New state COVID-19 legislation causes confusion for music venues

Posted at 5:56 PM, Nov 02, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Music venues aren't happy about new legislation from the Tennessee General Assembly that prevents them from requiring customers to show their vaccine cards. But the way the bill is worded is confusing, and it comes at a difficult time for the industry. "Things looked really great when we reopened in June and then as soon as delta made national news towards the end of July, things started to trend downward," said Chris Cobb, owner of Exit/In.

Exit/In may be located on the "Rock Block," but when it comes to the pandemic, they're still singing the blues. "Still on average, we’re sitting around 50% attendance as compared to what we saw this time of year in 2019," said Cobb.

Cobb says he requires proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test so that audience members can feel safe enough to return. "We don’t have them because we want to have them," he said.

But then came confusion for owners like Cobb, after the state legislature passed a wide-ranging bill that in part limits what businesses can require for entry. "Or otherwise compel someone to show proof they have received the COVID-19 vaccine for any reason," said Sen. Jack Johnson, describing the bill on the floor last week.

"It’s just common sense and I’m not going to participate in political games," said Michael Dorf, CEO of City Winery.

Dorf says he won't change their protocols because they haven't heard of a single case of COVID at their venue since the rule rules were introduced. "We’re not changing, it’s the right thing to do, we’re doing it company-wide," he said.

But the changes required by this legislation may be just superficial. "We might have to reword the policy and flip the words a little bit, but it appears as though this is just a matter of semantics," said Cobb.

NewsChannel 5 confirmed with the Lieutenant Governor's office that while businesses will no longer be allowed to require a customer to show their vaccination card, they can still accept it as a way to get into the building. A recent negative COVID test will also be accepted. "Our legislators spent a bunch of time and public dollars to put some words on paper that I’m thankful aren’t going to actually have much effect on our operations," said Cobb.

So simply put — as long as venues are also offering a recent negative COVID test as a condition for entry — they can also continue to accept vaccination cards as well.

It's important to note, the legislation still isn't law of the land until Gov. Bill Lee signs it. So far, that hasn't officially happened.