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Live music is coming back. Seattle has become the first city in the nation to hit a 70% full vaccination rate for those ages 12 and over. Governor Inslee has declared that the entire state can reopen on June 30th if at least 70% of the state gets at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Local venues that have been shuttered since mid-March are now booking shows starting July 1st. The Save our Stages Act that was passed at the end of 2020 is finally about to give out massive grants to independent venues soon. That money was fought for in part by the Washington Nightlife Music Association and the National Independent Venue Association — groups that many local venues got involved with during the pandemic.
I caught up with a few local venues to see what things will look like when live music returns.
Seattle Theatre Group — which owns Seattle’s Paramount, Moore and Neptune Theaters — have announced four shows happening Saturdays in July with performances by local artists including Stas THEE Boss, Kassa Overall, Breaks and Swells, Marshall Law Band, Warren Dunes, Shaina Shepherd, and Black Ends.
When STG reopens it will have a robust protocol when it comes to COVID safety. It was even able to upgrade its facilities with COVID safety in mind. That’s thanks to federal money that will be allocated to independent venues soon. It’s money that venues have been waiting for since January. After months of delays, STG was one of the first organizations to get approval for funds. STG Chief Programming Officer Adam Zacks explained how his organization will approach COVID-19 safety.
“I'll start by saying this is our plan today and we're following government guidelines and those are changing on a pretty consistent basis,” Zacks says. “From now until it's not this way anymore, you'll have to be vaccinated in order to come to a show at the Paramount, Moore, or Neptune. And there will be accommodations for those who can't be vaccinated due to medical or religious exemptions. As of now, masks will also be required. And on top of that, there have been quite a bit of upgrades happening at all the venues with the air handling, most importantly. There's UVC disinfection lights in all the air handling systems. MERV 13 filters, which filters out the COVID virus, air purifiers in all the dressing rooms, temperature scan cameras at the entries, shield guards whenever there's interaction with staff and the public, hand sanitizing stations everywhere, electrostatic cleaning devices have been in use now at all three venues. And on top of all that, some of our staff are now certified COVID compliance officers, and they'll be present at every event to make sure everything's cool.”
Meanwhile, smaller independent venues in the city are wary of how they’ll be able to enforce vaccination cards and masks. Dan Cowen has owned the Tractor Tavern in Ballard for 28 years. He was able to get rent relief from his landlord during the pandemic but also had to take out equity in his house in order to keep his venue afloat. He says the federal grants that are coming are going to help out a lot but he’s unsure what safety protocol will look like once his venue starts hosting shows starting July 9. He says it will be hard to manage and verify who’s been vaccinated or not.
“You can get your card that says you have a vaccine, but those are now available on eBay and Craigslist. The card I got was blank. Anybody can fill it out,” Cowen says.
Cowen says Tractor Tavern will have hand sanitizer and masks available, but masks won’t be required.
“I'm going to trust the science. I mean, we'd be kicking people out left and right, it would be an absolute nightmare. And unfortunately, the people who don't agree with that should probably not come to the shows until they feel 100 percent comfortable,” Cowan says. “There is no social distancing, and if they're drinking beer, I mean, they're going to take their mask off. So, you know, unless something happens in the next couple of weeks, the science and the recommendations have softened to the point where we're going to open normally.”
Neumos and Barboza in Capitol Hill are reopening their doors July 1st with a show featuring Spirit Award, Black Ends, and KEXP’s DJ Morgan in the larger Neumos stage along with Chong the Nomad and Archie holding it down in the basement stage at Barboza. Neumos and Barboza Talent Buyer Evan Johnson says COVID protocols are constantly changing right now.
“The running thing right now for us is, we will do whatever the local guidelines are. If that means that unvaccinated people need to be wearing masks, we'll do our best to ensure that happens. If everybody needs to be wearing masks, we'll do that. It's really whatever the guidelines are,” Johnson says.
But he says masks will be hard to enforce at a music venue if they are required.
“I want everyone to be safe there. But the reality of 1:00 a.m. or midnight, you're at a concert and people have had a few drinks, I'll be the first to admit, I don't think everyone's going to be complying with a mask mandate. And that's the tricky part. It would just be so tough on our security staff. Right. Like, who's the one that has to enforce that?” Johnson says.
While COVID safety guidelines may change in the coming weeks, one thing is for sure, Johnson and many others are excited that live music is coming back to Seattle.
“It's kind of hard not to get emotional about it just because this is kind of the moment that we've been waiting for,” Johnson says. “I'm kind of at a loss for words, and that sounds dramatic, but it's the reality that this is just something I've dreamt about ever since we shut down. And it's finally happening.”
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