Six Months Into COVID-19, Nashville’s Independent Music Venues Look Ahead

A staffer checks guests’ temperatures at City Winery, August 2020

Music City’s independent venues spent most of 2020 and the first half of 2021 either completely closed or operating at a very limited capacity thanks to this infernal pandemic. After more tentative steps through the spring, this vital economic and artistic ecosystem has been running at close to full capacity through the summer.

The vast majority of small and midsize venues have some sort of COVID protocol in place. Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge is requiring patrons to mask. Exit/In is requiring masks for unvaccinated patrons, though some shows can be more restrictive. 3rd and Lindsley requires masks for entry and when patrons aren’t in their seats, among other things. The Basement and The Basement East don’t have specific protocols listed online, but they are encouraging vaccination. The Basement East is hosting a pop-up for rapid COVID tests ahead of Friday’s show with Becca Mancari and Annie DiRusso.

It’s a safe bet that nobody wants a repeat of the uncertainty and unease of the past 18 months. But as COVID case numbers surge around the country, due in large part to unvaccinated individuals and the highly contagious Delta variant, some area venues are taking further steps.

City Winery is asking patrons to show proof of vaccination or a COVID test with a negative result timestamped no more than 72 hours before you enter. They’re also asking patrons to mask up when they aren’t seated. Their detailed statement notes that some events may have different requirements, so be sure to check the ticket page for your show.

The East Room has set a similar standard, which goes into effect Friday, of proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test no more than 72 hours before you enter. They also note that performers and staff are subject to the same requirement. Masking inside is encouraged, but not required.

The 5 Spot, which spent last July through mid-June operating more like a soundstage for livestreams with no audience present, has enacted the most stringent standard yet. Beginning Saturday (when you can see a matinee with rockers Tower Defense and more), no one will be admitted without a vaccination card or a photo of it. A note included in the venue’s social media posts elaborates:

To our 5 Spot family and friends,

After due consideration we’ve made the decision to require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry into our venue beginning this Saturday, August 7th. Everyone here has loved ones at home — not all of them enjoy good health or the widely and freely accessible luxury of vaccination. In times such as these we must behave as reasonably and responsibly as possible.

So, before you come party with us, please make sure you have your vaccination card (or a photo of it) at the ready. We will be verifying vaccination status before admission to The 5 Spot is granted.

No ID? No Entry.

No Vaccination? No Entry.

Thank you, The 5 Spot

These changes come to a live-entertainment world where conditions and restrictions vary drastically from place to place. Lollapalooza, which took place last weekend in Chicago, required patrons to show proof of a vaccination or a negative COVID test less than 72 hours old. There are still concerns about the likelihood of transmitting the coronavirus. Even though the concert was called off because of a thunderstorm, restrictions were notably lax at Nissan Stadium where a Garth Brooks show was to happen July 31. In his weekly Facebook video appearance on Monday, Brooks encouraged fans to wear masks. His upcoming show in Kansas City will host a vaccine clinic organized by the city.

An abbreviated, jam-packed festival season is set to come to Nashville in September, with Bonnaroo, Musicians Corner’s September Sundown, Nashville Pride Fest, AmericanaFest and Pilgrimage all on the books. (CMA Fest and Live on the Green aren’t happening this year, but are set to return in 2022.) Excepting Musicians Corner, which hasn’t announced a lineup yet, each fest has its own COVID protocol statement linked above.

All the statements reference local laws and CDC guidelines and are subject to change. Bonnaroo and Pilgrimage add notes appealing to fans to help others stay safe. Pride’s statement is the most comprehensive, asking fans to stay home if they’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or been exposed to someone who has within 14 days of the fest, and noting that they’ll be ejected if they don’t follow instructions from security staff. AmericanaFest, which happens in venues all over the city, relies on local guidelines and the venues’ policies.

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