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Music Venues Are Now on the Frontline of America’s Vaccination Effort

New York’s mandate will begin rolling out the week of Aug. 16 with full enforcement starting Sept. 13 and Los Angeles is expected to vote on its mandate in the coming days, but many local governments are hesitant to take such a firm stance — or are against it entirely. Twenty states across the U.S. have banned proof-of-vaccination requirements, according to Ballotpedia, but that hasn’t stopped virus cases from increasing 33.7% nationwide in the last week, per the CDC. 

Independent concert venues were the first to take it upon themselves to require vaccination proof or proof of a negative test result in order for patrons to attend shows. After more than 14 months of closures, re-openings and a rollercoaster of state, local and federal guidelines, many of these venue owners say they’re done waiting for guidance and are being proactive about protecting their communities and businesses.  

Colorado’s Z2 Entertainment — which runs venues Boulder Theater, The Aggie, and Fox Theatre — announced Monday that all of their venues would require attendees to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test result within 72 hours of the performance. Z2 Entertainment CEO Cheryl Liguori says the company took the weekend to make the decision and come up with language to inform the public.  

“The metrics were going in the wrong direction,” Ligouri says of the rising cases of COVID across the state. She adds that the decision was made mainly “to keep our staff and our patrons and our artists healthy and to keep live music thriving.” 

Ligouri worries that a rise in cases will lead to the reinstatement of social-distancing mandates that would be “catastrophic” for her business. For a venue like the 650- capacity Fox Theatre, for example, under previous mandates it could only accommodate 36 guests. For fans unwilling or unable to provide the required proof, Z2 Entertainment is offering refunds, which Ligouri hopes will satisfy the “mixed bag” of reactions the company has received since the announcement.  

California promoter Another Planet Entertainment (APE) has also informed ticketholders that they will need to provide proof of full inoculation (two weeks after their second vaccine dose) or a negative test within 48 hours of entry. APE has teamed up with Clear to speed up the verification process for attendees and APE assistant general manager Casey Lowdermilk says their first week of shows welcomed less than 1% unvaccinated patrons who provided negative tests instead, and the rest were vaccinated. 

“It’s reassurance for everyone,” says Lowdermilk, “I don’t think it’s a stretch for a lot of patrons. It is a very positive thing and should be well-received going forward.” 

APE’s venues in San Francisco County are benefited from a 70% full vaccination rate locally, but venue operators like Brian Greenberg in New Orleans have faced more difficulties announcing vaccination requirements in less vaccinated regions. Louisiana’s vaccination rate for at least one dose falls under 45%, making it the fourth lowest rate in the country according to the Mayo Clinic 

As general manager of Tipitina’s, Greenberg says the response have been “overwhelmingly positive,” but “I’m not going to lie and say everyone loves it.” The majority of criticism has come from people who don’t live in the area, he adds.  

“It seemed like a strong step towards setting our own guidelines instead of letting the guidelines be set for us,” Greenberg says. “It shows the local, city, state government that, ‘Hey, we want to control our own business. We don’t necessarily want you to have to make decisions for us.”  

Steven Severin, co-owner of Neumos in Seattle, says there was a major backlash from online trolls when his restaurant announced vaccination requirements, but not so much for the 650-capacity venue. The majority of shows at Neumos have continued to sell out, he says, and the inoculation proof has made more customers feel safe at the indoor venue.  

“There are all these people who are feeling good about coming to our place because of [the new requirements]. People are going, ‘Yeah! I’m going to go to Neumos now because people are going to be vaccinated. I feel much safer than I did before,’” Severin says. “I am sure we are getting more people than losing them. That’s the pitch I use with some business owners that have been worried that they are going to lose money.” 

This week, Seattle reached more than 100 venues and bars that now require proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results. In Minneapolis, First Avenue owner Dayna Frank initiated inoculation proof or proof of negative results for staff, patrons and artists, as well as the greater good of the national touring.  

“We’re a national industry. We all rely on every venue doing what they can to keep the artists safe. Because if an artist gets COVID and the tour goes down, that affects our entire industry,” says Frank, whose Minneapolis venues opened for two weeks before she started the mandate there in response to the Delta variant. 

This isn’t the first time the live music industry has had to adapt to safety concerns, adds Frank, citing concerns over active shooters, terrorism and even just drunken brawls. But these efforts may also encourage more people to get vaccinated, while hopefully keeping venues open during the new wave of infections.  

“I heard stories of five people who got vaccinated yesterday and one young man who just wasn’t gonna get vaccinated — he didn’t feel the urgency — until he read our policy and said, ‘Oh, I got tickets to four shows in the fall and made an appointment,” says Frank. “If this can be the impetus to keeping himself safe and keeping his family and community safe, I think that’s probably the best possible outcome.” 

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