Editorial: Organizers make tough, but right call to cancel downtown summer concert series

Last summer, Friday nights in downtown Dalton were electric, and Burr Performing Arts Park was the epicenter.

From May through August for 10 consecutive Friday nights (plus a special wrap-up event in September), the Off the Rails Concert Series drew thousands of people downtown to hear an eclectic mix of music -- jazz, Latin, bluegrass and many other genres. The concerts were a true hit for the community, as organizers estimate one show had 1,200 attendees. All concerts were family-friendly, free and open to the public.

Not only did the public embrace the concerts, they flocked to downtown before the shows to have dinner at restaurants. After the concerts wrapped up, many people hung out downtown to grab something to eat or to get something to drink. The concerts were fun social events, as friends and strangers milled about the expansive greenspace at Burr Park.

Sadly, none of that will happen this summer. We were dealt more bad news on Tuesday when the concerts were canceled due to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

A committee of organizing groups -- Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia, the Creative Arts Guild, the Dalton Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Downtown Dalton Development Authority (DDDA) -- announced the disheartening news. Organizers held out hope they could safely hold the concerts, as they announced early last month they were postponing the series as they brainstormed on how to host the concerts while keeping the public safe. On Monday, the DDDA said it will not accept or approve event permits in the downtown Dalton district until after July 31 due to concerns about the pandemic.

As hard as organizers tried, they couldn't make the concerts work.

"This is a difficult decision, but the committee wants to produce the best possible concerts without compromising safety or quality," according to a press release from the Dalton Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Due to our unprecedented circumstances, our guidance leads us to look to summer 2021 for a full return of Off the Rails to Burr Performing Arts Park. We look forward to future concerts and can't want to see more live music return to Dalton."

With COVID-19 cases showing no signs of slowing down nationally, statewide or locally, organizers made the tough but right decision to call off the concerts. Naturally, people want to be near their friends and family as they socialize. It is seemingly impossible to maintain social distance at a concert venue when there are hundreds of attendees. The safety of our community should always remain paramount.

We appreciate all of the hard work everyone involved -- volunteers, law enforcement, bands, etc. -- have put in to make the Off the Rails Concert Series a signature summer event for downtown Dalton.

We too look forward to concert series' return next summer.

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