Since early 2020 we have been bobbing and weaving as the coronavirus has thrown its various variants at us. We’re learning a lot of defensive moves from social distancing, masks, hygiene — and the best being the miracle of vaccines.
The music industry is uniquely positioned to be a leader for COVID vaccinations. Concert venues and show promoters must insist that all shows indoors require that customers be vaccinated and, while there is Delta and new variant spikes, to wear a mask indoors except for eating and drinking. I know our customers at City Winery locations feel much safer in rooms filled with fellow vaccinated neighbors. (We produced a pin with the line “Fully Vaccinated, Slightly Intoxicated,” which has become very popular).
City Winery started enforcing the vaccine policy in New York City starting in April 2021, which has been widely supported by our customers. While others were getting pushback, we found easy willingness of people to show either their physical vaccine card, a photo of it on their phone, or any of emerging passports including the Excelsior Pass and the Clear pass.
We even have tried tying this into our ticketing platform to make the vaccine validation easy and done in advance. Our job is to create a safe and comfortable environment for people to see a show, eat and drink. We care about the physical attributes of our space — sightlines, lighting, exit signs, sprinkler systems, emergency lights — why would we not care about the health and the psychological comfort of our patrons? If you’re nervous about your neighbor having COVID, how are you going to enjoy a show?
We also must consider our staff and artists. The number of times we had to close our kitchens because people were getting sick in 2020 was horrible. Laying more people off and closing was devastating. As an employer, our No. 1 job is to keep our staff safe, period. As a show promoter, we have a responsibility to deliver a top-quality experience to our artists. This not only includes a great stage, sound system, dressing rooms and green M&M’s, but to ensure that they are not breathing in COVID-19 particles.
The only way to do that is to make sure everyone in the audience is vaccinated. It’s really not that hard. Would the performing acts be happy to play for a room at 75% capacity vs. playing for no one and another Zoom concert from their kitchen? Hell yeah. Steve Earle was happy with our policy and said that he wished all the places he played had the same rules. John Mulaney, who completed a 37-show run with us in New York, said he was willing to play our room because we had created a safe bubble for him and his fans.
We have been keeping the ecosystem of live music going since April in most of our venues from New York to Nashville, Atlanta, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia. The fans and artists really appreciate the commitment we have made, even with all the hate mail and naïve negativity out there, to keep our environments as safe as possible.
The only way we can keep going is to work hard to reach herd immunity. The only way we reach herd immunity is to get most people vaccinated. So to the groups who protested in front of City Winery and sent us horrible, threatening letters, we will continue to ignore you. We know we are on the right side of history.
I am glad to see that more and more music venues and comedy clubs are taking similar action. I know it is hard in some markets and the financial challenges have been so difficult over the past 18 months. But thanks to the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant funding that is slowly getting done, the great work of the National Independent Venue Association, and bipartisan political support in Congress, more than 2,000 venues nationwide have received much-needed grants to stay open.
Michael Dorf is chairman and CEO of City Winery.
This essay was originally published in MarketWatch.