As coronavirus cases continue to surge in Texas, one venue outside Austin says it still plans to host an in-person concert Friday with rapper Vanilla Ice.
But while news of the show has sparked concerns about social distancing, the concert venue's organizer told The Texas Tribune that only 84 tickets have been sold as of Wednesday night. Barret Brannam, owner of Emerald Point Bar & Grill on Lake Travis, said that, contrary to reports suggesting that the number of fans at Friday's show will be roughly 2,500, the maximum occupancy for the event has been set to 450 people.
"We're not trying to buck the system — we're going within the guidelines we've been given," Brannam said. "Music is part of Emerald Point — and it will always be part of us going forward."
Brannam told the Austin Chronicle, which first reported the plans for the concert, that Emerald Point is officially categorized as a restaurant because at least 51% of its sales are food. That would mean it can operate at 50% capacity under Gov. Greg Abbott's latest executive order aiming to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Under that order, bars were forced to close their doors, but restaurants can still operate half-full. Local officials do have the power under his order to cancel public outdoor events with more than 100 people.
Despite the paltry ticket sales so far, Brannam said that additional people may watch the show from their boats while on the lake.
He also stressed the safety precautions the venue had been taking for months and planned to implement Friday, such as taking temperatures at the entrance and requesting that attendees social distance and wear masks. Brannam said his venue was not requiring people to wear masks, since "I'm not their mom and dad [and] I can't make them do it."
"We reduced the capacity to 450 people because that's what we thought we could space with tables," he said, stressing that the venue has followed Abbott's guidelines since the pandemic hit the state. "It's really not as gross as people are making it out to be."
On Wednesday, state health officials reported its highest number of coronavirus cases yet with 8,000 new cases. That figure more than doubled what the state's case count was roughly two weeks ago.
Brannam said 20 employees at the venue tested last week for the virus had negative results. He said people "can live life in a way that protects yourself" and that while the venue is enforcing social distancing measures "the best we can ... at the end of the day, there's still in this country something called personal responsibility."
“[Vanilla Ice] has already been paid,” he said. “If I cancel the show ... I’m just flushing money down the toilet. ... If only a couple hundred people come out, at least those people got to see a cool show.”