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By Brendan O’Brien, Rich McKay, Andrew Hay, and Gabriella Borter CHICAGO (Reuters) – Pamela Pickens swayed her hips as her husband Tom led her in an impromptu dance to the strumming of guitarist Studebaker John at Chicago’s famed blues bar, Kingston Mines. The couple, wearing fedora hats and wide smiles, had driven five hours from their home in southeast Indiana to visit their favorite blues club, which had recently reopened for live performances after a year of shutdown due to COVID-19. “It’s so great to be back,” said Pickens, 66, taking a drag from a cigarette outside the venue on a dancing break. “It makes me feel alive.”

Inside the bar in the city’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, a diverse crowd filled long tables, where they threw back cold beer and baskets of fried food while bopping along to the music.

At concert venues across the United States, from Denver to Washington, D.C., similar scenes have played out in recent weeks as cities lift COVID-19 restrictions and newly vaccinated music lovers return to their old haunts for the thrill of live music in public company. It is one of the unmistakable sights – and sounds – of American life returning to normal, or closer to it.

Venues large and small are seeing demand soar for performers of all genres, who are scrambling to fine-tune their acts after a year of inaction.

“When we started playing again, it was an out-of-body experience,” said blues guitarist Joanna Connor, gearing up for her show at Kingston Mines one June evening. “It’s reaffirmed that I need to do this for my soul.”

In interviews, concert lovers described the invigorating experience of hearing live music in a crowded room once again. It felt like the antithesis of the homebound isolation they endured over the past year, and for many, it felt like an antidote.

In Alexandria, Virginia, a mostly middle-aged, Black crowd of more than 200 people swayed their arms in time with a wailing trombone at the Birchmere Music Hall’s tribute to Motown concert. It was the first of many summer concerts that Lynette Shingler and her husband Earl planned to attend, now that they were vaccinated against COVID-19.

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