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Austin leaders unveil guidance to help music venues with future reopenings

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, city leaders hope the guidelines will give venue operators time to prepare for when they are allowed to reopen.

AUSTIN, Texas — Along with the City of Austin, the local portion of the Reopening Every Venue Safely (REVS) campaign has released guidance to help music venues reopen safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The guide was developed by industry representatives with input from local leaders about the steps Austin music venues should consider. As of Friday, it is not yet advocating for venues to reopen just yet. However, the guidelines are the first step in a lengthier process intended to give owners and operators time to review and make informed decisions.

"Start thinking now about what it's going to take to reopen safely, both to meet State and local guidelines, but even more importantly than that is to make sure everything is safe for the musicians and artists that come in the venue, the guests and audience that comes in and the venue production staff," said Brian Block, the City's entertainment services manager. 

The guidelines, which can be viewed in full here, include best practices for what artists, venue operators and production staff members should consider before, during and after a show for tasks such as managing gear. They also include guidance for crowd safety and for implementing a notification system should someone test positive for the coronavirus.

“We partnered with local music industry colleagues and got input from the City to create best practices for when music venues can reopen. We expect this document to evolve as the situation changes with COVID-19,” said Don Pitts of Music Cities Together.

RELATED: COVID-19 relief bill introduced for live music venues

Dave Machinist, the chief operating officer of Heard Presents, was one of the venue operators closely involved with the creation of the guidelines. He said they give a baseline for safety that's realistic for a business like his.

"If you are concerned or you're nervous, it's pretty hard to have a good time when you're going to a place where it's designed for a good time," Machinist said. "This guide sets the baseline for folks to feel safe and to be safe at music and live events."

As of Friday, Austin remains in Stage 4 of its COVID-19 risk stages. As hospital levels, ventilator access and the risk for future shutdowns remain a concern, Austin Public Health (APH) is still warning against large gatherings – and even small family gatherings. Social distancing, face coverings and staying home as much as possible remain highly encouraged.

“We are working closely with our colleagues and partners in the industry to ensure understanding of the state and local orders, and right now it is best to stay home and take safety precautions. We are also considering what reopening will look like and planning for the future of live events in the Live Music Capital,” said Sara Henry with Austin Center for Events.

City leaders say they continue to work with county and local industry leaders, which they say is key to understanding the future of live music and events across Austin.

RELATED: Survey: Austin live music venues in serious danger of closure by fall

“The situation for Austin music venues is daunting. We’ve seen a study that shows as many as 90% of local music venues could close permanently by October,” said Bobby Garza with Music Cities Together. “We know we can’t reopen right now, but we need to be prepared for the new normal when reopening happens. The REVS guide is intended to help our industry plan for what that looks like.”

The City will also be developing guidelines for broader event reopenings in partnership with APH, the Austin Convention Center, Austin Center for Events and others. Leaders hope to release those within the next month.

RELATED: City of Austin reopens $1.5M relief fund for local musicians

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