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Missouri Botanical Garden's Whitaker Music Festival returns after two years

Fans gather for a concert in the Whitaker Music Festival at Missouri Botanical Garden. This is one of many events cancelled this summer because of the coronavirus.
Sundos Schneider
Missouri Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden's Whitaker Festival returns this summer with shows that run from June to August.

Outdoor concerts are coming back to the Missouri Botanical Garden this summer as its free Whitaker Festival returns after a two-year hiatus.

The festival will run Wednesday evenings from June 1 to Aug. 3 outside the garden’s Cohen Amphitheater. The lineup includes blues/rock group the Jeremiah Johnson Band, singer/songwriter Karen Choi, hip-hop, soul and funk group We Are Root Mod, soul/jazz group Mo Egeston All-Stars and jazz/blues band Annie and the Fur Trappers.

“We are beyond thrilled, it’s one of our favorite public events that we host all year,” said Abbie Driver, public events coordinator for the Missouri Botanical Garden. “We cannot wait to welcome all of our visitors back for all of our concerts.”

Driver said leaders considered holding a festival last summer but decided against it because the coronavirus continued to pose a high risk to people in the St. Louis region.

For this year's summer festival, concertgoers will need to reserve tickets ahead of time before attending a show this year to limit crowd sizes. Reservations will be open until a concert’s start time or until the show reaches a capacity of 5,000 guests. Driver said Garden leaders won’t require guests to wear masks since the festival is outdoors. Guests will still be allowed to bring their own food and picnic on the garden’s lawn.

The coronavirus pandemic has prevented many musicians from performing as shows and concert venues were shut down to prevent the spread of the virus. Driver said all of the artists playing this year were slated to play in 2020.

The shutdown dried up revenue and bookings, said Art Dwyer, bass player and leader of the Soulard Blues Band, one of the groups performing at the Whitaker Festival

“It's been quiet, it's been just everything that a musician doesn't want,” Dwyer said. “There's still a lot of musicians that are careful, and don't necessarily want to play indoors, and won't accept the gig unless it's outdoors.”

Dwyer said the band was able to start working again last year and is now being booked for more gigs again. He said he’s missed that feeling of connecting with audiences at shows.

“The musicians are happy to be out playing music,” Dwyer said. “There's an exchange back and forth between the audience and the musicians that none of us had, whether we were in the audience or whether we were on the stage playing, that was missing from our lives.”

The Whitaker festival marks the latest live music event in the St. Louis area to return in recent months. Fair St. Louis announced this week that it would return to downtown St. Louis, this year at Kiener Plaza and Ballpark Village. Music at the Intersection announced its return this fall to Grand Center with headliners Erykah Badu and Gary Clark Jr.

Driver said that while the pandemic isn’t over, she’s pleased to see live events return in St. Louis for audiences and for artists who have lost income during the past two years.

“It's just really exciting to finally know that once again, we can kind of start to gather the community in one place to enjoy some fantastic music,” Driver said. “And that goes for festivals everywhere.”

2022 Whitaker Music Festival Schedule

June 1: Jeremiah Johnson Band

June 8: Karen Choi

June 15: Old Souls Revival

June 22: Annie and the Fur Trappers

June 29: Arcadia Dance Orchestra

July 6: We Are Root Mod

July 13: Sweetie and the Toothaches

July 20: Mo Egeston All-Stars

July 27: The Soulard Blues Band

August 3: Old Salt Union

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.