The highly anticipated and controversial first live concert in the COVID-19 pandemic era had finally taken place in Arkansas. The socially-distanced event that featured Travis McCready was held on May 18, Monday night at TempleDrive in Fort Smith. The theater, converted from a Masonic temple, along with other large event venues, were imposed with mandatory lockdown caused by the coronavirus world crisis.
The concert was initially threatened to be issued a cease-and-desist order by the Governor of Arkansas on May 12, citing they failed to follow the state's public health directives. The show was originally slated for May 15, which was three days earlier than the allowed date of reopening of the state for large gatherings in public indoor entertainment venues such as arenas and theaters.
After a weeklong battle with Arkansas's officials, the Beaty Capital Group, who owns and manages TempleLive, complied with the changes that were approved by the health department. The state revoked the facility's alcohol license before the operators decided to follow "against their will" and postponed the show.
The former singer from the band, Bishop Gunn, and Travis McCready held the country-rock acoustic show, which is the first in-person live performance since the theater's closure.
The 1,100-seat capacity TempleLive had a minimal crowd of more than 200 fans who diligently followed the guidelines set for social distancing. The 30 staff workers were in full force to assist the show. The guests queued adequately with the required space, and their temperatures were checked with a contactless infrared thermometer before they can enter the facility.
Fans came not only from the nearby areas, but some traveled from different parts of the state to watch the historic concert. One took a 90-minute ride to see McCready play again. A couple, who was one for the first to buy tickets interviewed by a local channel, 5News said it was "nice to feel normal again... even with the face mask on."
As agreed, everyone was required to be wearing a mask while inside the venue. Floors were adequately marked with stickers and tapes with six-foot distances for those who will line up for food and other merchandise items. Food and drinks were pre-packed and sealed for faster distribution. Bathroom lines were controlled by a staffer allowing only 10 persons to be inside at the same time. A one-way foot traffic flow in the hallways was also followed. "Fan pod" seats were placed six feet apart from each other. Around 25 hand sanitizer stations were strategically placed inside the area.
The president of TempleLive's parent company, Lance Beaty, said the venue lost money staging the show. In an interview with the Times, the decision to proceed with the concert is not based on financial reasons. He told Rolling Stone, "This is the first step forward."
Beaty further said the "whole experiment" hopes to answer questions like "how to address safety," and with regards to ticket and food and beverage sales, "how to address the economics." He also pondered how it will impact the ultimate fan experience saying, "We're charting new territory here."
He and Mike Brown, the vice president of TempleLive, stressed that staging a show with a socially-distanced arrangement is not financially viable. Beaty concurs that adjustments, particularly the ticket pricing, will have to be made.
How the concert went
Like a typical rock 'n roll show, the stage was lit up with bright lights. According to the state's directives, performers must be at least 12 feet away from the audience, which was followed. The opener of the concert was Lauren Brown, a country singer who was with her band.
Tracy McCready was together with his Great Dane dog throughout his performance. He went up on stage with some of the more than 200 fans shouting, "You're making history." He opened his set with "Riders," a Bishop Gunn song. McCready sang more songs, and the concert was more of an intimate type of show.
Beaty said the show means "hope to a lot of people." He went on to say that a lot of people want to get their lives back.