Music News

Why Some Phoenix Music Venues Aren’t Requiring COVID-19 Vaccinations or Negative Tests

The entrance to Pub Rock Live in Scottsdale.
The entrance to Pub Rock Live in Scottsdale. Benjamin Leatherman
As numerous Arizona venues have started requiring concertgoers to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccinations or negative tests, the owners and management of a few metro Phoenix live music spots say they’ll continue running shows without similar mandates.

That includes rock bars and venues like Last Exit Live in downtown Phoenix, Chopper John’s, Scottsdale’s Pub Rock Live, and Cactus Jack’s in Ahwatukee, all of which have some COVID-19 policies (such as social distancing or encouraging masks), but won’t require patrons to be vaccinated or have a recent negative test result.

Their owners told Phoenix New Times they don’t see the need to require such policies, which were instituted by 19 music venues across Arizona this week, including Crescent Ballroom, The Rebel Lounge, The Nile Theater in Mesa, and Tempe’s Marquee Theatre – all of which began requiring patrons show proof a being vaccinated against COVID-19 or a negative test result.

Last Exit Live owner Brannon Kleinlein says he had numerous reasons to not implement COVID-19 measures, ranging from the added work it would mean for his staff to vet vaccination cards and test results, to his desire to not have a “blanket policy” limiting his audiences. He admits Last Exit's policies are being evaluated on a show-by-show basis.

“I want to have the ability to make my own decisions and run things independently,” Kleinlein says. “Things are changing with [COVID-19] all the time, and we’re willing to evaluate as time goes on. Plus, it’s an enormous amount of stress to implement something like that, because, there's going to be issues with it, there's going to be people arguing with it, and there's going to be people presenting fake cards.”

Sean Cobb, general manager of Pub Rock Live, says the business caters to the bar crowd and he doesn’t want to stop potential patrons from entering or drinking there.
click to enlarge The entrance to Pub Rock Live in Scottsdale. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
The entrance to Pub Rock Live in Scottsdale.
Benjamin Leatherman
“We're still doing the bar thing,” he says. “I'm not going to tell any of my people that come to my bar that they must be vaccinated or have to have a test within three days. That's just not what we're going to do, as a bar.”

Kleinlein and Cobb both say they’ll implement the requirements if they’re requested by bands or musicians they book, though.

“If a band wants to put their name on it and want their fans to be vaccinated, we will follow those guidelines,” Cobb says.

Cobb adds that he’s also taking his cues from whatever COVID-19 policies or measures have been mandated by Arizona’s state government, as is Cactus Jack’s co-owner Gina Lombardi.

“I follow what our state is doing and they're not making [COVID-19 vaccines or negative tests] mandatory at all, so I’m not," Lombardi says. “I know other local venues are doing it, but I just don't agree with it.”

click to enlarge Cactus Jack's in Ahwatukee. - GOOGLE MAPS
Cactus Jack's in Ahwatukee.
Google Maps
She also thinks it should be up to individual venues to decide.

“It's an individual choice to get vaccinated or not, to wear a mask or not, or to attend a show or not,” Lombardi says.

Kleinlein and Cobb say they were approached by owners of venues requiring vaccinations or negative tests, such as Marquee Theatre’s Tom LaPenna and Charlie Levy of Crescent Ballroom and Valley Bar, to offer similar policies.

“They just said, ‘Hey, this is what we're doing and there are all these other venues are agreeing to do it, too,’” he says. “They didn’t lean on me to join in and said, ‘You can make your own decision ... no pressure either way,’ and were cool about it.”

Kleinlein says he hasn’t received any pushback from patrons or local musicians from his decision, but admits he’s gotten some positive feedback instead.

“Yeah, I've had quite a few people saying, ‘Hey, I think it’s good you're letting people make their own decisions and weigh all their options out,’” he says.

He also thinks it's “kind of a no-win situation for a music venue.”

“On either side of it, there's people who are going to think that maybe we're not doing enough [to fight COVID-19],” Kleinlein says. “But then, there are those on the other side that think the venues that signed up for [the policies] are doing an overreach. So, it's a tough position for any venue to be in at this point.”
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.
Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.