Concerts will mark the final step of ending California’s shelter-in-place, but what does that mean?

The Chapel

The Chapel. Courtesy photo.

It’s still not clear when concerts may return in California, along with sporting events and other large gatherings, but Gov. Gavin Newsom did say on Tuesday that they will be among the last physical interactions to return. While his comments instilled some confidence for some people, they also raised questions for others, including operators of small concert venues.

Newsom made the announcement as part of his four-phase exit plan from the statewide shelter-in-place. For the first phase, in which California is now, people need to remain at home and continue to flatten the curve. The state, meanwhile, will continue to stockpile personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing supplies to meet not just the current need, but the possibility of another spike of coronavirus cases.

The second phase will include the reopening of some aspects of the economy, such as retail with curbside pickup, manufacturing, offices where working from home is not possible and public spaces like parks. The third phase includes the reopening of movie theaters, personal care businesses like salons, places of worship and sports (but without the audiences).

The final phase will come with the end of the shelter-in-place orders. It includes concerts, as well as other large gatherings.

“It’s a relief to know there’s any kind of a plan in place,” said Lynn Schwarz, the co-owner and booker at the 350-capacity venue Bottom of the Hill, adding that the club’s regular draw is often closer to that of a Phase-3 movie theater. “I hope we could slip into Phase 3.



“That would certainly help a club of my size,” Schwarz added. “We could have 50 people in there, and it would be better than nothing.”

Newsom hasn’t specified what he considers a large gathering or correlated gathering sizes with the various phases, which Schwarz said was troubling.

Also unhelpful was a Tuesday small business webinar with San Francisco Mayor London Breed, whom Schwarz said asked the participants for guidance about reopening the economy, rather than offering it. Bottom of the Hill currently has four shows scheduled in June, which Schwarz expects to reschedule; 10 in July, half of which will soon be rescheduled for the fall; and 10 in August.

“I’m still booking like there is a tomorrow,” she said.

Fred Barnes, the general manager of The Chapel, also said that there will be problems if the state lumps all music venues into the same category.

“I think what they’re really talking about is arena-sized events and festivals,” Barnes said. “There’s whole network of clubs that operate on a tiered level, some of them on the same size as a restaurant.”

He said that the state government will need to provide more clarity about the possibilities of operating at decreased capacity. The Chapel’s capacity is 500. It’s still one of the smaller concert halls in San Francisco, and Barnes said many clubs will be willing to reopen at half capacity as long as there are clear operating guidelines. Most, he said, would prefer to open with fewer patrons and frequent updates rather than being suddenly told that they could reopen and then spend weeks or months to fill their calendars.

“It came down from 1,000 to 500, to 250 very quickly, but maybe that could be a model for going the other way [and reopening],” Barnes said. “We’re adapting to what they say. We’re willing to do what we have to do.”



Still, like Schwarz at Bottom of the Hill, Barnes said the state is finally moving in the right direction.

“Any clarity or attempted clarity is really helpful,” he said. “It gives us something to work with, even if it’s quite vague.”

It’s not clear how long each phase of the reopening process will last. California’s stay-at-home order has been extended through May 31, though some counties, including in the Bay Area, have begun to ease some restrictions already. And even if the state advances from one phase to the next, a spike in coronavirus cases will mean a return to a previous phase. Newsom has compared this process to a sliding light dimmer switch.

Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter

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