LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas theater will face consequences that could be enforced by the police if it proceeds with its plan to defy the state’s coronavirus restrictions by holding what could be the country’s first major concert this far into the pandemic, the governor warned Wednesday.
TempleLive showed no signs of backing down from its planned concert by country-rock singer Travis McCready on Friday, three days before the state is allowing indoor entertainment venues to reopen. The Health Department on Tuesday ordered the facility to cancel or postpone the concert, which is expected to draw at least 200 people.
The president of the venue’s parent company said it was reviewing the order “and its basis under the law,” while TempleLive’s website was still promoting the show as of Wednesday afternoon.
“We expect the law to be complied with. That would be disappointing and obviously that would encounter some consequences if that’s the direction they pursue,” Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters.
Theaters, arenas and other indoor entertainment venues will be allowed to reopen on Monday, but with a 50-person limit in the audience. That restriction can be raised to one-third of a venue’s capacity, but only if it submits a plan that is approved by the state beforehand.
The concert sets up a showdown over coronavirus restrictions in a state that resisted the broader stay-at-home orders issued in most of the country. Arkansas had imposed other limits that Hutchinson has been rolling back in recent days.
Similar fights sparked a conservative backlash in Texas, where a hair salon owner went to jail after to refusing to close, and protests over virus lockdowns in states such as Michigan and Wisconsin.
TempleLive’s plan for Friday’s event includes limiting the number of people in the 1,100-person capacity former Masonic temple to 229. It will also require patrons to wear masks and to have their temperatures checked at the door.
TempleLive officials complained that they’re being treated unfairly, noting that the state didn’t shut down churches as part of its coronavirus restrictions.
“We’re not trying to be difficult,” Mike Brown, a TempleLive representative, said in a video posted on the venue’s Facebook page. “We just want to be treated fairly.”
Hutchinson declined to specify what steps the state would take if organizers move forward with Friday’s show, but he said local police could be used. He added that he hoped “common sense will prevail.
“Our enforcement capacity can utilize local law enforcement because this is an enforceable order that we have in place, and there could other remedies as well,” Hutchinson said. “Let’s just take this a step at a time.”