The Karma Concert Series in Oil City will return next month for its fourth season after a year’s hiatus due to COVID-19.
The popular concerts are held Thursday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. during the fall and winter months at Karma Coffee in the North Side business district to raise money for restorations at the Lyric Theater.
The series “gives people something to do” during the fall and winter months when the weather is colder, said organizer Kay Woods, who started the Karma concerts in 2017. She noted it is harder to attract a crowd to an indoor event when the weather is nice.
“We have had everything except rap and hard rock,” Woods said. She added that jazz, blues, soft rock and a number of other genres have been featured.
Gary Dittman, vice president of the Colonel Drake Cultural Alliance, the organization restoring the Lyric Theater, said dozens of concerts have been held since the series started, and the shows have attracted large crowds.
On many evenings, Karma was filled with people coming to watch the performance, and sometimes it was so full they had to turn people away, Woods said.
“Five bands have reached out to me, they want to be booked for the Karma concerts. I’ve already booked bands for November and December,” Woods said.
Woods said last year she had to cancel about 10 bands due to COVID, so they are the ones she reached out to and booked first.
She added that due to the situation last year she also had enough sponsorship money left for the concerts for November and December this year. Woods said sponsorships go through the Bridge Builders organization.
“If everything goes well (in November and December), I will book bands for January and February. The bands are chomping at the bit,” Woods said.
She said many of the bands who play at Karma really enjoy performing at the venue and want to come back due to how attentive the audience is.
“The bands are used to playing in bars and not getting much attention. Here everyone is focused on them,” Woods said.
Acoustic Earle will kick off the series Thursday, Nov. 4. The Band Hannah will perform Nov. 11, and Jesse James Weston will entertain on Nov. 18.
The December lineup is Pipe Dreams, Dec. 2; Touch of Grey, Dec. 9; Coversome, Dec. 16; and Brandon-Ray, Dec. 30.
“The nice thing is almost all the bands have a Facebook presence and a following, so people can look up their music to see what they play,” Dittman said.
Woods said attendees can decide if they want to wear a mask unless more restrictions are issued.
The roughly $15,000 the concert series raised over three years, between the $5 cover fee at the door and donations, went into construction at the theater, including footers and steel, said Joe Boland, president of the cultural alliance.
Renovations at the theater, which has a “leaky front”, have occurred in a piecemeal fashion and about $92,000 was put into the building in the past year and a half until funds ran out, Dittman said.
The alliance is waiting to see if it will receive a $925,000 Keystone Grant it has applied for, Boland said.
The grant would cover about half the costs of the renovations and be enough to get the theater open, Boland said.
“If we don’t get it, we’ll have to start over and it will not be the theater we thought it would be,” said Boland. He added that state officials told him they were impressed with the project and thought the plan for renovations was reasonable.
Woods said she has gone to see big name performers such as Bob Dylan and David Crosby at small theaters in Pittsburgh that only seat a few hundred people, and a restored Lyric Theater would be the same sort of venue.
“We could get that here. We are between Erie, Buffalo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh,” Woods said of attracting well know performers to the Lyric when it is renovated.
The Lyric Theater is the last vaudeville theater in Oil City. It opened in 1907 as the Airdome and operated under several names and managers over the next several years.
Following a fire, the theater was rebuilt as the Lyric Theatre in 1927 and operated as a vaudeville house until 1937 when it was converted into a movie theater.
In 1953, the front of the theater was converted into two storefronts and the auditorium was walled off and converted to storage space.