By Kellyn Vuchetich
June 10, 2021

On May 21 the Lincoln mask mandate was lifted, just over ten months after being put in effect last July. As local venues slowly reintegrate live music back into the Lincoln community, they are constantly reevaluating their health policies, and even more so with this major city-wide change. 

Two live music venues, Bodega’s Alley and 1867, decided since the city no longer requires masks, they won’t continue to strictly enforce it. However, both bars are strongly suggesting patrons wear a mask and practice social distancing. 

Masks are now not required but are definitely suggested for events when we expect larger crowds,” says Ryan Detlefsen, owner and operator of Bodega’s Alley. “We still have hand sanitizer at every table and encourage everyone to still be very conscious of COVID concerns. COVID didn’t end overnight and we must all do our best to keep getting closer to some normalcy.” 

Last year, Bodega’s Alley shut down for over 130 days. When they finally reopened, their hours only extended to 10 p.m. It wasn’t until the end of February that they returned to hosting live shows at half capacity. “Realistically my customers and my peers were ultimately the gauge on when to host events again. Our #1 priority was the health and safety of our staff, our customers, and our community,” said Detlefsen. 

With a few live shows scheduled for June, Detlefsen plans to host at full capacity for the first time since early last year. The bar has created a Patreon, “Bodega’s Backstage,” where they will be live streaming shows for those who wish to support from home for a small monthly fee. 

Kelsey Graves, owner and operator of the craft beer bar, 1867, said she was hesitant to host their first live music event back on May 1. The show, which quickly sold out, was limited to an audience of 40. Attendees remained seated and spaced out during the performance.

“Everybody was following the rules, which I was just really nervous about. I understand that people want to go to a show, they want to stand up, they want to dance around, but unfortunately at this time we just couldn’t do that. We kind of just told them ‘don’t be the person that ruins this for everybody’. It took a lot for me to even have this show and I’m putting a lot on the line for it, so please don’t make me not want to do it,” says Graves.

The decision to start booking shows came after consultation with her employees. “I’ve been talking to my staff. I continuously bring it up and I told them I wasn’t going to do anything until we all agreed that we were all comfortable with it.” says Graves. With four shows booked for June, they’ve collectively decided to increase the audience limit to 75 people, just under half capacity for the venue.

After hearing the announcement that the mask mandate would no longer be in place, Graves again turned to her staff for support in the decision making process. The staff and their loved ones were all fully vaccinated, so they concluded that they’d lift the mask requirement for customers but continue wearing masks themselves. 

Graves describes the lifted mandate as somewhat of a relief in the sense that her employees will no longer have to face hostility from patrons who refused to comply. “Honestly we’re just tired of being yelled at and called names, so at this point we’re suggesting people wear masks, but since there’s no mandate and we don’t really have that support form our local government, we’re just like, people will do what they want.” says Graves.  

To assure the safety of customers and staff, both Bodega’s Alley and 1867 are maintaining the sanitary habits they’ve developed over the past year. “That’s something that’s gonna stick with us from here on out is just constantly cleaning. If anything, we’ve just realized how gross people are,” laughs Graves. 

While there is still some anxiety about hosting in-person events, the prospect of enjoying music together again seems worth the extra precautions. “Once I posted on Facebook that I was thinking about having shows again, our email just completely blew up, which was great to see that people want to play,” says Graves.

Bodega’s Alley spent the past year preparing to bring back a live music experience that is even better than before. “Obviously, COVID has been the hardest business hurdle I’ve ever experienced, but we’re trying to make the best of it. We took the opportunity to revamp our stage and sound booth while shut down and are gearing up to create the best live music experience we can for our guests and artists,” says Detlefsen. “Live music is finally back and we couldn’t be more excited.”

Kellyn Vuchetich is a journalism intern with KZUM.