Event organizers agonize over canceling events

The Hancock Flat 50 bicycle tour won't be held at all this year, organizers decided. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter) File photo

HANCOCK COUNTY — Tap the brakes. The fifth annual Hancock Flat 50 bicycle race has been canceled.

So has the Hancock County Run/Walk/Roll Series, a collaborative set of fitness events that kicked off in 2019.

Two theater groups — Crazy Lake and KidsPlay — and the Hancock County Children’s Choir have canceled or postponed their spring and summer productions.

Fortville’s Summer Concert Series and Greenfield’s Concert on the Plaza? You guessed it.

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It’s been a stressful, wait-and-see kind of spring for event organizers throughout the county as COVID-19 concerns are forcing everyone to consider a Plan B in light of ongoing social distancing restrictions. Some groups are clinging to hope that they will be able to stage their events, assuming state restrictions on gatherings are lifted on schedule by early July.

But it’s been a letdown for event-goers and organizers alike.

“I’m a hand-shaker and a hugger, so it’s been very difficult personally. I am so looking forward to getting back together with our members and getting back to our regular events,” said Retta Livengood, president of the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce, who has been busy rescheduling event dates this year.

Organizers put their hearts and souls into planning great events, she said, so it can be heartbreaking — not to mention a huge headache and expense — to have to cancel or reschedule them.

As the state slowly eases itself into relaxing social distancing restrictions, organizers have had to cancel some events, postpone others, and nervously wait in limbo to see if those events scheduled for later this year will actually take place.

Such is the case for Mental Health Partners of Hancock County, where organizers are sticking with the July 25 date for this year’s Pennsy Trail Art Fair & Music Festival, held on the Courthouse Plaza in downtown Greenfield.

It’s the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser of the year, said executive director Kim Hall, who has been keeping in touch with city and health department officials to stay abreast of the latest social distancing guidelines.

For now, state rules prohibit public festivals until July 4.

“We are following Governor (Eric) Holcomb’s reopening plan and are not postponing our festival unless the governor says we must,” Hall said.

The annual Dog Days of Summer event, scheduled to be held Aug. 1 in Riley Park in Greenfield, is also sticking to its original date for now.

"So far, we are still going full force with August 1, but we can’t confirm that until mid-June," said Amanda Dehoney, director of Greenfield-Hancock County Animal Management, which puts on the popular pet-themed event each year.

While some event planners like Hall and Dehoney are tentatively sticking with dates this summer, others have resigned themselves.

The Hancock Flat 50 bike race scheduled for Aug. 29 is the latest casualty.

In a news release, organizers said canceling the annual 50-mile tour was in the best interest of participants and volunteers.

The Flat 50 was part of the Hancock County Run/Walk/Roll Series, a collaboration of 17 fitness-related events put on by various organizations throughout the county. While the passport component of the series has been canceled, some individual events may yet be held. For example, the Superhero 5K Run/Walk and Kids’ Dash — hosted by Hancock4Kids — has been postponed from June to October. 

Setting a new date can be a challenge when a slew of other local organizers are doing the same thing, said Diane Burklow, co-chair of the Superhero 5K event.

“We decided to move the 5K to October after we looked at all the other 5K and big events around the county. Some had moved their events, and we wanted to make sure we didn’t conflict with another, and Oct. 24 was one of the only open weekends,” she said.

Organizers are reviewing the status of state guidelines on a regular basis, with the possibility of having a virtual 5K if necessary, Burklow said.

“It does put a stress on us as the Superhero 5K is our yearly fundraiser,” she said. 

New Palestine Main Street has canceled its Dragon Dash 5K and the Dragon Derailleur bike ride scheduled for June 27, but organizers are still hoping to have the New Pal Summer Fest later this year.

The Summer Fest was first scheduled for June 26-27 but now might take place Aug. 28-29, although plans aren’t yet finalized, said Julie Lucas, Summer Fest chair and president of New Palestine Main Street.

“We’re still waiting on approval to use the grounds, making sure all the necessary precautions are being done,” she said. 

The two-day festival typically features live music, a car show, food trucks and a beer and wine garden.

New Palestine Main Street also holds Music on Depot concerts the fourth Friday in May, July, August and September.

With social distancing making it impossible this month, the group opted to host a virtual concert May 22 on Facebook Live instead.

Knowing whether to cancel or postpone an event is tough on organizers, who are trying to respect state guidelines while still giving the public something fun to look forward to, Lucas said.

It’s also tough to weigh the cost of continuing to plan an event with the strong possibility it might not take place. “It’s tough all the way around,” she said.

In Cumberland, officials are debating whether to postpone or cancel the town’s annual Blues, Beer & BBQ events — scheduled for the last Saturday of the month in June through September. Each event typically draws 300 to 500 people, although last June close to 1,000 attended.

“It’s been crazy because we’re in two counties with two different sets of rules,” said Renee Garard, special projects coordinator for the town of Cumberland, referring to the town limits straddling Marion and Hancock counties.

The first event, scheduled for June 27, was canceled since the state has banned all outdoor festivals until July 4.

The town council also canceled the second event scheduled for July 25, and will likely vote in July on how to proceed with the August and September events.

“We’ve talked about doing just one larger summer event, kind of a big summer blowout, but that will be decided later. Right now, things are just kind of tabled as we try to figure out our new normal,” Garard said.

Art enthusiasts have also been put on hold.

The Twenty North art gallery — home to Hancock County Arts in downtown Greenfield — has been closed since March, when the annual Members Show featuring local artwork was to have taken place.

The show has been rescheduled to June 13 and June 20, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Guests will be able to walk through the gallery to view the art while an artist does plein air painting on the back deck.

Social distancing and face masks will be mandatory, gallery coordinator Carol Barrett said.

The arts council’s Will Vawter Show, typically held each April, has also been rescheduled — with an awards reception to be held at 7 p.m. July 10, with public viewing from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 11, 18 and 25.

“In August, we plan to resume our typical Saturday gallery viewings from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with new shows each month, and hope to offer Friday hours as well,” said Barrett, adding that updates will be available on the gallery’s website and Facebook page.

From a performing arts perspective, all spring events scheduled at the Ricks Centre for the Arts in Greenfield were canceled soon after social distancing took effect in March.

“I was the last holdout,” said Chris Schaefer, who eventually canceled the Kids Play production of “Over My Dead Body” just three weeks before the scheduled performance in April.

“Our last rehearsal was right before Spring Break, and as I said goodbye to the kids that evening I had a feeling that we wouldn’t be reconvening after break,” said Schaefer. “I gave each of them a big hug and I’ve promised them we’ll take up where we left off (with the production) as soon as it’s safe to do so.”

The CrazyLake Acting Company, which Schaefer also directs, also opted to postpone indefinitely its summer production of “Clue.”

In a unanimous vote May 18, board members cited concerns and uncertainties regarding the COVID-19 virus in its decision to postpone the production indefinitely.

"Of course I’m disappointed that I won’t get to make this art with some of my favorite people this summer, but more than that, I’m full of hope for a bigger and better production once it’s safer for all involved,” said the production’s director, Erin Vetters.

As event organizers have struggled to manage their events, the community has been gracious and understanding, Livengood said.

Yet she knows firsthand how disappointed people feel when the time-honored events they’ve come to count on are suddenly taken away.

As a lifelong Greenfield resident, it’s been surreal to see long-standing community events like Greenfield Banking Co.’s Concerts on the Plaza canceled due to the pandemic.

“It’s just very sad,” said Livengood, who enjoys hearing the sounds of the concerts from her office on the plaza.

“I understand the reason behind canceling things, but these are such huge community gathering opportunities. It just saddens me so much to see them not taking place as they have for so long,” she said.

As for the chamber, Livengood is keeping her fingers crossed that two big upcoming events can still be held as scheduled — the annual golf outing on July 17 and the Chocolate Walk on Aug. 14.

She’s already been forced to twice reschedule the chamber’s Community Walk of Fame Annual Award Celebration. Originally scheduled for April, then May, it’s now expected to take place sometime this fall.

Both the award celebration and the golf outing have been annual traditions for more than 30 years, Livengood said. This will be the 11th year for the chocolate walk.

Livengood has been forced to cancel the chamber’s monthly member luncheons and engage with members through weekly online newsletters instead, but she said it’s not the same as mingling in person.

“We‘re hoping we can get July and August membership lunches back on track, but we’ll have to wait and see,” she said. “We’re dipping our toes into getting our events back on schedule.”

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Hancock County churches are considering their plans for Vacation Bible School this summer. Look for a story in the Weekend Religion section.