Oklahoma venues, performers create their own COVID-19 protocols as pandemic continues
Despite her excitement about debuting her long-awaited album "Some Recurring Notes," Norman singer-songwriter Kat Lock grappled with the decision to book an album release show during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's so tough. I will sit in bed and be like, 'should I even have a show?'" she said. "I struggle, because we have no leadership. We have to make the decisions and therefore the statements."
She ultimately decided to go ahead with her plans for her Sept. 10 release show at Ponyboy after management at the Uptown 23rd District bar announced in August that the venue would be requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend shows.
"I'm glad I didn't have to be the one to make that rule because who wants to be? They don't want to have to do it, either," Lock said. "I feel questionable promoting stuff. I don't know, it's tough — but I wasn't going to do an album release show unless there were restrictions."
Responding to the delta variant
Even as the highly contagious delta variant has sent the numbers of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths soaring in recent weeks, the live entertainment industry is continuing its comeback from last year's pandemic shutdowns.
As autumn approaches, event calendars are crammed with concerts, musicals, plays, the state fair and more — with venues, promoters and performers left to their own devices when it comes to figuring out safety protocols. Those protocols can include requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, requiring or encouraging masks, enforcing or urging social distancing or taking no precautions.
On Aug. 19, Tower Theatre and Ponyboy management announced that all guests would be required to provide proof of vaccination — a physical card or photo of a vaccination card, along with photo ID — or proof of negative COVID-19 test results from within 72 hours of an event to enter the venues.
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Plus, all children younger than 12 — who are not yet approved for the COVID-19 vaccine — are required to mask at all times. The rules went into effect Sept. 8.
Although cutting crowd capacity to allow for social distancing was an acceptable short-term measure prior to the vaccine rollout, Stephen Tyler, managing partner for the Tower Theatre and Ponyboy, said live entertainment venues, tours and presenters must be able to be operate at full capacity to stay in business.
"Capacity is like the core metric of our business plan. The system doesn't work when you lower the capacity. So, to keep capacity, to keep open, the only path forward was to kind of wedge into this vaccine-only lane, where we knew that we could be putting on events with as much thought towards safety of everybody involved," Tyler said.
"That's the new variable this year that we didn't have last year (during the shutdowns). So, we're going to use it because we don't want to go through that again."
Have COVID rules led to ticket refunds?
Since the pandemic has become so politicized, Tyler said venue staffers braced themselves for negative reactions when revealing the new rules. They got them, but the overall response has been overwhelmingly positive.
He said the Tower Theatre's first major show with a COVID-19 vaccine requirement, an Aug. 28 concert featuring local '90s tribute group My So Called Band, sold out and resulted in the venue's biggest bar night since March 2020.
Although the venue's policy is normally no refunds, management opened up a refund request window for people who cannot or refuse to meet the new COVID-19 requirements. The window closes Sept 10.
"We are seeing refunds due to (the) policy but sales are outpacing by a good margin," Tyler said. "Our customer base seems to appreciate the policy and it's increasing consumer confidence about coming to concerts and events."
'We will check your vaccine card'
Among the negative comments were a few who compared Tyler and his colleagues to Nazis from 1940s Germany.
"That 'show me your papers,' that whole deal — we've always asked you to show papers," Tyler said. "We will check your vaccine card in the same breath that we check your ID for alcohol and we check your ticket to be valid to the show."
For Lock, the pandemic has meant taking plenty of precautions. Shortly before last year's COVID-19 outbreak, she was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a disease that weakens the connective tissues of the body. There's no cure, and people with the syndrome often have a lowered immune system and higher risk for infections.
"I've been pretty homey still. I haven't been out and about much. ... I only feel comfortable playing stuff with restrictions and going to shows like that. I'm still being as safe as I can, but I'm vaccinated. And I think the vaccine works pretty well," she said.
Kat Lock album release show
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 10.
Where: Ponyboy, 423 NW 23.