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San Francisco Mission Nightclub Adapts to Social Distancing Rules

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A music venue in San Francisco's Mission District tried something new Thursday night, presenting live concerts with an unusual multimedia twist in order to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.

Live music venues have been closed for months in San Francisco and across the Bay Area. But now there may be a way to start them back up that's COVID compliant.

San Francisco Mission District music venue mainstay the Chapel and sister restaurant Curio are working together for the two dinner shows, setting up tables six feet apart for patrons.

A small outdoor stage will showcase guitars, bass and drums only; no wind instruments. But the real trick is how to accommodate the vocalist without breaking any rules.

"I, as the singer, will be in this building here, up about...uh, what do you think that is? 30 feet up in the air? Just high enough to get a little shaky in the knees," said singer Kelley Stoltz. The shows, which were postponed twice in recent weeks, are celebrating the release of his latest album Ah! (ect) last November.

The Chapel has hosted several instrumental performances since the start of the pandemic, but Thursday's shows mark the first to include vocals.

Stoltz will be alone in a third-story room while he sings in front of a remote camera and microphone. His image, along with other visual effects provided by light show technicians mad alchemy, will be projected over the heads of diners and on to an exterior wall. He will hear the band through special monitors.

What could possibly go wrong?

"It will be strange!" Stoltz admitted. "I did realize that in a sense, the whole point of live performance is that interaction with the audience; the feeling of energy feeding off of them, saying a joke between songs, getting a laugh from this guy or working with the crowd that way."

This experiment isn't cheap for attendees at $90 per person, but that includes dinner. Everyone hopes it works for audience and performers alike.

A number of San Francisco bars and live music clubs have been forced to close permanently since the start of the pandemic. SF Supervisor Matt Haney is starting a new $1.5 million fund to help save the city's nightlife.

"The City and County of San Francisco actually has a surplus in the current year, said Haney. We have some money left over from what we budgeted for, and were going to shift some of that and put it directly into the pockets of our small businesses who have been struggling. And these venues are at the top of the list."

The Chapel is just one of dozens of San Francisco venues trying to survive COVID-19. Parker Gibbs helps book music acts at the Make-Out Room in the Mission and manages Light Rail Studios. He also co-founded the Independent Venues Alliance with other independent club owners.

He argues that these threatened nightspots are part of San Francisco's lifeblood and just as essential as many businesses that have reopened.

"Churches can open at 25% capacity," said Gibbs. "So for most people who are music fans, this is our church. This is our religion."

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