The Bankhead Theater will celebrate a return to live shows in July, when A. J. Croce and his band break out their instruments on stage.
The theater has virtually aired performances of various types over the past year but has not seated an audience for a live show since March 2020. Roberta Emerson, marketing manager for the Bankhead, said this performance is a big deal.
“We have been closed since March 12 of 2020, and this is the first live show with a live audience and will be fully booked,” Emerson said. "The very first week we put it back on sale, we sold 100 tickets. We were surprised, but people are clearly ready to be back at shows.”
Currently, the Bankhead is showing movies in front of a limited audience, but once restrictions are lifted across the state on June 15 — as Gov. Gavin Newsom has stated — officials at the Bankhead feel there is nothing to stop them from filling the house.
“Masks will be required; we have the distancing lines and so on, but we are expecting people to come and wear their masks,” said Emerson. “Newsom said we are opening in the middle of June, so we assumed as long as we require masks, we are good.”
The inaugural live performance of Croce playing his and his father’s music promises to be as unique as it is exciting. Croce’s father, Jim Croce, was the creator of multiple Billboard hits, including “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” “Operator,” “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” and “Time in a Bottle.” Croce will cover these and other classics, along with some of his own creations. During his 30-year career, Croce has written, recorded and performed all over the country, touring with Willie Nelson, Lenny Kravitz and Earth, Wind and Fire.
Growing up in the shadow of his father’s posthumous fame, Croce said he was inspired by many of the same influences, from classic 1960s soul and Ray Charles to R&B hits.
“I’ve played all kinds of music, written all kinds of genres, so I don’t fit into a box too easily,” he said when describing his musical style.
Croce was 2 years old when his father died in a plane crash, and 4 when he lost his sight. Motivated by stories of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, Croce learned to play the piano and was only 16 when he landed his first paying job to open for blues artist Floyd Dixon. From there, he began making connections and started touring.
Croce now has his own hits to play, owns two record labels and spends time performing on the road.
“I’ve had all different kinds of roles in this business over the years,” he said. “First and foremost, as an artist and also as a music publisher ... I play different roles to make a living as a musician, and I am grateful for all of it and it’s all been wonderful.”
Croce said he used his time during the past year to write and practice his music. He appreciated the break in his routine but looks forward to stepping onto a stage once more.
“I think it feels great just to be performing again,” he said. “It’s been a long time for me. I’ve had three or four shows in front of an audience in the past couple months. At first it was strange, because there were limitations on how many people could be there, and it was very surreal. It was strange to be in a 1,000-seat venue and only have 200 people there. But just being able to play live again is just a thrill. It’s what I do.”
A. J. Croce will perform “Croce Plays Croce” on Friday, July 9, at 8 p.m. at the Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St., in Livermore. For more information, call 925-373-6800 or visit livermorearts.org.