Why bars and restaurants can have live music, but performing arts centers can’t

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Those opposed to the guidelines essentially call it a loophole; the guidance allows bars with music licenses to have music, but if it's a 'performing arts center,' it's a 'no'

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that bowling alleys can open, plus the announcement of gym guidelines, performing art centers are one of the few industries left most in limbo for reopening.

According to the guidance from the governor’s office, outdoor shows of all types can happen, as long as they meet the 50-person non-essential gathering limit. From the end of the second paragraph in this outdoor guidance:

“Finally, this guidance also does not address higher-risk outdoor arts and entertainment activities including, but not limited to, places of public amusement (e.g., amusement parks, water parks, carnivals), concerts, or performing arts in excess of the non-essential gathering limit in effect for the particular region, which remain closed at the time of publication.”

Read the full outdoor guidance here:

However, indoor performances can’t happen for “casinos, concerts, movie theaters, performing arts, or other theatrical productions, which remain closed at the time of publication,” according to the indoor guidance.

Read the full indoor guidance here:

However, both the governor’s office have made the distinctions that music at bars and restaurant’s is “incidental.” Meaning that they view live music in a restaurant or bar as part of the background. But the state views other kinds of live music as “live entertainment,” which they view as problematic.

Empire State Development provided this statement:

Live music is allowable only at bars and restaurants for seated guests who are ordering food if it is a part of their liquor license.  An exception to this is for drive in concerts, which are allowable only if patrons remain in their vehicles at all times unless they are using the restrooms.  All social distancing and cleaning and disinfecting protocols must be adhered to while patrons are using restrooms.

Live entertainment, whether indoor or outdoor, is not permitted at this time. Shows of this type are high-risk gatherings that create exactly the type of environment we are trying to avoid, as individuals mingle and create congestion at ingress and egress.  Reports show that infections are rising in more than 35 states and that officials in those states have been forced to reclose businesses and other parts of the economy that were opened too early. Additionally, Every public opinion survey has shown an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers support our re-opening approach, and protecting the health and safety of New Yorkers remains our number one priority.

This leave places like The Hochstein School’s — which is celebrating its centennial in 2020 — who’s hallowed halls were once filled with music, mostly classical and jazz. But the pandemic has rendered the hall, which can seat hundreds of people, empty. Venues designed just for musical or theatrical performances still can’t open.

“It’s been an interesting road. Not what we were anticipating for our 100th year,” said president of The Hochstein School Peggy Quackenbush.

She also says even if they were allowed to open, they’d have the space to follow social distancing guidelines but when you take into account the economics and musician safety, she says it would be impractical at this point.

“The cost of using the space, the cost of paying the performers and so on, is probably something that most presenters are not going to do if the seating is so limited. We certainly can’t seat more than 200 people,” said Quackenbush. “So that that might not be an economic viability for any presenter.”

The Hochstein School also says that because the science on wind instruments is dubious, and choral singing is proven dangerous, it would make programming too restrictive.

Mean while, just five minutes away…

Three Heads Brewing is one of Rochester’s premiere local venues. Their Sunday shows, which are the spiritual successor to their Thursday “Rochester Residency” shows, provide music for people who want music with their beer, and a livestream for an audience at home.

“Like any endeavor, it’s something completely brand new, completely difference landscape, never done anything like this before,” said Geoff Dale, the Minister of Mayhem and music programmer at Three Heads.

He and his team at the brewery, studied the guidelines with his team to make sure that they went above and beyond to stay open, and keep their musicians and patrons safe. Those guidelines, in short:

Tables six feet apart, twelve feet from the performers, and required masking when people are standing, ordering a drink, or walking to the bathroom.

“People were coming up to us, commenting on how safe they felt here,” Dale said.

Three Heads also finds themselves in a perfect position, legally speaking. As a brewery, they can sell chips and pretzels to fulfill the governor’s “no alcohol without food rule,” and have a large enough space to meet the guidelines.

Another thing to think about when it comes to live music:

Many professional musicians make most of their income at weddings and events, so we might have a long time before our music community is fully healthy.

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