As the Beastie Boys prophetically yelled in 1986, you do have to fight for your right to party.
But Mike Brown, vice president of TempleLive in Fort Smith, was singing a different sort of tune Thursday when announcing they would comply with a state cease-and-desist order on a concert three days before the governor’s limited restrictions would be lifted.
"We fought the law and the law won," Mr. Brown said, harkening back the Bobby Fuller Four from a couple decades before.
Lance Beaty, the president of TempleLive, and Mr. Brown put forth a valiant effort to hold this first public concert in the world amid a fluid state of the coronavirus pandemic. It was a bold move to have what they saw as an important first step to return to some sort of normalcy. I get that. And I supported his rebellion to some degree, as many of you probably did, too. But the law is the law.
It comes down to what appears to be a simple misunderstanding. TempleLive management assumed the restrictions would be lifted on large venues at the same time as churches. Mr. Beaty said Thursday at a news conference that TempleLive announced the show April 22 in anticipation that the reopening for large venues would be closer to the reopening date for churches. That happened on May 4, with church reopenings set May 10 and large venue reopenings set May 18. So the date for large venues turned out to be eight days after churches could open with certain "guidelines." This is an important word.
The churches were given "guidelines" — to honor the separation of church and state — and businesses were given "directives."
If this were a movie, the soundtrack would be "Under My Thumb" for large businesses. Gov. Asa Hutchinson is singing "I Won’t Back Down." And churches are humming "Hallelujah."
So, May 18 was three days after TempleLive day in mind. A lot can happen in three days — see Jesus — but TempleLive argued not much could really change with the coronavirus in that amount of time. Essentially, TempleLive miscalculated by a few days on when they would be able to reopen. The concert was announced weeks before, on April 22. But by the time they knew it would be May 18, they had been thrust into the international spotlight. They had a legal argument. They felt their constitutional rights were being infringed upon. Ringo Starr’s "Back Off Boogaloo" is the next song in this soundtrack. (For those not aware, "Boogaloo" is an extremist anti-government movement.)
After taking the timeline into consideration, it’s hard for a cynical mind to conclude TempleLive was holding a publicity stunt. But we all know that no one could have purchased this much publicity. It had news value, and we were following it as much or more as those around the world.
TempleLive management risked a lot by standing up for what they felt was right. Although they’ve temporarily lost their liquor license, they also gained a lot. The show must go on. TempleLive has applied to hold the concert on Monday.
Of course, Travis McCready would not have expected this much attention over his concert either. Probably because it wasn’t about him. This was about a struggle between the "freedom" to do something with sufficient safety protocols to protect the public during a modern pandemic, and "the man." The governor could have probably given TempleLive a waiver considering the protocols in place. But he is not that kind of governor. He was the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, not to mention the former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. He’s a rules guy. He doesn’t bend, and he is putting the public’s safety as his foremost priority. That’s fair.
As Mr. Beaty said Thursday, the show represents a sense of hope. It would be one step that people can take to get back to the lives they had before this horrible pandemic flipped everything upside down. That’s fair, too.
However, what appears to have thrown the whole plan off was this "separation of church and state" ingredient. Considering the circumstances, it does not appear to have been cherry picked. But how will this play out as a precedent in other "separation of church and state" issues? Will someone bring this up to remove the 10 Commandments Monument at the Arkansas Capitol building? Not likely. But possible.
All is well in the end though. TempleLive has firmly established itself as the rock ‘n’ roll capitol of Arkansas and planted seeds of hope in the minds of many.
John Lovett is the editor of the Times Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.