Temple Live in Fort Smith Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism

Governor Hutchinson’s May 4 directives on the re-opening of indoor and outdoor venues indicate closures will be lifted on May 18, but that’s not what the event calendar at Fort Smith’s Temple Live says.

Travis McCready’s (of Bishop Gunn) May 15 concert at the historic (officially, as it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992) venue is being billed as “the first known live public concert to play in the United States as the nation slowly recovers from COVID-19 isolation.” Details on the venue’s concert listing outline the plan for what it calls “COVID operations protocol” — a reduced capacity of audience members, with only 229 of the theater’s 1,100 seats occupied; sanitization by fog; “make-up air” ventilation; temperature screenings; and bathroom occupancy limits; to name a few.

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“At some point, we have to begin the return to normality,” Lance Beaty said in a press release. He’s president of Beaty Capital Group Inc., which owns Temple Live. “When and how to do that may be debated and discussed, but sooner or later someone has to provide that blueprint for people to get out and start returning to the lives they once had. We have decided to take a part in leading that effort.”

“We are not doing this with a cavalier attitude,” Mike Brown, vice president of Temple Live, said in the same release. “We are focused on the safety of our guests, our artists and our staff. This is not a ‘normal’ show but rather the first step towards a normal show. Under the circumstances, normal may not happen for a while. In the meantime, we are doing what we can.”

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Brown confirmed late Tuesday afternoon that Temple Live had spoken with the Arkansas Department of Health, but had made no changes at that time to their plans for the May 15 concert.

We talked with Brown about the concert, the logistics, and about his response to the governor’s directives.

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I’m looking at the April 23 press release for the concert, and it’s hailed here as “the first known live public concert to play in the United States as the nation slowly recovers from COVID-19 isolation.” So it’s not news to you that you all are the forerunners here. When was the decision made, and how did you come to it? 

We started looking at the Governor’s May 4 announcement date, and with anticipation of the state opening back up, we went ahead and announced the show. 

So it was booked prior, but not announced until April 23? You didn’t start ticket sales until then? 

Correct. 

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On your website listing for the show, there’s some detail about your “COVID operations protocol,” and how you’re going to keep staff and performers and the audience safe during the concert — masks available for sale, fog sanitization, temperature screenings, reduced capacity. Do you know how many staff you’ll have on hand? 

Our staffing model’s not identified yet. We’re going through that now. But it will increase from a normal show, even with a reduced capacity. 

How do you make that work financially? 

It’s really not a financial decision on our behalf, for this. The governor did a fantastic job keeping the state as open as he did, compared to the other states that had similar [numbers of] COVID cases. With this, we have a relationship with the artist, and it was more about getting the people of Arkansas, and the area of Fort Smith, back to some sort of normalcy. Because music is an important part of people’s lives. It’s a healing tool. There are music therapy classes. Watch a movie without a soundtrack; it’s really bad. So, people have missed out on arts and entertainment and culture. We feel that, with the way we’ve laid out the seating is within CDC guidelines, and we feel that it’s a positive move. 

I want to ask a little about the logistics inside the concert hall. You mentioned in the press release that there will be masks available for purchase. How much? 

Yeah, I believe we’ve set those at $5, and they’ll be cloth masks, and they’re two pieces, with the filter that changes out in the middle. 

I’m not sure I’d ever heard the term “make-up air” prior to reading the release. Can you explain the difference in the hall’s ventilation for this concert?

Yeah, most buildings have the ability to just recirculate the air that’s inside, or pull in fresh air as the air is pulled out, so we’ll be bringing in fresh air through the A/C system so we won’t just be recirculating air inside. 

As you probably know, the governor issued some directives to lift closures on large indoor venues on May 18. This takes place three days earlier.  What’s your response to that, and to the timeline of his announcement? 

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Yeah, we’re hopeful that the governor’s office and administration will look at this. And they’ve done a really good job of pivoting and moving around, because this is a moving target. It’s a public gathering. And I believe in the same announcement, they said that churches and religious organizations, effective immediately, can get together with no restrictions on the number of people as long they maintain 6 feet of separation. I think that it’s a blatant situation where we’re being disparaged and discriminated against. I don’t understand the difference between 200 people at a church service or 200 people at a music event. 

You’re right about that; I’m looking now, and there’s nothing in the governor’s directives for churches as far as the number of attendees, but the directives for indoor and outdoor venues do restrict audiences to 50 people. 

I would be hopeful that when Governor Hutchinson and his team go back and look at that, that they see that there is no difference in putting people in a building, regardless of what the purpose is. 

What do you say to the people that will say, “All of it is premature, based on the epidemiology, and the expectations that the virus may peak again as restrictions are lifted?” 

You mean what I do say about what people think? 

Sure, from a PR standpoint, but also as a venue owner whose business involves putting people together in big rooms. How do you approach that? 

I think that if you wanna go, you go. And if you wanna stay at home, you stay at home. Ultimately, it’s going to be the person’s choice whether they want to go to church, or whether they want to go to Walmart, or Home Depot, or to see Travis McCready at Temple Live. It’s their choice. And I think that’s important. 

If someone wants to come — and with the way the tickets have been selling, there are a lot of people who want to get out and get back to their lives.

How have ticket sales been going? 

They’re good. As far as the percentage of occupants and the percentage of availability, they’re on pace for what we would expect for this kind of show. 

And you’ll sell them until your reduced capacity of 229 people is out? 

Well, I assume. The way that we did the ticketing is that you can’t buy an individual ticket, and tickets are in pods, or groups of two, four, six, eight and 12. But you can’t just buy two of a group of four. You buy four or six tickets and that’s your pod, or people who you have been in quarantine with, or stay at home with, or have a direct relationship with and you’re comfortable being in the same 6-foot radius.