After a 15-month wait, many business owners, performers and customers are reaching the long-awaited moment when they can get back to so-called “normal.”
“The goal is to just try to entertain people,” said Jason Montgomery, taking a break from furiously playing his piano keys. “Once I hit that zone, there’s no worries, man.”
Montgomery’s skill, energy and depth of emotion while playing piano all began with a familiar little tune.
“I just loved the theme to ‘Cheers!’” he laughed.
As a kid, the song “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” caught Montgomery’s ear. Today, the lyrics about community just speak to him on a deeper level.
“Places I go, it makes me feel like the TV show when I go in and play,” said Montgomery. “Everybody knows who I am when I go in. It’s very much a people thing.”
The piano man who loves to play it loud to a packed room suddenly found life very quiet in March 2020. His hometown of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, like so many cities across the country, came under stay-at-home orders. In the hardest days of the pandemic, Montgomery worried for those small businesses he knew so well that had long given him a stage to play.
“I had no idea it was going to last this long,” said Montgomery. “One of my first thoughts was, ‘some of these restaurants, they’re not going to make it.’ I thought it was over.”
Waiting for America to reopen, Montgomery decided there was something he could do: four-hour live shows on Facebook, no cover charge. Montgomery kept playing as openings began, and the country started to get moving.
“All of a sudden, it just went haywire,” he said, remembering the Facebook Live shows. “One night we had 48 states and Puerto Rico in the house!”
Montgomery said to make no mistake, he’s been waiting for what’s happening right now.
Kentucky, Illinois, Vermont, and California have just reopened at 100% full capacity. Even now, there are more places that have not fully reopened. Washington is set for a 100% reopening June 30. Michigan, July 1. New Mexico, Oregon, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico don’t have specific dates set but are expected to lift capacity limits when they hit certain vaccination rates.
“Dang! Good to see y’all!” said Montgomery to a crowd, climbing onto a piano stool at the Harper House in Cadiz, Kentucky. “Man, we’re going to start doing some songs.”
As the country fully reopens state-by-state, Montgomery said he does appreciate his emoji-applause from the Facebook shows, but nothing beats a nighttime gig in a packed house where everybody knows-well, you know the line.
“Kentucky is open! It’s open for business!” said one Harper House patron who came out to see Montgomery play. “It’s back to normal! It’s not the new normal, it is normal.”
“It was a blessing to listen to him through COVID while we were stuck at home, being able to see it in person is even better,” said another patron.
“Nothing beats a live crowd, nothing,” said Montgomery. “To get back at it, I’m very grateful to say the least. Very grateful.”