Jillian Kobilka bought tickets back in May to see the humorous electronic musician Marc Rebillet play First Avenue’s Mainroom in September. The future of live music was still very much up in the air, and with the current surge in COVID cases, that uncertainty continues.
Kobilka was relieved, though, when the venue announced Tuesday it would require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to attend shows at any of its several venues around the Twin Cities. Kobilka, who lives in St. Paul, is a high school choir teacher and said she takes guidance from public health officials seriously.
“I’ve been trying my best to make sure I’m staying safe for the safety of my students, but I’m also trying to still live my life,” she said. “I think that’s a really good step in making sure people are staying safe. It’s, in my opinion, a basic safety measure — expecting people to be vaccinated.”
Others find the policy overbearing or have concerns about how First Avenue will actually verify someone’s vaccination status, knowing there’s no centralized system beyond paper cards that could be forged or duplicated.
MPR News host Tom Crann spoke with First Avenue’s vice president of marketing Ashley Ryan about what led to the policy and how it’ll be enforced.
Tell us what led to this policy. What was your thinking?
Our staff has had this requirement to have vaccinations since we were able to reopen our doors, so this felt like almost a natural progression or next step in advancing our policies even further.
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What exactly will people need to enter the venue?
We’re accepting either your vaccination card or a photo of your card. Some folks, I believe, have had the chance to register their cards online with their health care provider. So really anything that shows the vaccination course you received, the completion date and the name that matches on your ID, or a negative COVID test result, which could be a printout of an email or the email on your phone, like a screenshot. And we’ll accept any of those.
What will you do to verify and make sure that people aren’t using somebody else’s vaccination card? How strict are you going to be?
That’s going to be up to our operations team. If somebody’s name on their card is ‘Becky,’ but their ID says ‘Rebecca,’ I think they’re going to see that and make the obvious assumption. They’re going to use their best judgment.
What about touring musicians and crews who show up with them?
It’s not required there, but it’s an interesting thing we’re seeing across the industry right now. A lot of these artists and their teams are some of the people inquiring about this. We've had a lot of questions from patrons. We've had a lot of questions from artists and their teams — really everyone across the board is pretty curious, not just here at First Avenue, but really around the country. And we're expecting to see more of those questions, especially as we get closer to the point where we're having more national touring acts come back through.
We’ve been open for about a month now, but it's been a fairly local lineup, and we're really just getting to the point where bands are getting back on the road. We expect to see more of that from the artists’ side.
What has the broader reaction been?
There have been conversations among local venues and nationally about this and other policies going into place. Since we've done it, we've definitely heard from a few other folks asking us sort of what the reaction has been and how we plan on enforcing. I think a lot of businesses are trying to do their own research about what's going to work best for them.
And again, I really do see this as probably not the stance that every venue might take, but I do think it's being explored. We saw Lollapalooza last weekend — it was an outdoor festival that still required vaccinations. We're seeing what's happening in New York with venues, restaurants, gyms, that sort of thing, requiring vaccinations now for anything inside as well. It does seem like people are really trying to explore all the options and put the safest protocols in place.