley will perform a concert of Irish music and song at Blackstone River Theatre in Cumberland on Sunday, June 13, at 4 p.m. This performance will be the first live show in the theater since the start of the pandemic.
Theater hosts first live show Sunday since March 2020

CUMBERLAND – The last time Blackstone River Theatre hosted a live concert was March 8, 2020, when Matthew Byrne, a Canadian singer and guitarist, took the stage. That changes this weekend when the Cumberland theater welcomes audiences back inside for the first live show since the start of the pandemic.

Russell Gusetti, executive director of BRT, told The Breeze that he’s looking forward to having live music and audiences back in the building. “It’s exciting to be able to see patrons and people I haven’t seen in a year and a half,” he said. Everyone calling to reserve tickets has said they’ve been waiting so long to return, he said. “It’s a pretty special first show.”

That show, held on Sunday, June 13, at 4 p.m., will feature a concert of Irish music and song by Joanie Madden, Mary Coogan, and Bruce Foley at the theater, 549 Broad St.

Madden and Coogan are both founding members of the group Cherish the Ladies and both have performed at the theater before, while Foley, Coogan’s husband, will be making his BRT debut.

An All-Ireland champion flute and whistle player, Madden is a consummate musician and entertainer and one of the most revered figures in Irish music today, Gusetti said. She’s the top-selling whistle player in history and has amassed a plethora of awards and citations including The Ellis Island Medal of Freedom Award and the USA Artist Fellowship Grant, naming her as one of the most innovative and influential artists in America.

“Joanie is the perfect first person” for the theater’s first show back, Gusetti said, noting that she’s played there many times and she’s an outgoing, energetic, positive person.

Coogan has been playing the guitar, banjo and mandolin for audiences around the world for more than 36 years. “An outstanding teacher and musician, she is in high demand for her sensitive accompaniment when she’s not performing with Cherish the Ladies,” Gusetti said. Foley, who’s been performing for more than 30 years in the Irish and American folk scene, is a gifted guitarist and uilleann piper and is “graced with a beautiful voice and a large repertoire of songs,” said organizers.

During the pandemic, Madden, Coogan, and Foley started performing online concerts as a trio, Gusetti said, “delighting audiences … with their engaging blend of tunes and ballads along with an always fun and lighthearted approach.”

Tickets for Sunday’s show are $20. Doors open at 3:30 p.m. Call BRT at 401-725-9272 to reserve tickets or for more information.

The concert will take place inside the theater and audiences are asked to follow state guidelines: those who are vaccinated don’t have to wear masks, while people who are unvaccinated must wear a mask and keep 3 feet of distance. All performers have been vaccinated, Gusetti said.

Madden, a friend of Gusetti’s, was coming to the area, and Gusetti said he didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to have her perform. “The timing seemed to work out,” he said, as the state lifted restrictions. “I’m treating it like a normal concert. … There are no regulations I have to deal with right now.”

While Gusetti plans to have an outdoor stage set up soon, it won’t be ready in time for Sunday’s event, he said. Some equipment he ordered in November with funds from a Take It Outside grant just arrived a couple of weeks ago, he said.

Normally in June, BRT hosts its annual Summer Solstice Festival at Diamond Hill Park in Cumberland, but this year’s was canceled due to the pandemic. This summer, Gusetti said, he plans to host several outdoor concerts and resume music classes both inside and outside. “I’m hoping this will continue to get better (and we’ll) be able to start in mid-September like a normal year,” he said.

Details for outdoor concerts have not been solidified, but Gusetti said he’d like to host a couple in July, a couple in August, and maybe one in early September. Workers need to dig out and level the ground for an outdoor stage and put down gravel for drainage before any shows can take place, but he said he’s hopeful to start in early July.

Gusetti is also in the middle of indoor renovations at the theater, including upgrading the sound system, bathrooms, and HVAC system, he said.

In the future, he said, he plans to continue hosting outdoor programming since he’s bought the equipment, including a separate sound system. “There’s no reason not to do that,” he said.

During the pandemic, BRT also hosted virtual concerts that were filmed at the theater and shared online, which Gusetti said he plans to continue as well. “We’ve got the equipment and learned how to do it,” he said.

Filming live, in-person concerts and then uploading videos online is a way to make more money for the artists and the theater and reach a wider audience across the world, he said. People from France, Germany, Ireland, and more tuned in to the virtual shows over this past year, he noted.

“More performances is for everyone’s benefit,” he said.

Blackstone River Theatre, 549 Broad St. in Cumberland, opens its doors to the public this weekend with a live concert, the first since the beginning of the pandemic.