Arkansas Department of Health officials plan to issue a cease-and-desist order for a Fort Smith music venue’s concert scheduled three days before performance venues may open in the state.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced on Tuesday the order would be issued for the TempleLive’s Travis McCready concert scheduled Friday evening. The concert precedes the May 18 date when venues like it may reopen for events under strict COVID-19 guidelines.
This announcement follows venue manager Lance Beaty’s Monday news release that stated he planned to conduct the concert as scheduled. The release was issued after Hutchinson said the Arkansas Department of Health found the concert’s precautions "insufficient" for crowd safety.
"We will review the (cease-and-desist) order when received and respond at that time," Beaty said in a text message to the Times Record following the governor’s announcement.
Performance venues in Arkansas may open Monday and allow 50 or fewer people in the audience at a time with 6-foot social distancing, except for family groups. Audience members over 10 years old are required to wear a face covering. Hand sanitizer stations are required at all exits, and self-served refreshments are prohibited.
The concert has a crowd capacity of 229 — almost 21% regular capacity. It also has a "seating pod" arrangement, which in some parts of the venue allowed up to eight people to sit next to each other, according to Ticketmaster.
"Clearly, it is three days before we determined it was an appropriate time to open up to a limited capacity some of those indoor venues. Even if you were going to have 250 people at a venue, you still had to have a specific plan that would be approved by the Department of Health. None of that was done in this case. It’s out of time," Hutchinson said during a daily news update Tuesday.
Beaty on Thursday said he has spoken with state officials and respectfully disagrees with them on their guidelines for his show. He said he moved the concert back two weeks because he thought Arkansas officials would decide on May 4 for venues like they did for churches.
Beaty said he doesn’t believe the virus knows "whether it’s in a church or in a venue" and that it would be safe to attend the concert if churches in the state are open.
"We appreciate that the situations faced by the Governor and his staff are serious and complex, and much of Arkansas’ COVID-19 approach has been praiseworthy. However, in these complex matters, general policies and directives are not always best as ‘one size fits all,’" the TempleLive release states. "Therefore, as the needs of the 50 states are not identical, the conditions across the state of Arkansas are not either."
Hutchinson on Tuesday said the concert could set a dangerous precedent for other venues if it was allowed to go forward.
"You can’t just arbitrarily determine when the restrictions are lifted. That is done based on a public health requirement," he said.
Fort Smith officials have not spoken against the concert but have openly supported state directives for venues and events. Arkansas Department of Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said officials could reach out to local law enforcement and possibly Arkansas State Police if they believe the situation constitutes this action.
The concert has been covered by national music publications including Rolling Stone, Billboard, Pitchfork and Spin. Beaty said journalists in Italy and Scotland have also reached out to him for interviews.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the event capacity had been lowered from 229 to 50.