No shot, no service: Some music venues to require proof of vaccination

When Spacebar and Dirty Dungarees resume concerts in the coming weeks, both will require patrons to be vaccinated against the coronavirus

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
The sign outside of Spacebar on High Street

Over Memorial Day weekend, Jen Powers and Matthew Rolin headlined a concert in their backyard with the Gerycz/Powers/Rolin trio for which attendees were required to have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I wasn’t trying to let unvaccinated people in my house,” said Rolin, who, along with Powers, received his second dose of the vaccine in early May. “Regardless of what anyone says, if they’re coming to a show that’s like two hours long, someone’s going to have to use the bathroom and see my two cats and stuff like that. And I’m not trying to have people who don’t have the same health viewpoint as me in my house. … My personal opinion on it is that if you’re going into public spaces, especially for entertainment purposes, you should be vaccinated, if you’re able to be.”

Rolin said the requirement was easy to manage in this more casual, controlled environment. There was no public notice posted of the event, and most attendees were known to Powers and Rolin. Neither of these circumstances will be in play when concerts return to Dirty Dungarees and Spacebar, which are both set to resume hosting concerts in the coming weeks with a vaccine requirement in place for attendees. (Dirty Dungarees’ first show is scheduled for Friday, July 30, while Spacebar’s opening weekend is set for Friday and Saturday, Aug. 13 and 14.)

The venues' decision to require concertgoers to show proof of vaccination is a relative anomaly, at least here in Columbus. A spokesperson for PromoWest Productions said the promoter does not require COVID vaccines for any of its venues, which include Express Live, the Newport Music Hall, A&R Bar and the Basement. Similarly, a spokesperson for local promoter Celebrity Etc. said that there were no vaccine requirements in place for any of the venues at which it currently books shows, including Skully’s, Rumba Cafe and the Athenaeum Theatre. This policy falls in line with other venues such as Ace of Cups, Woodlands Tavern and both Natalie’s locations, which have been operating for months without requiring attendees to provide proof of vaccination.

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“I’ve known for a long time we were going to have [a vaccine requirement] when we reopened,” said Spacebar owner Ben DeRolph, who will also limit capacity at the Old North bar and music venue to 100 people (normal capacity is 175), at least in the early going. “It’s going to be really interesting as we open. … We’re bracing ourselves for people showing up and being pissed off when they’re not allowed in.”

In an effort to get ahead of these potential issues, DeRolph and his team have included notice of the vaccine requirement on show event pages and on its website above a link to purchase tickets, which reads, “All attendees must provide physical or photo proof of COVID-19 vaccination upon entry.” The owner is also in the process of creating similarly worded signage that will be displayed on the door and in the venue’s High Street-facing window.

DeRolph described current reopening plans as fluid, noting that the vaccine requirement could be removed a month or six weeks down the road, depending on the response, which he said to this point had been largely positive. “I’ve only heard positive things about [the vaccine requirement], especially from bands,” said DeRolph, who added that some acts would only agree to perform if the venue had a vaccine requirement in place (meaning you likely won’t be seeing Eric Clapton at Spacebar anytime in the near future).

Dirty Dungarees owner Drew Sherrick is taking a similar wait-and-see approach to resuming concerts at the Old North laundromat and bar, which sits next door to Spacebar on the same block of High Street.

“Things are pretty much as safe as they’re going to get to reopen, but it’s all tentative at this point, so we’re just going to take it month to month,” said Sherrick, who described the decision to resume hosting concerts as necessary to the space’s survival. (“There’s only so much the laundromat side can do with High Street rents,” he said.)

Sherrick said the first Dirty Dungarees show in nearly 18 months would serve as something of a test case, allowing the venue to make adjustments before its second show takes place a couple of weeks later. For now, Sherrick said the plan is to require patrons to show proof of vaccination when ordering a drink at the bar, since the small space doesn’t require a staff member at the door. Masks will also be encouraged, though not required.

“It’s a smaller group of people who come to our shows on a regular basis, and I felt like none of them were going to push back too hard,” Sherrick said. “Honestly, if I thought it was going to be an uphill battle trying to get people to present [proof of vaccination], I might not do shows. I don’t want to fight people on this stuff, but I also don’t want to give up. ... And I would think that the vaccine card and suggesting masks at a show where people are packed in tightly isn’t too much to ask.”

Sherrick and DeRolph both described themselves as alternately anxious and excited, eager to get back to the business of hosting music but wary of the public risks amid a rise in coronavirus variants, including the Delta variant, and the leveling off of vaccination rates among members of the public, which are still far from the numbers needed for herd immunity.

“I go to my bar at least once a week to check the mail and walk around the place, and it’s depressing,” said DeRolph, who added that Spacebar will also incorporate additional changes, such as starting shows earlier and experimenting with two-band lineups instead of longer concerts featuring myriad acts. “I walk around and it’s empty, and nothing has happened in so long. So it’s going to be interesting and possibly a little confusing, at least in the beginning, but it’s going to be very relieving, as well.”