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.
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.”
“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.”