Last week, East Nashville club the 5 Spot — a venue that has hosted shows by everyone from Lady Gaga to Charlie Worsham — announced that full vaccination against Covid-19 or a negative Covid test would now be required to walk through its doors. On Tuesday, 10 other Nashville venues followed suit, joining the 5 Spot in updating their Covid-19 requirements to help combat the delta variant surge. Another club, 3rd & Lindsley, is also onboard, but will enact the policy based on artist request.
The Nashville clubs requiring proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test include the 5 Spot, the Basement, the Basement East, Exit/In, The End, the East Room, Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge in Madison, City Winery Nashville, and the three venues that make up the Cannery complex: the Cannery Ballroom, Mercy Lounge, and the High Watt. Concerts at 3rd & Lindsley requiring vaccination or a negative test will be a “co-op between the Venue, Artists, Bands, Event Planners, and Management specific to select shows and events noted at point of purchase,” according to a release.
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Some of the venues will also require masks for their staff, and the majority strongly suggest that patrons wear them too. City Winery, which has already instituted a vaccination or negative test policy at its venues around the country, requires fans wear masks when moving about the room.
Michaela Anne, a Nashville artist who has played many of the clubs requiring vaccination, is in favor of the venues’ decision. “I think it’s a good policy. I’m coming from a family that has many mixed views on vaccine requirements and the vaccine itself, but I think this is a positive. Our industry depends on large gatherings of people, and a lot of us haven’t been able to work at all for a year and a half,” she tells Rolling Stone. “If this policy is proving to help keep people safe and therefore keep us working, it is 100 percent what we need to do if there’s not going to be some larger national leadership.”
“Requiring proof of vaccine is the only ethical and moral way forward,” says drummer Jerry Roe, who frequently plays Nashville clubs with his band Friendship Commanders. “I definitely don’t feel comfortable asking anyone to come see my band play without being able to guarantee their safety and comfort. I’m really, really happy to see our local venues taking the lead on this. May it set a precedent that other venues, and hopefully Live Nation and AEG can get onboard with soon. Enough is enough — if you aren’t going to do your part, you can’t come play. That goes for fans and fellow musicians. Full stop.”
Aaron Shafer-Haiss, Michaela Anne’s husband and the drummer in her band, likens the new Covid policy of Nashville clubs to their decision to ban indoor smoking after a successful campaign led by the group Musicians for a Smokefree Nashville. He says we also need to look at requirements already in place to receive an education or travel abroad. “We keep saying ‘vaccines,’ but it’s immunizations. You need immunizations to go to school, to college, and to travel internationally,” he says. “Every choice has a consequence.”
The policy’s effective date varies by venue, with many putting it into effect by this weekend. The punk-rock outpost The End is currently scheduled to be the final club to enact the policy on August 16th.
In a press release issued on Monday, a number of club operators commented on the policy.
“Nashville’s creative working class is our city’s greatest strength. We will continue to collaborate to protect and nurture live music,” Chris Cobb, the owner of Exit/In, said. “Thank you to all the fans, bands, and venue staff for respecting each venue’s policy decisions.”
“We hope our decision to move forward with this results in more people getting the vaccination, pure and simple. Vaccinations save lives,” said Mike Grimes, co-owner of the Basement and Basement East.
The Nashville club news comes on the same day that Bonnaroo, held in Manchester, Tennessee, announced that it will be requiring proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. On Monday, Jason Isbell, who will perform at Bonnaroo, announced that all of his upcoming concerts will follow that same policy.
Michaela Anne, who will play her first show in 18 months at Bonnaroo in September, acknowledges that some fans will object to the rules. She understands.
“I would say, ‘I’m sorry you’re uncomfortable, and I can understand the reasons why you might be uncomfortable, but please respect that this is what we’re trying to do to keep ourselves safe,’” she says. “It’s not going to one show once a month or once a week. Musicians’ livelihoods depends on them being in large gatherings night after night to just get by. If you care about the artist, then try to understand what is attempting to be done to keep everybody safe and get people back to work.”
Dr. Alex Jahangir, chair of Nashville’s Covid-19 Task Force, lauded the clubs’ decision in an email to Rolling Stone. “I think this is a fantastic move,” Jahangir says. “I am grateful to these venues and applaud their commitment to protecting the health of their patrons and performing artists. As a Nashvillian who loves live music, I will feel much safer knowing that I can go to shows in-person with significantly less risk of contracting the virus and possibly spreading it to my unvaccinated kids.”
Tennessee currently has one of the lowest rates of fully vaccinated populations, with only 39.6% (40th out of 50) of the state fully vaccinated, according to the Mayo Clinic. On Friday, Nashville mayor John Cooper said that 571 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the city over the last 48 hours.
[Additional reporting by Jon Freeman]
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