(A previous Steely Dan Concert | Photo courtesy of Les Schwab Amphitheater)
On March 31, 2021, Les Schwab Amphitheater leadership, along with other representatives from the state’s live event industry, met with a liaison from Governor Kate Brown’s office in the hopes of together crafting a safe and equitable plan for performing arts venues to reopen in Oregon. During the webinar, the representatives met with Governor Brown’s liaison, Leah Horner, and Dr. Dean Sidelinger from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) in hopes of providing input and helping to craft recommendations for a safe and equitable reopening of performance venues around the state as more people become vaccinated and COVID-19 infection rates begin to decline.
“We are losing shows daily because we don’t have a plan. It’s not just us; it’s everywhere,” says Beau Eastes, marketing director of the Old Mill District and Les Schwab Amphitheater. “This lack of coherent plans is affecting everybody statewide. We’ve been working as an industry for the past several months to come up with a plan, and we feel that we weren’t quite heard. We are trying to figure out how we can do this. These shows don’t happen overnight. If we want shows in July and through September, we have to plan now. We won’t do this unless it’s totally safe to do this, but we want a plan.”
Following the meeting, a joint press release between Les Schwab Amphitheater and a collection of Oregon’s most prominent live event operators was issued expressing concern over the state’s lack of reopening plans. “The most prominent live event venues from around the state are on this release,” says Eastes. “It’s great news that by April 19, all Oregonians over the age of 16 will have access to the vaccine. We know we can put on shows safely. We are better equipped than anyone to be able to have events in a safe manner.” He continues, “We’ve got five shows we rolled over from last year; part of this effort is to make sure we can have those shows. We can’t book new shows; tours will reroute around Oregon if there is no plan in place. Hopefully, we are going to make some leeway. People are realizing that if we don’t come up with a safe, science-based plan, there will not be live music in Oregon this summer. We want to get our people back to work. The live event, outdoor show industry hasn’t made any money since fall of 2019.
The press release issued by Les Schwab Amphitheater and the state’s live event industry representatives reads as follows:
“Although originally led to believe the group would be invited to provide input into the reopening process, members were instead limited to submitting questions at the end of the OHA presentation — questions that were largely left unanswered. Additionally, the Governor’s team did not provide guidance to allow reopening of venues and events once specific benchmarks are met.
“Oregon’s performance venues and live events were some of the first businesses to shut down and will be the last to be able to reopen. The coalition has been working diligently to plan a path forward that allows venues to open safely for their patrons and staff, with regulations that are in line with restrictions placed on other gathering spaces such as churches, restaurants and bars.
“Members of the group signed a letter to the Governor advocating for a sensible strategy for reopening prior to the March 31 meeting. The Governor’s team has not responded to this letter, nor was it addressed in the March 31 meeting. Questions submitted by attendees of the meeting addressed the development of benchmarks that can be used to design a path to reopening. Meeting participants were told that there was no strategy, and that the Governor would not be pursuing any input from the industry.
“Representatives of the group also asked for an explanation of discrepancies between current guidelines for various types of venues. In the Lower Risk category currently listed in the Governor’s guidelines, which is the only category in which most venues can afford to open, Faith Institutions (churches, synagogues, etc.) are allowed to hold indoor gatherings at 75 percent capacity, while Outdoor Entertainment Establishments are limited to 50 percent capacity. The Live Event Sector group recommends the implementation of benchmark metrics using the same guiding principles as other establishments, including faith institutions, bars and restaurants. Existing policy inequities will hamper progress toward the full reopening of the economy and are unfair to the entertainment businesses and nonprofits that have been impacted by restrictions longer and harder than most other industries.
“The live performance industry faces many reopening challenges that other businesses do not. First and foremost is the amount of time necessary to schedule, plan and present performances. Venues require this lead time based on consistent benchmarks and regulations before they can offer live performances to awaiting audiences. Without them, venues cannot dependably schedule events, sell tickets and hire staff. Many touring artists have already canceled their tours in Oregon due to this uncertainty. At this point, a single performance cancellation can potentially lead to financial collapse for many of our time-honored venues.
“Venues and events are crucial to Oregon’s economic recovery. Studies have shown that for every dollar spent on a ticket, twelve more dollars are spent directly in the local economy. Many other businesses benefit when people stop, see a show, have dinner, get a hotel or plan a return trip to a festival. Furthermore, Oregon’s event spaces act as a voice for who we are; our story is told on the stages, arenas and theaters of the state. The decisions made (now) can bring Oregon back to a position of strength and sustainability for jobs, tourism and its tax base. Alternatively, poor decisions will result in unmitigable damage to an industry that is already poised on the edge of economic collapse.”
Participating venues and events that signed the release include:
P5 Portland 5
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Waterfront Blues Festival
Britt Music and Arts Festival
Portland Center Stage
Les Schwab Amphitheater
Sisters Folk Festival
Sionna Productions LLC
The Old Church Concert Hall
Portland Expo Center
To read the original letter sent to Governor Brown, please click here.