The show must go on: coronavirus impacts western entertainment

Entertainment looked markedly different in 2020 as the world struggled with COVID-19. On the Western Edge, many events continued unimpeded. Though Dickinson’s entertainment industry prevailed this past summer by continuing to host First On First, some major events were cancelled. How did COVID-19 impact entertainment in the west? What can we expect for 2021?

Despite the amounting COVID-19 restrictions, the Fourth of July Parade continued on in Dickinson, setting records for the number of attendants in the crowd as well as entry participants. (Dickinson Press File Photo)

Though the holiday season is usually the time of year where people sit amongst the crowds to watch Ebenezer Scrooge encounter the three ghosts of Christmas and hear the ole “A Christmas Carol” story unfold, theatrical plays and entertainment across the country have halted or have had to make adaptations to abide by the new-normal in a post coronavirus world. The very same has already been implemented in southwest North Dakota with Medora’s holiday musical now incorporating a livestream viewing option.

Dickinson, alone, has triumphed over the summer to provide the community continued entertainment through concerts and live events such as First On First concert series. Despite the success of many public events this summer, the city has faced a wide array of major event cancelations, including community concert series to the Roughrider Days concert, parade and rodeo.

The Dickinson Area Concert Association has seen firsthand the effects to the blow of COVID-19 restrictions. The association had to make the difficult decision to cancel the community concert series which usually take place from September and May at Dickinson State University’s Dorothy Stickney Auditorium and Trinity’s auditorium.

Allied Concert Services, which is the Minneapolis-based group the Dickinson Area Concert Association contracts with, canceled all of its performances, unfortunately devastating hundreds of spectators in the southwest North Dakota area who attend the shows.

“It’s disappointing that things have to be cancelled,” Dickinson Area Concert Association spokeswoman Carma Gerbig said. “... It’s a lot of things that are impacting the arts this year.”


Moving forward, concerts with a live attendance in person will be the goal.

“We’re hoping by next fall, we’ll be able to be up and running again. But it depends on lots of things,” Gerbig added.

The Roughrider Commission also struggled with the pandemic’s restrictions, and were forced to cancel the annual Roughrider Days concert, parade, demolition derby and rodeo. However, Stark County Sheriff Corey Lee stepped up and asked the public in a forum to continue on with a parade for the Fourth of July, as it was such a tradition to host one, Stark County Park Director Lisa Heiser said. Lee then asked Heiser and a few others to lend a hand in facilitating one of the biggest turnouts for a parade in Dickinson with a record number of entrants at 118 individual participants.

The goal was not to “spike anything,” Heiser said, explaining that the group stayed in contact with Southwestern District Health Unit Executive Officer Sherry Adams to make sure attendants would be safe, while still allowing for a much-needed day of celebration to take place.

“People were just ready to get out and do something,” Heiser said. “... It had been such a long spring for everybody being cooped up and that’s such a tradition here, especially in southwestern North Dakota. That parade is kind of the kick-off to everything that we do for the summer and I think that was part of the reason why there was such an outcry. People just wanted somewhere to go, they wanted to be able to social distance and still have that in their traditions with their kids. And so, I think that was the most important part for them.”

The coronavirus pandemic, no doubt, has shifted the stage of how entertainment can amuse a crowd but it hasn’t stripped the community from hosting events outdoors. Heiser noted that 2021 will focus on having events tailored to outdoor spaces as those areas allow for more social distancing and less of a contaminant than indoor areas.

“It changed the focus of things. When the actual Roughrider Days was canceled, we went from basically doing the spectator-paid events to maybe more terms of jackpot events,” Heiser said. “... Most of the people, because of all the COVID-19 cancelations, thought, ‘Wow, you’re probably not doing anything this time of year but really in the reality of it, I was very, very busy — as busy as I was last year. So it didn’t change what we were doing, it just changed the focus of the types of events at the fairgrounds.”

Heiser remarked that 2021’s seasonal events are nearly booked out at the Stark County Fairgrounds with only six weekends left available.


The new year will set the stage as to what entertainment will look like with more outdoor events and livestreaming options.

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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