Once Thought Gone, Payson Park Music’s Summer Concerts Are Back

Photo: The logo of the Payson Park Music Festival

After nearly being cancelled due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, the third time was a charm as the founder of the Payson Park Music Festival was successful in getting the four-decade old summer tradition underway Wednesday (before the rains came) with the perennial favorite THE LOVE DOGS.

Tomi Olsen, who founded the music series in 1990 and continues to run the operation, last week convinced the Recreation Commission and the Board of Health on Monday to grant a permit for the first in an abbreviated concert season at its home venue in Payson Park.

“I know we can bring in more as people have been asking for the music. We definitely don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize the [concerts],” Olsen told the board Monday.

But the festival known for its Woodstock-like concert setting with attendees bunched up near the stage and kids running around this year will have the feel of a theater performance with assigned “seating” and ushers as prescribed by the Health Board to the annoyance of Olsen.

The festival’s season – filled with a lineup of pop, rock, blues and country groups – appeared all but dead when the state’s shut down order in mid-March.

In June, Olsen believed she could make a go of it by moving the concerts to Belmont Center to the patio of the Bellmont Caffe on Leonard Street. But the alternative plan was squashed by the Health Department as being far too risky in the early stages of reopening the state.

But Olsen received her own last minute reprieve when Gov. Charlie Baker announced the state was entering Phase Three of a planned reopening on July 6 which allows for greater use of outdoor space. Olsen with the help of Juliet Jenkins came before the Recreation Commission which controls the operations of the park with a vague concept on opening the festival and asking the commission for ideas.

The commission told Olsen and Jenkins they would tentatively approve weekly permits if the festival won approval from the Health Department. At Monday’s meeting, Olsen announced a lengthy list of safety measures include mask wearing and a diagram of the park with 25 10-foot circles spaced 6 feet apart where patrons would sit. The park’s children’s playground will be off-limits and kids will need to stay with their parents during the concerts.

Board of Health Chair Stephen Fiore told Olsen the board agreed with a Recreation Commission recommendation to issue permits “week-to-week” rather than the standard season permit “just so that you know everything is following the process … and everyone feels comfortable that it’s in a place where it needs to be.”

It was the final requirements requested by the Health Board – volunteer ushers and patron’s contact information – that appeared to rankle Olsen as the impositions were going beyond the template used for the Farmers Market.

But the last minute additions did not deter Olsen from getting her permit and holding the first concert on Wednesday, July 22.

“In a world where people [are] a little touchy … our goal is to bring just a little bit of joy,” said Jenkins.

The next concert is scheduled for Wednesday, July 29 at 6:30 p.m. with Tomi’s All Stars featuring Binny Stone, James Brown Jr., Billy T.,
Karl Bryan, Lee Lundy, & Sir Cecil and sponsored by East Boston Savings Bank and Belmont Against Racism.

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