Arkansas Governor Threatens Police Action If Socially Distanced Concert Goes Ahead

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson talks to
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Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson doubled down on the state’s plan to block a socially distanced, reduced-capacity Travis McCready concert planned for Friday, saying that law enforcement would be utilized if necessary. The state issued a cease-and-desist order against the event on Tuesday.

The show, which is scheduled to take place at the TempleLive venue in Fort Smith, was trumpeted as an experiment in reopening the concert industry by stock analysts ahead of Live Nation’s quarterly earnings last week, although the event is not promoted or produced by the company.

It has been marred by conflicting statements and agendas. Indoor venues in Arkansas, including arenas and theaters, can reopen on May 18 at reduced capacity as long as they follow social distancing measures. While TempleLive has said it plans to operate with its capacity reduced to 20%, from 1,100 to 229 people, in order to allow for social distancing, the governor issued the order based on the fact that the state’s reopening does not officially begin until May 18, and the concert is scheduled for the 15th.

Told by a reporter that promoters have not agreed to move the concert, per interviews with news outlets on Tuesday, the governor replied, “I’m not aware of that information. We issued a cease-and-desist order and we expect the law to be complied with. [Any attempt to go ahead with the concert] would be disappointing and obviously would encounter some consequences if that’s the direction that they pursue.

“I think the patrons, when they know the concert should not happen under Department of Health guidelines, would use their good judgment and not attend.”

Asked by another reporter what those consequences might entail, the governor said, “I don’t want to go too far down that path,” before detailing, “Our enforcement capacity can utilize local law enforcement, because this is an enforceable order in place, and there could be other remedies as well. So let’s take this a step at a time and I’d think common sense would prevail and they’d follow the direction of the cease-and-desist order.”

Asked by a third reporter about the promoter’s questions about how a concert venue differs from a church — where limited public gathering is allowed — the governor, by this point showing just a trace of impatience, again noted that Friday’s scheduled concert is not in compliance with the official reopening directive and that the promoter is aware of that fact; another state official noted significant differences between churches and concert venues, as well as the fact that the concert is “expecting people from different states, so that increases the risk of COVID-19 infection.”

Mike Brown, the show’s promoter, did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment but told Arkansas’ 40-29 News on Tuesday that the cease-and-desist order was “really disappointing. I was a little bit blindsided, and to hear that at the press conference was a little disconcerting,” he said. “We’ve pulled it back at 20% capacity and it’s still not good enough.”

He told the channel he was waiting to get a copy of the cease-and-desist order and will make a decision on Thursday.

“I mean, I think music is essential and clearly it is not agreed upon,” Brown said.

In a statement issued later on Wednesday, Gov. Hutchinson added, “We would welcome the concert under different circumstances but the health and safety of music patrons is most important. Arkansas is synonymous with music whether it is the Delta blues; Ozark folk music; or the sound of artists from Glen Campbell to Johnny Cash. We can’t wait for the music to echo through the hills again.”

According to the concert’s Ticketmaster page, TempleLive plans to sanitize the venue using fog sprayers and require all attendees and employees to wear masks, as well as posting temperature checks of attendees at entry points, separate all seating groups or “fan pods” by six feet, and limit 10 people to the restrooms, among other measures.

Tickets for the concert remain on sale as of Wednesday afternoon.