Growing concerns about the delta variant as Michigan enters its busiest live music stretch of the summer could spark vaccination mandates for some shows. An in-depth report at Local Spins.
It’s not the news that venues, bands and festival organizers wanted to hear, but it hasn’t been completely unexpected either.
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Spiking COVID cases across the country spawned by the delta variant – and warnings of recent coronavirus outbreaks linked to Faster Horses Festival and Muskegon Bike Time – have renewed concerns about live music gatherings indoors and out just as summer events heat up across Michigan.
Some confusion about varying precautions being considered at different events has added to the uneasiness for attendees and many in the music industry. But the possibility of requiring proof of vaccinations could be on the horizon, with at least one August show in Grand Rapids requiring concertgoers to wear masks.
Scott Hammontree, talent buyer and partner in The Intersection in Grand Rapids, called it “extremely concerning, unsettling and feels like March 2020 all over again.”
The Intersection – which resumed hosting shows this summer, including recent appearances by Domestic Problems on Friday night and Michigan Rattlers earlier in the week – continues to monitor conditions, sanitizing and cleaning the venue more thoroughly, and urging patrons who feel sick to stay away.
“(We’re) hearing of multiple cancellations across the country, and in many cases as a result of the artist and create set to perform (but) contracting COVID,” he said.
“It feels like the entire touring industry is taking a big deep breath this week with the uncertainty for the upcoming months. As always, we will be prepared to operate under any mandate or restrictions that are given to us. At this time, we are not requiring a proof of vax or negative test.”
But that could be coming – and even likely – for certain shows.
“Several bands are now wanting to play to vaccinated crowds only,” said Tami VandenBerg, co-owner of The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids. “And although delta has not yet exploded in Michigan, it seems that could happen at any time.”
The Pyramid Scheme, whose next scheduled show is West Michigan jam band Desmond Jones on Thursday, is accommodating “the desires of the bands on a show-by-show basis for now, and working to develop a vaccinated-only policy for the fall.”
Indeed, the Aug. 27 Mustard Plug concert — with Jay Navarro & The Traitors, Dance Contraption and Mushmen — will require that attendees provide proof of vaccination “or a negative COVID test within the last 72 hours.”
COVID CASES TIED TO OUTDOOR GATHERINGS CAUSING RENEWED FRUSTRATION
The rising concerns come after Michigan health officials reported that several dozen COVID cases have been linked to country music’s Faster Horses Festival, which took place in Brooklyn, Mich., in July.
And last week, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services identified at least 16 cases of COVID-19 stemming from a Muskegon Bike Time event held July 15-18. Officials warned that those attending either event may have been exposed to the virus and urged them to get tested.
The news comes as Michigan enters its busiest stretch of music festivals for 2021, with at least 20 festivals taking place between now and the end of August.
“We are creating as safe of an environment as we can,” organizer Stacy Jo Schiller said of next weekend’s Farmfest near Johannesburg, an event which will feature “sanitation stations throughout the venue. Each station will have free masks, hand sanitizer and Chaga ice tea to boost immune systems.”
“We will be sanitizing all mics and stands between each performance on all the stages. We are also creating safe spaces in front of all stages, clearly marked and distanced between each other.”
Schiller added that “no hug” stickers and tie-dye masks will be available, and organizers will ask attendees if they’ve been vaccinated.
“They do not have to tell us, nor will we restrict anyone from coming in, but I am curious as to how many are and how many are not,” she said, noting that the festival’s small size makes its numbers manageable for the weekend.
On the flip side, Chicago’s mammoth Lollapalooza – which attracted more than 350,000 people – moved ahead last weekend, requiring festivalgoers to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test. Still, one medical school professor told USA Today that such a large festival was “a recipe for disaster” due to the number of people packed into the outdoor space.
Grand Rapids’ 12,000-capacity Van Andel Arena, which reopens later this month and hosts Alabama’s 50th anniversary tour on Aug. 28, reiterated its standard position, while touting ASM Global’s new “VenueShield” program that “provides the highest levels of cleanliness and safety” with new protocols, air quality controls, hand sanitizers and more.
“It is our practice to follow protocols and procedures required by public health officials, event promoters and federal, state and local government,” said Alison Goodyke, marketing manager. “We are working closely with these partners and monitoring the situation as it evolves.”
John VanderHaagen, communications director for Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, which hosts another 20 amphitheater concerts through Sept. 19, called it “a fluid situation” that Meijer Gardens will monitor while following the guidance of health experts.
And attention Marc Cohn fans: Masks will be required of concertgoers “at all times” when the singer-songwriter plays St. Cecilia Music Center on Aug. 21, at Cohn’s request.
The future for live music for the remainder of 2021 ultimately may be determined by vaccination numbers and COVID surges.
VandenBerg echoed the sentiments of other venue operators, having already endured more than a year of silence and financial worries due to COVID.
“It is so frustrating to be in this position yet again, having to make these very difficult and controversial decisions as an owner of a small business,” she said. “Alas, this is the reality, and as always, we’ll do everything we can to keep people safe while continuing to fight for the survival of our business.”
Added Hammontree, a representative for the National Independent Venue Association and Michigan Independent Venue and Promoter Association:
“We went through 12 months of postpones, reschedules. I’m not excited about having to do this again.”
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