Here's What Four Phoenix Bands Think About COVID-19 Concert Rules

Paper Foxes perform at Marquee Theatre in July 2018.
Paper Foxes perform at Marquee Theatre in July 2018. Jordyn Carias
click to enlarge Paper Foxes perform at Marquee Theatre in July 2018. - JORDYN CARIAS
Paper Foxes perform at Marquee Theatre in July 2018.
Jordyn Carias
As shows once more become a regular component of everyday life, safety mandates remain a real point of contention. Some venues, including Crescent Ballroom, Rebel Lounge, and Marquee Theatre, have made vaccinations and/or negative tests mandatory. Meanwhile, venues like Last Exit Live, Cactus Jack's, and Pub Rock Live, have opted out of such mandates.

Yet there's one crucial set of voices missing from this conversation: the artists. We asked members of four Phoenix bands for their perspectives, including the value of masks and social distancing, how these measures affect musicians, and whether they'd play shows based on a venue's choices. Here's what they had to say. (Quotes have been edited for clarity.)

CJ Jacobson, Paper Foxes

As someone who's sitting here recovering from COVID [recently], I'm really glad to see venues doing everything they can to stay open, and also everything they can to stay safe.

I definitely understand all these, like, freedom-fighter dudes that are getting their rights infringed on and they feel that they don't need to be getting the vaccine and that they don't need to be wearing their masks. But I think that a business, a venue, has every right to say, "Well, if you're not vaccinated, you can't come in here then." I think that it should be either a vaccine or nothing.

It seems like venues are being pretty accommodating. You can get a free COVID test almost anywhere in the Valley right now. Trust me, I've got, like, five this past week. There's, like, 17 venues that have these mandates in order to keep people safe. My plan is, those are the stages that we will play until further notice. I feel like that's a perfectly safe route to go. How can someone feel comfortable and have a good time if they don't feel safe at a venue?

I also think venues have been doing a really good job about [communicating mandates]. We played Club Congress down in Tucson earlier this year. They were the ones that were reaching out, telling us that they were going to be hosting it outside and encouraging social distancing and mask-wearing. I have tickets to see a comedian in October, and I've already gotten emails from the venue saying they expect us to bring either our proof of vaccine or proof of a negative test.

It's sad that we live in a state where, unfortunately, our governor isn't going to take the responsibility and encourage people to be more responsible and close the state up again. It's getting to a point where each private business is going to have to do everything they can to either encourage safety or to blatantly do the opposite.

click to enlarge The Deadbeat Cousins' lead vocalist. - KAYLEE MARK
The Deadbeat Cousins' lead vocalist.
Kaylee Mark

Mat Shaker, The Deadbeat Cousins

Whether or not [mandates] increase or decrease the amount of people that come out to shows, I have no idea. I've seen people on both sides of the aisle.

I've seen people celebrating the news, posting about how they feel so much safer now. And they're excited to get out and go to shows. But then I've seen people upset because they're putting more regulations on things, and who likes regulations? Are there more people currently that don't feel safe attending concerts that will be attending concerts once these new regulations are in place? Or are there more people currently attending a concert without the regulations that now will not be attending those concerts?

I haven't seen any venue owners that are just blatantly disregarding health or safety measures or anything like that. All the venues that we've performed, I trust that the owners are being safe and they're taking precautions. I've never operated under the mindset that I have any responsibility, or any right, to tell anybody what's good and what's bad as far as what they can do and what's safe and what's not safe. Everybody has access to the same information that everybody has.

We've never made any type of political stance or anything. Like, who gave us that responsibility? Nobody at my shows is asking me what my stance is on politics or health concerns. We're talking about what inspired the songs and where did you come up with this song. It's just such a cognitive dissonance going on right now that everything is so polarized. It's so hard for anyone to even see a point of view that doesn't agree with theirs. If I'm up here telling everybody exactly what they should do, based on my standards, I find it very unlikely that I'm going to change a single person's mind. They're just going to keep their standards.

click to enlarge AJJ perform at an undated show. - ERICA LAUREN
AJJ perform at an undated show.
Erica Lauren

Sean Bonnette, AJJ

Anyone you're going to interview for this piece, I'm assuming they're musicians. None of us are scientists, or epidemiologists, or doctors. So it should definitely not be up to us to enforce actions for public health. We should be following the directions of experts who are interested in public health. But since America is bullshit, we're going to see any kind of responsibility shoved off onto the individual.

I'm not really sure how I feel about [concerts returning]. I don't know if bands should actually be going on tour and playing shows. But it seems like that's just going to start happening, and you can either do it or just watch all of your friends' bands go on tour and do it instead of you.

The missing piece is that there's no one telling us what to say. It's one thing to use one's influence to try to promote public health. But the way I see it, capitalism is standing directly in the way of public health 100 percent. We could shut down the country again, and we could encourage masks and pay people to stay home if we wanted to. But the show's got to go on instead, and we got to get people out.

We [recently] decided to make our shows vaccine-only, with no opt-out. And, really, it should probably be a vaccine and a negative test. I'm planning on being the canary in the coal mine for our tour bubble. Since singing is one of the highest-risk activities for spreading COVID-19, I'll be taking tests daily. We're going to have a lot of rapid tests around.

In light of a lack of leadership, clubs have been on board so far. We're still having those conversations with the clubs that we're going to be playing in September and October. But I'd say overall, we've gotten a lot of support from the venues and from our booking agent. We haven't gotten any pushback yet.

One thing that I can imagine [being asked] when they do see our guidelines is how can we be expected to enforce this. For something like masks backstage, or everybody working has to be vaccinated, those things might be impossible to enforce. But if they're not said, and if they're not put in writing, then we're doing absolutely nothing. I think we'll continue to shift as long as everybody's flexible and willing to put some effort into making it a good experience.

click to enlarge Chrome Rhino perform during a recent gig. - NEIL SCHWARTZ PHOTOGRAPHY
Chrome Rhino perform during a recent gig.
Neil Schwartz Photography

James Taylor, Chrome Rhino

We definitely understand it's a difficult position for venues to be in, for sure. But relative to that, the mandate does give them the ability to enforce. Letting it just be optional really makes it difficult for a lot of people in the audience who would otherwise come, but they just don't really feel safe.

In the days when the numbers were quite low, it felt like we really had turned a corner, and letting people make their own decisions would let the numbers go down on their own. Just seeing the numbers come back up, it's given a lot of people pause that in order to finally turn a corner, there will need to be measures to make sure people don't feel like they're at risk. What we might have said originally in May is maybe different now. We watch the news and see the numbers, and then maybe adjust our trajectories a little bit.

If there is a venue that really, for whatever reason, has decided they're not able to make those decisions, then we will still play them because we're vaccinated and we're going to take steps to make sure we are as safe as possible. I can definitely understand that sort of internal struggle of whether or not to accept something. As individuals, we feel like we are fairly safe in that regard, and we're happy to take that on.

I would agree that one of the good things to come out of this entire ordeal is that we can be a little bit more attentive to the people around us. There's countries that have been through similar things with the SARS virus. And there's now just a culture of, "I'm going to wear a mask because I don't feel well and I don't want to pass this on to other people." It may be that this is a turning point for us, too.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Coplan has been a professional writer since the 2010s, having started his professional career at Consequence of Sound. Since then, he's also been published with TIME, Complex, and other outlets. He lives in Central Phoenix with his fiancee, a dumb but lovable dog, and two bossy cats.
Contact: Chris Coplan