As It Happens

Masks, 'fan pods' and sanitation foggers: Arkansas concert to go ahead amid virus

Country-rock musician Travis McCready will take the stage in Fort Smith, Ark., on Monday night, in what is considered one of the first concerts in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's billed as the first physical distancing concert in the United States

Travis McCready of Bishop Gunn will perform Monday night in Arkansas to a crowd of around 200. (Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)


Country-rock musician Travis McCready will take the stage in Fort Smith, Ark., on Monday night in what's being billed as the first major concert in the U.S. since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

It was initially set to happen on May 15, three days before concerts were permitted to take place in the state. It was moved after the health department sent a cease-and-desist order and authorities revoked the liquor licence for the venue, Temple Live. 

Arkansas had 4,759 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 98 deaths as of Monday, according to state health department data. Indoor venues were allowed reopen Monday, but with a maximum of 50 people at any given time. 

The concert is expected to draw at least 200 people, but the health department said the venue made certain modifications in order to get the green light. 

Lauren Brown, McCready's opening act, spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about how the concert will work. Here is part of their conversation. 

How are you feeling about this concert tonight in Fort Smith? 

I'm doing great. I'm excited. 

The Department of Health in Arkansas wanted to shut down the concert last week … and did actually postpone it. What did you make of that when you got that news?

It's obviously disappointing because there wasn't a lot of grounds for which they were postponing the shows, since churches here are already open without capacity limits. 

But I'm just glad that the show can go on and that we can still be here and spend some time with people and play some live music. That's all that matters.

And why do you think that it's safe?

Everything is within [social] distance guidelines. Everyone is required to wear a mask. There's sanitation stations. We have foggers with sanitation material inside of them. It's very, very safe.

Lauren Brown, who is opening for McCready, says that as long people are not endangering others they should be allowed to go to the concert because 'it's a free country.' (Submitted by Lauren Brown )

Obviously, people wearing masks will make it look very different, but how different is this concert going to be tonight to what you're used to? 

It's obviously going to be scaled down for safety purposes in order for people to be six feet apart. I believe the capacity is at about one-third or maybe even less than that. It's a 1,100-capacity room and the [ticket sales] for this show was around 229 to be exact, I think. 

There are one-way aisles and the seats are spaced out six feet apart between groups, between fan pods. But I'm just glad to get back to live music in any way, shape or form.

And what are fan pods?

Fan pod is something that they've started coining the term for here. It's a block of seats. So, like, say there's four seats next to each other. And if you buy one, you have to buy all of the seats, and that's for you and your family or people that you've been quarantining with. 

There are those who believe that this whole thing, the precautions and everything, are just a bunch of malarkey and that there's nothing to fear. And people are not often doing what they're asked to do because they don't really think that they should, or that it impinges on their freedom. Do you share those views?

I try to stay out of the whole politics side of it, but my view really is kind of the philosophy of: If it makes you happy.

If you're not endangering others and you want to do whatever you feel is good for you, if you want to stay home, stay home. If you want to be out, stay six feet away from people.

So long as you're not infringing on the rights of others, I think you can do whatever you want because it's a free country. 

When the concert was first shut down, the promoter for Temple Live said [at a news conference]: "'We the people,' three amazing words, and they have been trampled on today." Do you agree with that?

I do. I agree because of the actions taken by the state.

Mike Brown, vice-president of Temple Live, announced on May 14 that the concert would be postponed. (Charlie Kaijo/The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/The Associated Press)

But there are concerns. People do feel that even though people are free to go to a concert and free to do what they're doing, that they can bring whatever they get from public situations back into people's homes, into their workplaces. So it's not entirely about your freedom versus mine.

No. I think that there's a lot of discretion involved. I think it's very subjective.

The thing is not just a general opening that I think that we're defending against. I think it's the equality between us and venues like churches.

I think that it's discriminatory toward the type of venue because, you know, the virus doesn't know whether it's in a church or a high school or a music venue. It's going to spread the same either way. 

So if it's been considered safe for churches to open and for Walmart to open and for, you know, retail stores to open, I think that it's safe for us to have a concert.

What kind of toll is this pandemic taking on musicians and your livelihood?

It's taken a giant toll. With the advances in technology these days, you know, not a lot of money is to be made on recorded music anymore because it's all streaming services. Which is fine. I'm so glad that music is highly accessible to the public now. 

However, that means that for musicians, live shows really are our best way to bring in revenue and that's been absolutely halted by this quarantine, which, for good reason for awhile there. But I think it's time to get back to regular business.

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from The Associated Press. Produced by John McGill. Q&A edited for length and clarity. 

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