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Industry divided over vaccinated-only concerts

Nearly six months after Maggie Keenan, a 90-year-old Briton, became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine outside a clinical trial, opinion remains divided among international live music professionals about how, if at all, fans’ vaccination status should be taken into account as live activity resumes.

Nowhere is this more the case than in the United States, where the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) say that those who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 (i.e. had both jabs of one of the three vaccines, BioNTech/Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson or Moderna, approved for use in the US) may once again attend indoor events, including concerts, with no need for social distancing or mask wearing.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky told press at the White House earlier this month. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

Following the CDC’s announcement, some of the country’s most famous concert venues, including the 20,000-capacity Madison Square Garden arena in New York and Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl (17,500-cap.), have signalled they will differentiate between vaccinated and non-vaccinated patrons when they reopen, with the latter planning designated vaccinated seating sections where no social distancing will be required.

MSG, along with other venues in New York, will be allowed to reopen at 100% capacity if patrons show proof of vaccination, under plans drawn up by New York state governor Andrew Cuomo. It hosted 15,000 people for a New York Knicks basketball game earlier this week, with vaccinated fans not required to wear a face covering.

New York venues will be allowed to reopen at 100% capacity if they require patrons to show proof of vaccination

In Florida, meanwhile, a concert promoter made headlines yesterday (26 May) after announcing plans for a ‘no-vax tax’ that would see concertgoers charged 50 times as much for tickets should they choose not to get the vaccine.

Leadfoot Promotions, which is promoting a show by pop-punk legends Teenage Bottlerocket in Saint Petersburg on 26 June, explains: “DISCOUNTED tickets are available for $18 in advance, $20 day of show. To be eligible for the DISCOUNT, you will need to bring a government issued photo ID and your PHYSICAL COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card. […] If you do not care about the discount, tickets are available for a flat rate of $999.99.

“Note that all staff, volunteers, and band members will be vaccinated. Also know if you buy one of these advance tickets and show up without your vaccination card or government issued photo id [sic], you won’t be let in at this price, you will need to pay the remaining $981.99 to enter or go back and get your card. There will be NO REFUNDS. We are NOT telling you what to do here, we are making a business decision and letting the market decide. If someone wants to come in unvaccinated, they will scare off a large number of patrons and will need to pay the difference.”

Speaking to Tampa Bay’s ABC Action News, Leadfoot’s Paul Williams explains: “We’re just trying to do a show safely. And they [fans] should go out and get vaccinated to protect themselves and their families and their community.”

Back in New York, baseball team the Brooklyn Nets is also incentivising immunisation by charging more for tickets sold to fans who have yet to receive both vaccines, as well as introducing a Hollywood Bowl-style vaccinated-only section at its home venue, the 19,000-capacity Barclays Center.

“We are not telling you what to do – we are making a business decision and letting the market decide”

Williams says he came up with idea of a ‘tax’ after realising in Florida he probably couldn’t legally restrict entry to those who can prove their vaccination status.

In contrast to the position taken by Cuomo in New York – where a planned ‘Excelsior pass’ will verify New Yorkers’ vaccination status – Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has taken a hard line on vaccine certification, having signed into law a ban on so-called vaccine passports earlier this month.

“Under no circumstances will the state be asking you to show proof of vaccination,” said DeSantis, “and I don’t think private companies should be doing that either. If you want to go to an event, go to an event. If you don’t, don’t. But to be requiring people to provide all this proof, that’s not how you get society back to normal.”

The launch of the Excelsior pass follows the successful roll-out of the similar green pass in Israel, where promoters were once again putting on (non-socially distanced) shows before the recent flare-up in violence. In fact, so successful is the combination of vaccination + certification that Israel will axe all restrictions – including the green pass – from the beginning of June, though health minister Yuli Edelstein says it could be re-introduced should the situation change. For now, he said, “The economy and the citizens of Israel will get extra room to breathe.”

Despite allowing for concerts of thousands of people in pandemic conditions, the green pass programme is not without its critics: writing in the UK’s Daily Telegraph today (27 May), five Israeli doctors say the scheme has ‘backfired’ by creating “two classes of citizens: the upper vaccinated and the lower unvaccinated”. This situation, they say, has resulted in a situation incompatible with the “basic principles of the medical profession”.

Talk of vaccine ‘passports’ is equally controversial in the UK, where critics warn of government overreach and an ‘us and them’ society divided along vaccination lines. As such, the UK live business is pushing for a system of certification that would also include people who have natural immunity to the virus, or who can produce a negative Covid-19 test.

“The intention of Covid-status certification is to find a non-discriminatory solution”

Writing to the government last month, a cross-section of the UK live entertainment, events and sports sector suggested that so-called Covid-status certification is the key to reopening venues safely following the planned abolition of all restrictions on 21 June.

“Not to be confused with the term ‘vaccination passports’, the simple premise is to reduce the likelihood of people who may be infected from attending events and ensure the safety of other attendees and event staff,” say the signatories, who include AEG Europe, the Concert Promoters’ Association, Ticketmaster, ASM Global and umbrella body LIVE. “This would be managed by ensuring that all attendees are either vaccinated OR have natural immunity OR have a negative Covid test within a set period of time prior to arrival.”

Unlike restricting entry only to those who have had the vaccine, certification would not discriminate against those who cannot have the vaccine for medical reasons, or otherwise don’t feel comfortable having being immunised against the virus, they say.

“The intention of Covid-status certification is to find a non-discriminatory solution that is safe, simple, protects privacy and doesn’t cause unnecessary delays or a poor experience for visitors,” the letter reads.

Outside of live events, vaccine passports are also being trialled for international travel, with the European Union, China and Japan among those developing digital vaccination certificates to enable the resumption of overseas holidays from this summer.

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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Showpass expands hotel ‘balcony concert’ series

Calgary-based event technology company Showpass is expanding its balcony concert series with two special shows at The Ritz Carlton in Florida, organised with promoter Rush Concerts.

Showpass launched the Hotels Live concert series in Canada, last June, and sold out more than 30 shows in hotel pools and courtyards across the country.

The ‘staycation’ concert model is designed to be Covid-compliant, with guests watching the show from the balcony of their hotel rooms, which have their own bathrooms, room service and contactless check-in and check-out.

The company’s new mini-series, ‘The MercyMe Show’tel – Music with a view’, will take place on 5 and 6 March at The Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island in Florida with live music by American contemporary Christian band MercyMe.

“Tens of thousands of fans have enjoyed live entertainment without one single recorded case of Covid-19”

Balcony tickets start from US$1,100, which includes a hotel room that can accommodate up to four guests for an overnight stay and an additional two guests on the balcony during the show.

Table tickets start from $1,000, which includes a hotel room that doesn’t have a view of the stage. These attendees will be required to wear a mask whilst seated.

“To date, we have partnered with four global hotel chains representing over 1,000 potential locations, sold 4,000+ hotel rooms, and seen tens of thousands of fans enjoy live entertainment, all without one single recorded case of Covid-19,” says Showpass business development executive, Joel Jelinski.

Tickets for “MercyMe Show’tel – Music With A View,” are on sale now exclusively through on Showpass’ website.

 


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Eventbrite: ‘No evidence’ of vaccine scams in Florida

Ticketing firm Eventbrite, best known for its global self-service event platform and club ticketing business in the US, has said there is no evidence its platform is being used to scam people in Florida, where officials are employing it to book appointments for Covid-19 vaccinations.

Following reports of people setting up fake events on Eventbrite that charge a fee for vaccination slots, Florida legislators are fast-tracking a bill that would make it a felony (ie a serious crime) to target people with bogus event listings, reports Tampa’s ABC Action News. “We want to send a very clear message that if you do that, if you stand in the way of a vulnerable population and a vaccine that they want to get, we are coming for you,” says Chris Sprowls, speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. “And when we do come for you, there will be handcuffs that will be involved.”

The use of Eventbrite is one of a number of novel methods local authorities in the US are using to get Covid-19 vaccines to citizens, with survey site SurveyMonkey and “companies like Google and Apple” also providing vaccine booking facilities, according to ABC News.

In Florida, Eventbrite has attracted the attention of the state’s attorney-general, Ashley Moody, who warned locals in a ‘consumer alert’ that scammers allegedly are using the platform “to pose as county health departments and take or attempt to take payments in exchange for Covid-19 vaccine appointments.”

“We have determined people mistakenly created new event listings when they meant to sign up for a time slot”

However, a spokesperson for the company says an internal investigation found no evidence of the scams Moody describes, with several unofficial event listings, some of which included a fee, the result of “user error” rather than fraudulent activity.

“Our team has thoroughly investigated and not found any evidence of vaccine registration events being created with the intent to scam people. We have confirmed the unofficial event listings in question, some which included a fee, were the result of user error. More specifically, we have determined people mistakenly created new event listings when they meant to sign up for a time slot.

“We recognise this has caused confusion and have published a guide on how to sign up for a time slot on Eventbrite. Additionally, we are continuing to closely monitor and remove any unofficial listings.

“We encourage anyone who finds potentially unofficial vaccine event listings on our platform to notify us. This resource helps people identify and report unofficial vaccination events, which can be done through our report this event feature, located at the bottom of every event listing on Eventbrite.

“Covid-19 vaccine distribution is a critical initiative, and we are actively exploring how our platform can best support the effort to increase access to vaccines.”

 


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Live Nation takes stake in Miami’s Groot Hospitality

Live Nation has taken a majority stake in Miami-based venue operator Groot Hospitality, owned by entrepreneur David Grutman.

Groot Hospitality’s portfolio includes nightclubs Liv (1,100-cap.) and Story (1,400-cap.), the Swan and Bar Bevy, which is a joint venture with singer Pharell Williams, and several restaurants.

Launched by Grutman in 2018, Groot Hospitality now plans to expand into new markets, with eleven projects set to open in Dallas, Las Vegas and Dubai, as well as in Miami, over the next two years.

“Entertainment is the DNA of Groot Hospitality, so it was a natural fit for us to join the leading live entertainment company,” says Grutman.

“Entertainment is the DNA of Groot Hospitality, so it was a natural fit for us to join the leading live entertainment company”

“Live Nation shares my passion for creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences and together we will grow our portfolio worldwide while pushing the limits of fans’ expectations.”

Grutman will stay on as CEO of Groot Hospitality, along with executives Chris Cuomo and Mo Garcia.

According to a press statement, Live Nation hopes to use Grutman’s expertise to “elevate and launch offerings” across its venues, festivals and events.

IQ calculates that Live Nation has taken a majority shareholding in 18 promoters, festivals and other live music-related businesses so far this year across Asia (One Production), Australia (Moshtix), North America (Embrace Presents, Neste Event Marketing, Levitate, Spaceland Presents, Bonnaroo), Europe (Planet Events, Blockfest, Tons of Rock, Antwerps Sportpaleis, PDH Music, Go Ahead, Rewind Festival, Hög Agency) and Latin America (Rock in Rio, Ocesa Entertainment).

 


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Concerts cancelled over Hurricane Dorian concerns

A host of concerts in Miami and Orlando were cancelled or postponed this weekend due to concerns over Hurricane Dorian, the storm that has been battering the Bahamas since Sunday (1 September) and is approaching the Florida east coast.

In anticipation of the hurricane, which hit the Bahamas as a category five storm, the Rolling Stones brought their show at Miami’s 65,326-capacity Hard Rock stadium forward one night to Friday evening. The concert had previously been rescheduled from April to account for Mick Jagger’s heart surgery.

Chris Brown was also due to play in Miami, but cancelled his show at the 20,737-capacity BB&T Center on Sunday evening. No replacement date has been announced. An automatic refund will be issued to customers who bought tickets through Ticketmaster online or by phone. Those with physical tickets will need to return to the outlet they purchased from.

Miami-born Pitbull cited unsafe travel conditions as the reason for postponing an appearance at the Los Angeles County Fair on Sunday. Pitbull’s management told fans the rapper could not “safely depart from Miami” due to Dorian’s approach and rescheduled his appearance for 12 September.

Pitbull’s management told fans the rapper could not “safely depart from Miami” due to Dorian’s approach

Sunday ticket holders were still able to enter the fair, with the same passes being eligible for the alternate date. Refunds are also available via the Ticketmaster website.

Mexican musician Marco Antonio Solis rescheduled his two Florida shows over the weekend for 20 October at Orlando’s Amway Center (20,000-cap.) and 26 October at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami (21,000-cap.).

Dutch DJ Afrojack cancelled his Miami appearance at Story Nightclub (1.400-cap.) on Friday.

Hurricane Dorian will move “dangerously close” to Florida’s east coasts and the coasts of Georgia and Carolina over the course of today. “Life-threatening storm surges” are expected in those areas, whereas “devastating winds and storm surges” continue over Grand Bahama.

At the time of writing the category three hurricane was around 105 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida.

 


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EDC promoter Insomniac revives Okeechobee fest

Majority Live Nation-owned Insomniac Events is teaming up with Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival (OMF) founder Soundslinger to bring the event back for 2020, following a year’s break.

The multi-genre music and camping festival will to return to its home in Sunshine Grove, Florida, from 5 to 8 March, 2020.

Launched in 2016, Okeechobee attracted around 32,000 visitors annually to see headliners including Kendrick Lamar, Arcade Fire, Robert Plant, Kings of Leon and Skrillex. Despite sold-out editions in 2017 and 2018, Soundslinger announced the 2019 event would not go ahead.

“It’s official! I’m happy to announce that Insomniac will bring the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival back to Sunshine Grove,” says Insomniac founder and chief executive Pasquale Rotella.

“I’m a big fan of what [Soundslinger founder and DJ] Rechulski and the Okeechobee team have built, and honoured to be able to lead such a unique event and continue the journey,” continues Rotella. “As someone who tries to always put culture first, I recognise how passionate this extraordinary community is, and I’m excited to bring this festival back and make it better than ever.”


The partnership is the second move in Florida in as many months for Insomniac, which recently took control of historic Miami club Space. The promoter launched the Orlando, Florida edition of festival franchise Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) in 2011.

“I am so excited once again to enter the portal alongside Pasquale Rotella and the Insomniac team,” comments Rechulski. “The best years are ahead of us, and I am certain that together we will continue our beautiful story for many more years to come.”

OMF 2020 will kick off on Tuesday 5 March with a nighttime pre-party. In addition to the festival’s three main stages and Jungle 51 dance party, festivalgoers will have access to immersive art, yoga classes, workshops and artisan vendors, as well as a 24-hour supermarket, all-day food options and other facilities.

Tickets go on sale on the OMF website on Friday 23 August at 10 a.m. (ET), with four-day camping passes starting at US$249 and VIP packages from $649.

 


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Live Nation promotes Neil Jacobsen, Brittany Flores

Live Nation has promoted Brittany Flores and Neil Jacobsen to president of Miami, US concerts, and president of Tampa/Orlando, US concerts, respectively.

Flores joined Live Nation in 2012, reporting to Jacobsen and booking across Live Nation’s venues in Florida. In 2017, she expanded her responsibilities, playing a key role in opening the new Daily’s Place (5,500-cap.) venue in Jacksonville.

Jacobsen has been with Live Nation and its predecessors for over four decades. In his new role he will run the company’s concert business in Tampa, St Petersburg, Orlando and the Florida panhandle.

“With Brittany and Neil at the helm, we are positioned to maximise the opportunities across this key region”

In a newly created position, he will also assume the role of chief operating officer of Florida.

Both will report to Bob Roux, Live Nation’s president of US concerts. Both are currently based in Live Nation’s Boca Raton office, where they can be reached until the two new Live Nation offices open in Miami and Tampa/St Petersburg next year.

“As the market leader, we’ve seen incredible growth in Florida over the past several years,” says Roux. “With Brittany and Neil at the helm, we are positioned to maximise the opportunities across this key region and bring more live music to Florida than ever before.”

 


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FL rep demands axing of Lorde shows amid Israel row

Randy Fine, a state representative in Florida, has demanded venues in Tampa and Miami cancel their upcoming Lorde shows in order to comply with the state’s anti-BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) legislation.

Lorde’s Melodrama world tour is due to visit Amalie Arena (21,500-cap.) on 11 April and American Airlines Arena (20,021-cap.) on 12 April. However, both venues are publicly owned – the former by Hillsborough County and the latter by Miami-Dade County – and, under a law introduced in February 2016, no Florida state or local government is permitted to conduct business exceeding US$1 million with any organisation engaged in a boycott of Israel.

New Zealand singer Lorde in December cancelled a planned show in Tel Aviv under pressure from the anti-Israel BDS movement, which campaigns against what it calls Israeli “oppression” of Palestinian Arabs.

“Florida has no tolerance for antisemitism and boycotts intended to destroy the state of Israel,” says Fine (pictured). “That’s why Florida passed groundbreaking anti-BDS legislation several years ago and why, along with senator Jeff Brandes, I have proposed strengthening that legislation this year. Current statutes are clear: local governments cannot do business with companies that participate in antisemitic boycotts of Israel.

“The taxpayers of Miami and Tampa should not have to facilitate bigotry and antisemitism”

“When Lorde joined the boycott in December, she and her companies became subject to that statute.

“The taxpayers of Miami and Tampa should not have to facilitate bigotry and antisemitism, and I look forward to [venue owners] the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority and the Tampa Sports Authority complying with the law and cancelling these concerts.”

Tampa Sports Authority and the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority declined to comment.

Randy Fine is the state representative from Florida’s district 53, centred on Brevard County.

 


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Florida venues open doors as Irma batters state

Sports and entertainment venues were used as shelter for Floridians seeking refuge from Hurricane Irma, which tore through the Caribbean and south-eastern United States over the weekend.

Irma, a category-five hurricane and the most intense observed in the Atlantic in more than a decade, forced the cancellation of shows, festivals and sports matches in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, and is believed to have left nearly 50 people dead, including 11 Americans.

In Florida, more than 6.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders, and many rode out the worst of the storm in shelters in Alico Arena (4,500-cap.) in Fort Myers and Germain Arena (concert cap. 8,500+) in Estero, with shelter staff assisted by National Guardsmen, sheriff’s deputies and motorway police. Both venues were reportedly at capacity by Saturday afternoon.

One person taking shelter in Germain Arena, Krystal Malpass, told the Fort Myers News-Press she didn’t know what to expect from the shelter but that staff had been “extremely nice”.

In Florida more than 6.5m people were under evacuation orders, and many rode out the storm in arenas

An estimated 800 people also sough refuge at the Sun Dome (10,411-cap.) arena at the University of South Florida in Tampa, while aseball team Detroit Tigers opened their clubhouses in Lakeland, Florida, to evacuees and emergency staff.

While the state’s arenas, including the 20,000-cap. American Airlines Arena in Miami, weathered the worst of the storm relatively unscathed, there have been reports of damage at several open-air venues.

Marlins Park, a 37,442-cap. stadium in Miami, reportedly suffered around 6% damage to its retractable roof, while the Hard Rock Stadium (65,326-cap.) in Miami Gardens is under inspection by structural engineers for potential damage.

At the time of writing, Irma had been downgraded to a tropical storm – although three million people are thought to have been left homeless in the US alone, with many more affected in the Caribbean and other Atlantic islands.

 


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