October 28, 2021
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COVID and the Party on the Plaza

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
August 13, 2021

The Rohnert Park Farmers Market returned to operation this year on June 5. However, until Governor Newsom terminated his “Stay Home Order” on June 15, the Party on the Plaza Music Series couldn’t start. So, the first performances were on June 18. Folks were glad to have them back. To be able to gather with family and friends, to gain back some sense of normality, and what better way than to gather in the plaza, listen to music, and shop the various vendors for food, beverage, and merchandise. On July 9, this reporter attended to report on COGIR’s dinner on the plaza event for their residents.

The county reissued an indoor masking order on August 3 as the Delta variant of COVID continued to spread and the cases started growing within the county and state. Would this have any impact on an outdoor gathering like the city’s Party on the Plaza? On August 6, with the mayor’s band the Rotten Tomatoes headlining the music, I went back to check it out. At first glance, the impact of the increase in COVID cases didn’t appear to have much impact on this outdoor event.

Arriving early, observing set-up, and talking to a few folks, all seemed normal. The fact that COGIR had expanded to two tables for their dinner on the plaza seemed to be the major change. The vendors were setting up as normal, bringing fruits and vegetables from farm to table. The two Rotary tents and the Chamber of Commerce tent were assembled. The pop-ups for merchandise from jewelry to clothing, Native American items and toys were still present. The food vendors and beverage options were available too. It appeared to be another typical farmer’s market night with warm weather present amidst the sounds and smells expected of such an event.

But there were subtle differences noticed also. The smoke from the Dixie fire was detectable amongst the smoke and smells from the barbeque chicken tent. Early arrivals seemed a bit sparse. Was it the 84-degree heat or did COVID have an impact? The area behind the music stage also seemed less populated with vendors. Cathy Slack from KRSO would normally be here as a sponsor representative but she wasn’t. Although vaccinated, she announced on social media that she was “resting comfortable at home and quarantining.” She had contracted Covid and had symptoms for 48 hours. A stark reminder that the Delta variant of COVID can reinfect even those vaccinated.

Yet folks were attending. They marked out their spaces with umbrellas, blankets, tables, and lawn chairs. They put distance between their pods and the next group. Some were wearing masks, but most were not. The younger kids frolicked in water mist while the adults chatted away with friends and family. The band was setting up, doing sound checks and making sure their instruments and equipment were ready. The weather started getting cooler too. Down to 79 degrees by 5 p.m. with a light breeze blowing. The plaza started filling up also with more spectators and shoppers arriving. The smells of the burgers, brats and chicken cooking now masked the Dixie fire smoke smell; and the haze seemed to lift as well. Then the music began at 5:30 p.m.

The Rotten Tomatoes are a Classic Rock with Soul band and a staple in and about Sonoma County’s music scene. Mayor Gerard Giudice is the lead vocalist. One spectator commented “who knew the mayor could sing?” Giudice joked with the crowd, a few dancers grooved to the music, and the crowd continued to grow. A few arrivals wearing masks, scanned the crowd and after seeing many without masks, took theirs off. The distance between groups continued to shrink as space became less available. By the time this reporter departed shortly after 6 p.m. it appeared to be just another Friday night at the Farmers Market with the Party on the Plaza Music Series. The reappearance of COVID didn’t appear to be having much impact on those present.