L.A. music venues enforce new policies due to Delta variant

When COVID-19 vaccines were triumphantly rolled out this spring, musicians and touring industry professionals eagerly made plans to return to long-shuttered clubs, arenas and stadiums across the United States. Locally, most venues have reopened, and artists are back on the road, but the recent surge in infections, now from the highly contagious Delta variant, has once again threatened to upend L.A.’s live music scene.

As per Times data, Los Angeles County is reporting an average of more than 2,800 new cases a day, six times the rate of infections reported a month prior. The vast majority of new cases are among unvaccinated people. As legislators struggle to reach consensus on mask and vaccine mandates, venues in Los Angeles County are gearing up for battle once more.

In L.A. County, masks are again required to be worn in all indoor public spaces; health officials recommend but do not mandate vaccination. Yet a growing number of local venues, from the Troubadour to Zebulon, are now requiring patrons to show proof of vaccination or a negative test within the past 48 hours to enter the premises. For Jef Soubiran, co-owner of Frogtown live venue and restaurant Zebulon, it’s a matter of survival.

“We are worried for the safety of the artists who are going to perform,” says Soubiran, who just reopened the venue on Thursday, the first time since March 2020. “I’m worried for the safety of our staff, who have to work to make a living. We really hope that people will be responsible and respect the guidelines.”

Angelenos pining for live music over the next few months have options of pre-pandemic proportions, including gigs by Harry Styles, Cypress Hill, H.E.R., Foo Fighters, Limp Bizkit, Patti Smith, Cheap Trick, Guns N’ Roses, Ozomatli, the Flaming Lips and dozens more. The regulations for entry may vary by venue or even at the artists’ discretion.

Live Nation, the country’s largest music promoter, announced on Friday that its touring artists can choose to implement mask and/or vaccine mandates for entry at their upcoming concerts. A representative for Live Nation said in a statement: “We’re working closely with local officials and following the recommended safety guidelines. We also encourage everyone who can to get vaccinated as that is the best way for us all to take care of each other and get back to doing what we love.”

Accordingly, attendees at Live Nation’s BottleRock Festival in Napa Valley, which takes place the weekend of September 3rd, will now have to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result. Headliners include Guns N’ Roses, Stevie Nicks and Foo Fighters.

Mia Berrin, frontwoman of indie-pop outfit Pom Pom Squad, will embark on her first-ever U.S. tour, opening for Nada Surf. The bands are slated to pass through states like Michigan and Iowa, where indoor mask mandates have been lifted, but they have requested venues to enforce them regardless. “I’ve heard plenty of stories about singers whose lung capacity hasn’t been the same since getting COVID,” says Berrin. “If anyone on my team or at a show got sick and, God forbid, had lasting health issues because of it, I’d feel tremendous guilt.”

For mega-promoter AEG, whose SoCal portfolio includes festivals like Coachella, arena shows at Staples Center and theaters like the Fonda, policies currently reflect state and local guidelines around masking and vaccination. Dennis Dennehy, a representative for AEG, said that “as of now no concrete decisions have been made” as to potential changes in vaccination or testing policy, “but we are monitoring everything closely.”

160,000 fans attended the Hard Summer festival on July 31 and Aug. 1 in San Bernardino.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

With the outdoors less charitable to COVID spread, business is booming for the L.A. Philharmonic, whose two outdoor venues, the Hollywood Bowl and the Ford, opened at full capacity this summer. At the Hollywood Bowl, acts like Kool & the Gang and Christina Aguilera sold out multiple nights in July; meanwhile, the Ford has scheduled Devendra Banhart, Lido Pimienta and Moses Sumney to take the stage this fall. There will be no vaccine card or negative PCR test result required for entry at any L.A. Phil venue.

“We post signs throughout our venues with the LADPH’s requirements for wearing masks on our buses and in indoor spaces, as well as its strong recommendations for mask-wearing when one is outside of their ticketed seat,” says Sophie Jefferies, the Philharmonic’s director of public relations.

Still, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to contract the highly contagious Delta strain at an outdoor concert — and the fuller the crowd, the more likely the spread. Outbreaks were linked to events such as Oregon’s Pendleton Whisky Fest and the Faster Horses Festival in Michigan, as well as the Verknipt Festival in the Netherlands, where neither masks nor vaccines were required for attendance.

The Hard Summer festival, held July 31 and Aug. 1 in San Bernardino and attended by 160,000 fans, also did not require proof of vaccination or a negative test. Compare that to last week’s Lollapalooza festival in Chicago, where one or the other was necessary for admittance.

City Council President Nury Martinez and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell have recently proposed a motion to require L.A. residents to demonstrate that they’ve received at least one vaccination dose to visit indoor public places, including restaurants, bars, retail stores, gyms, spas, movie theaters, stadiums and concert venues. But some artists and venue owners fear it may not be enough to fight the spread.

Los Angeles emo band Glass Beach, scheduled to play West Hollywood’s Roxy Theatre this November, will ask its audiences to show proof of vaccination and to wear masks during the shows. “Part of the push for tours to happen again is out of necessity,” says drummer William White. “But there is a distinct level of responsibility we need to be taking. The government won’t do what’s needed.”

The sentiment is shared among independent club owners, who feel unfairly burdened with the task of pandemic risk assessment. Carl Lofgren, owner of downtown Latin club La Cita, says that beginning on Monday, his staff will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test for entry. “We were really hoping the city would have the backbone to take this off of business owners’ shoulders,” Lofgren tells The Times. “But I don’t think we can wait for them to do the right thing.”

Electronic music promoter Lights Down Low, highly regarded for its events across L.A., wrote in an email to show-goers that “moving forward you will be required to present proof of vaccination along with your ID (proof of age) at the door. … You will NOT get in without this. Your special friend that you are bringing will NOT get in without this. Go ahead and re-read this line three times to memorize it.

“If you are the kind of person who lies about such things,” the email concluded, “there is no level of hell low enough for you.”

Staff writers August Brown and Randall Roberts contributed to this story.

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