Roots N Blues festival to require proof of vaccination against COVID-19
Columbia's Roots N Blues festival joined a growing list of events and venues to require attendees either provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test to gain entry when the fest is held Sept. 24-26 in Stephens Lake Park.
In a release Thursday evening, festival organizers said that "in order to comfortably and confidently produce a safe event in 2021, we believe it is right and necessary" to require proof of full vaccination or a negative test received less than 72 hours before attending. This standard will be applied to anyone on festival grounds: concertgoers, staff or volunteers.
"We trust health care professionals. The health of our community is our first priority," the release said. "The safest way to enjoy live music right now is to be vaccinated against COVID-19."
Last year's festival was canceled in response to the pandemic, and Roots N Blues co-owners Shay Jasper, Tracy Lane and Jamie Varvaro have kept close watch on public health conditions since early 2020. Much of the live-music industry assumed "normal" conditions would return mid-summer this year as those who could get vaccinated did, Lane said in an interview Friday.
"July was sort of that golden point we were all hoping to reach," she said. "But as we know, the vaccination process has been slower than anticipated."
This year's festival, which features a woman artist in every lineup slot, is headlined by the likes of Sheryl Crow, Tanya Tucker, Brandi Carlile and Mavis Staples. At some point, festival co-owners realized the conversations they were having around public health resembled those about "elevating women’s voices in music," Lane said.
"This is a pervasive problem for our industry. So instead of thinking about and talking about it, let’s do something about it in the hopes that other festivals will follow suit," she added.
Ultimately, the trio of owners put themselves in the shoes of potential festival-goers.
“We said we wouldn’t really feel safe about inviting our own families to attend this event. So what are we waiting for?” Lane said.
Organizers believe this decision will benefit Columbia and the surrounding community in both the short- and long-term. Lane knows full well how deeply live music is missed.
"It’s so important to mental health. These communal experiences are so important to mental health," she said. "And we’re all still struggling to be able to find ways to do that safely. This is the safest way to do this — and it’s the only way to do it, as far as the three of us are concerned."
The trio's sense of obligation to the community it calls home held a great deal of weight, Lane said.
"We live here. We’re not a corporation that comes in and drops a festival in the laps of this city and then leaves," Lane said. "We live here and raise our children here. Public health here is our priority."
In addition to proof of vaccination or a negative test, attendees will be asked to bring a "valid, government-issued ID" to the festival, the release said. Roots N Blues is still finalizing its process for looking over these documents, Lane said, but more resources are becoming available to entertainment professionals.
Such requirements are a growing reality in the live-music industry. Just this week, several major players regionally and nationally announced vaccination requirements. St. Louis venues The Pageant and Delmar Hall began requiring proof of one vaccine dose or a negative test to enter the venue.
Popular singer-songwriter Jason Isbell — a Roots N Blues artist multiple times over — recently set forth his expectation that venues follow such guidelines, or he would cancel his appearance. Most venues have followed Isbell's lead, though a show at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in Houston was canceled.
The Bonnaroo festival, located in Manchester, Tennessee, also announced it would require proof of full vaccination or a negative test for its event, to be held Sept. 2-5.
Roots N Blues organizers had yet to receive requests like Isbell's from artists in this year's lineup. But after making its decision, and reaching out to artist representatives, the feedback was "overwhelmingly positive," Lane said.
Negative tests must also be presented for children, organizers noted, and the festival encourages all concertgoers — vaccinated or not — to be tested before attending.
Contrary to some social media chatter, a private business asking about vaccination status does not violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA. The "privacy standard" within HIPAA "makes it illegal for certain 'covered entities' to disclose your medical information," Business Insider recently reported.
Those restricted entities all exist within the health care industry.
Roots N Blues recently announced it will sponsor a vaccination event Aug. 21 outside Rose Music Hall. Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be on hand, and those who participate will be eligible to win a live-music incentive package that includes VIP passes to the fest.
Organizers know not all community members will applaud the change. And those who can't — or won't — be vaccinated have the option of being tested, Lane said.
"We assumed there would be some pushback," she said. "But we felt like the majority of our audience shares our values when it comes to looking out for the best interests of everyone involved. … You can’t please everyone. We’re doing our best to serve everyone in this community."
Visit https://rootsnbluesfestival.com/ for further information.