Frank Manzi plays at Papa Bob’s Entertainment Hall in Becket, MA, during Covid-19 on August 15, 2020.

In the 18 weeks since we started this new reality, I have missed live music almost more than sports.

When I heard that my friend Frank Manzi was going to play outdoors in the Berkshires, I decided to take a ride to see if it was going to work. And I can emphatically say that yes, it did.

I had never heard of Papa Bob’s Entertainment Hall in Becket, MA. Located at the far eastern end of the Berkshires, my main knowledge of Beckett comes from the 10-months I lived there when I was five. So in other words, not much.

Driving on Route 20 is a throwback to a different era. The winding two-lane road climbs through the hilltowns and in what seems the middle of nowhere, Google maps announced “in a 1/4 mile, your destination is on the right.”

On my right appeared a nondescript honky tonk with the Papa Bob’s name by the front door. I walked inside to find one elderly gentleman sitting at a table in front of the bar. No one else. After that moment of trepidation when you question whether you’re in the wrong place, I heard a guitar chord coming through the back door. Then a young woman in a face mask walked in and said, “Are you here for the music?” I quickly said yes and followed her through the magical back door into a scene that felt like I passed into Narnia.

The back deck had four high top tables spread down its length in a socially distant setting. I saw two people I knew sitting at one of the tables and felt like normal times had returned, until we said hello and everyone maintained six feet apart.

Frank Manzi plays at Papa Bob's Entertainment Hall in Chester, MA, during Covid-19 on August 15, 2020. ©Mark D Phillips
Frank Manzi plays at Papa Bob’s Entertainment Hall in Becket, MA, during Covid-19 on August 15, 2020. ©Mark D Phillips

The stage was set at the back of a huge backyard that looked like a meadow. Picnic tables were arranged at 10 to 12 foot intervals, accessible down a ramp from the deck. You couldn’t have dreamed of a better music venue on a gorgeous August afternoon. Almost exactly a year ago to this day, Frank and I were in North Carolina where he played an intimate show in the backyard of my best friends’ home when we didn’t have to wear masks and maintain a six-foot personal space. But that was pre-COVID and the end of our traveling days. Here we were having another amazing experience close to home and feeling safe.

When Frank led with one of my favorite songs, Better Days, I had to stand and enjoy the sunshine, the raspy-elegant vocals and the people around the backyard moving to the melody. It was the perfect song to set the mood.

This Saturday in Becket showed that there are ways to deal with COVID and bring some enjoyment back into our lives. Frank’s music always makes me feel that way.

This was a gathering of families and couples, following the rules of wearing masks and maintaining social distance, while enjoying songs by a performer who said to me, “I’ve really missed singing in settings like this.”

For four hours in the back of a Becket honky tonk, the world felt better. It’s the hope we need.