The next time you attend a concert in Seattle, the door guy is probably going to ask for more than just your ID.
Six weeks into Seattle’s live music comeback, local music venues are tightening up coronavirus safety measures as infection rates rise due to the delta variant. Over the past two weeks, a wave of Seattle music halls have announced vaccination requirements for music lovers looking to catch their favorite bands.
The policy shift is in step with a legion of local bars and restaurants, plus a national wave throughout the live entertainment industry. And it comes on the heels of news Friday that more than 160 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed, so far, to be associated with the Watershed Music Festival, an outdoor music and camping festival that drew more than 25,000 fans to the Gorge two weeks ago.
On Thursday, concert industry power AEG announced it will require fans to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before the day of the show in all its venues by Oct. 1. In the Seattle area, the company operates the Showbox, Showbox SoDo and the Marymoor Park amphitheater, three of the largest venues in town to institute such measures.
“We have come to the conclusion that, as a market leader, it was up to us to take a real stand on vaccination status,” Jay Marciano, COO of AEG and chairperson and CEO of AEG Presents, said in a news release. “Just a few weeks ago, we were optimistic about where our business, and country, were heading. The Delta variant, combined with vaccine hesitancy, is pushing us in the wrong direction again. We realize that some people might look at this as a dramatic step, but it’s the right one.”
The requirements were already going to be in place for Ben Gibbard’s two-night stand, starting Aug. 20, to reopen the Showbox at the Market (albeit with a tighter 48-hour testing window), but not for Ohio metalcore band Beartooth the same night at the larger Showbox SoDo.
The world’s biggest concert promoter, Live Nation, which operates the Gorge and White River amphitheaters, had been leaving the decision on vaccination requirements up to the artists. For Saturday’s Brandi Carlile show at the Gorge, no requirements had been planned, but Phish fans will need to prove they’re vaxxed or COVID-free when the jam rock titans roll through Aug. 27-29.
On Friday afternoon, though, Live Nation sent a statement from Michael Rapino, president and CEO, saying: “Vaccines are going to be your ticket back to shows, and as of October 4th we will be following the model we developed for Lollapalooza and requiring this for artists, fans and employees at Live Nation venues and festivals everywhere possible in the US.”
While policies differ from venue to venue, Capitol Hill hot spot Neumos has instituted what seems to be Seattle’s new nightlife standard: proof of vaccination, with matching ID, or a negative test taken within 48 hours. Evan Johnson, program director with Daydream State — the parent company behind Neumos, Capitol Hill Block Party and the startup Day In Day Out festival — attributed the move to the recent increase in case loads.
“With the changing landscape of how cases have been in the last month or so since we’ve reopened, we felt this was the best approach to staying open while still doing our best to be safe,” Johnson said. “I don’t think there’s any foolproof, 100% correct way to go about it, but we want to err on the side of caution.”
The policy will also be in place when the inaugural Day In Day Out, Seattle’s first big multiday music festival since the shutdown, hits Seattle Center’s Fisher Green, outside Fisher Pavilion, Labor Day weekend. Organizers also plan to reduce capacity from the initial 8,000 planned, though an exact number has not been settled on.
Vaccine requirements at large concerts were recently placed under a bigger microscope after Lollapalooza — which did require proof of vaccination or a negative test — brought more than 100,000 people per day to Chicago’s Grant Park for America’s first full-blown megafestival since the pandemic. Although 203 new cases were linked to the three-day event, a Chicago health official said there was no evidence it was a superspreader event.
For the foreseeable future, music fans will need to check the fine print both when buying tickets and closer to the show date, as policies driven by artists and venues are always subject to change.
These public safety measures are being driven by the venues and artists most impacted by the pandemic, at a time when, at least in Seattle, they are not required to do so.
“I acknowledge and recognize that it does put us in a funky position in some people’s eyes,” said Josh LaBelle, executive director of Seattle Theatre Group, which said last week that it would be requiring proof of vaccination for those attending events at the Paramount, Neptune and Moore theaters. “However, by and large the vast majority” of STG’s patrons, artists and staff support the decision. “I think Seattle Theatre Group’s role here is not about pleasing everybody. Our role is safely connecting artists and audiences, and today that’s the best way — the safest way — we understand.”
For some venue operators like STG and Neumos, the vaccination requirements are somewhat of a return to their original plans, in part, in hopes of avoiding another shutdown. Both Neumos and the Neptune announced vaccination requirements for their initial reopening dates that were quickly done away with by early July.
“We held that policy for the first weekend and then we sort of laxed on it, because it felt like everyone within the community was also laxing on it,” said Johnson, of Neumos. “But just what we’ve seen with the delta variant, that’s what kicked up the dust again. … Everybody knows things have changed in the last week, the last two weeks. It’s this ever-shifting landscape, so we’re just doing our best to stay up on it while also staying open.”