Levitt Weathers The Storms

Anyone who’s scheduled an outdoor event — whether a soccer game, cookout or wedding — knows that even the most OCD planning is at the mercy of the weather.

And even worse than a long-predicted hurricane is the far vaguer “possibility of thunderstorms.” With the former, you cancel or move inside. With the latter, you’re more likely to play the odds or roll the dice.

but you’ve got only one event to worry about. The Levitt Pavilion people put on nearly 60 events every summer.

During prime thunderstorm season.

I asked Carleigh Walsh — the Levitt’s marketing and communications director — how she and her crew do it.

Flash flood warnings forced the Incendio concert into Saugatuck Elementary School earlier this year. The skies were clear at the 7 p.m. start — but at 7:45, the skies opened up. (Photo/Mike Lauterborn, courtesy Fairfield HamletHub

It starts every morning, she says. The weather is checked even before the coffee is made. If the forecast is “definitively” clear, they breathe easy (and enjoy their coffee).

But if the chance of rain is even 30%, the staff goes into “weather watch mode.” It could last all day.

They update the concert hotline (203-221-2153) as early as possible. If the forecast is iffy, the messages says to call back at 4 p.m.

All free concerts and events have rain locations. The Saugatuck School auditorium is the primary “home away from home.” Carleigh says head custodian Al Orozco is “an absolute prince.”

All day long, the Levitt staff monitors 4 weather websites. Radar is key. They also check with their production team. When the stakes are particularly high, they call the Fire Department.

They use another important method too. They go outdoors, and check the sky.

Hourly.

“We put a premium on staying outside, but that is outmatched by our priority on safety,” Carleigh says.

These clouds did not threaten a Levitt Pavilion performance earlier this year. (Photo/Carleigh Welsh)

If light showers are forecast, they try to stay by the river. However, Wednesdays are Children’s Nights; those are more apt to be moved inside.

4 p.m. is Zero Hour. With load-in starting as early as 5, and sound check finished by 7:15 (for an 8 p.m. show), plenty of people — not just attendees, but technicians, artists, sponsors and volunteers — need to know where to go.

Once a show is loaded in, it can’t move. When, as sometimes happens, the weather quickly moves from foreboding to fabulous — well, that’s life.

At 4, the staff changes the hotline (though helpful callers will sometimes remind them the message is “old”). The Levitt website and Facebook page are updated, and a tweet sent. Alerts go out to blogs and radio stations.

Of course, some folks don’t get the message, so actual signs are posted at the Pavilion.

Of course, some folks don’t read signs, so a volunteer is sent over a few minutes before showtime, to round up stray show-goers.

Most audience members are “very understanding and loyal,” Carleigh says. They realize “the stars still shine indoors.”

Some audience members, who may have prepared elaborate picnics, choose to stay home, so there is usually a slight dip in attendance inside. Every party has its pooper.

Going inside is not ideal, Carleigh admits. The Levitt is known as a free outdoor festival.

On the other hand, there is no air conditioning outside. Every cloud has a silver lining.

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