St. Armands Key Lutheran Church keeps it concerts small, but it's making a big impact with residents searching for something to enjoy safely.
Ran was falling up until about five minutes before the Island Swing Band was supposed to take the outdoor stage at St. Armands Key Lutheran Church on Oct. 11, and then, as if adhering to the schedule, it dripped to a stop.
It was a strangely similar to the previous week, when jazz singer Andrew Richardson began his Oct. 3 concert with a fading trickle of rain. Both times, the lucky concertgoers clutched umbrellas and sighed as a steady sprinkle disappeared minutes before the music began.
Longboat Key residents Christine and Luis Ortiz were nervous when set off for the circle from their mid-island home . . . in the rain.
“I can’t believe the rain held off,” Christine Ortiz said. “It was pouring when we left the house. Hopefully we’ll get to do more of these concerts.”
The back-to-back concerts are a change of pace for the church, which has welcomed members and visitors from Longboat Key, Bradenton and Sarasota.
In September, director of music Michael Bodnyk said he realized a lot more members had traveled down to start their season than there normally would be at this time of year, so he began to plan accordingly. Both concerts have drawn a crowd of about 30, plenty to bring about a sense of camaraderie but still few enough to allow for social distancing and peace of mind.
“Traditionally it’s been quieter (now) but it’s not, but other things aren’t open,” Bodnyk said. “If we had done this concert this time last year, we wouldn’t have had this many people.”
Outdoor concerts were a natural move for the director of music, who wants to bring people together and to the church’s meditation garden.
“We have this beautiful space, so why not use it?” Bodnyk said.
Bodnyk wants to not only give people something to put on their calendars, but also support local musicians. Bodnyk had met Richardson just a couple weeks earlier at the Sarasota Farmers Market, and the trombonist from the Island Swing Band was someone Bodnyk had known since he first came to Sarasota.
“It’s been a tough year,” Christine Ortiz said. “If anything, (the concerts) give people hope that we can still be together and have things to enjoy. A little bit is better than nothing.”
Members and guests, some of whom just wandered off the main Circle and into the back of the garden to watch for a few minutes, were careful to keep their distance. Folks wore masks to set up their chairs but most removed them when they were settled. Safety is a big factor in the success of the concerts. Bodnyk said members look warily at the growing crowds on the Circle and are relieved the church is staying small and giving them somewhere to go and relax during the pandemic.
“My whole plan with doing these is doing it safely as possible,” Bodnyk said. “People really value their safety. The feedback has all around been very good.”
Typically, outdoor concerts aren’t part of the plan for the season, but with the success and gratitude of those who came Bodnyk is planning more. Longboaters longing for their social circle to expand will gladly keep coming.
“It's nice to get out,” said Longboat Key resident Jane Wittlinger, who sat with her husband Fred and friend Sandi Love and near Christine and Luis Ortiz. “It keeps the mental going. You can’t talk in church, but we can talk here.”