Earlier this year, the State Liquor Authority (SLA) of New York, in alignment with pandemic-related guidelines set by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, imposed a ban on all restaurants and bars from promoting ticketed music events from their establishments, saying any live performance cannot be planned but rather must be “incidental.” The decision was the latest controversial move impeding small business owners as state governments struggle to determine how and when smaller indoor music venues should reopen for business.
Earlier this week, however, New York State Supreme Court Justice Frank Sedita ruled against the state’s ban on the promotion of ticketed live music in response to a lawsuit filed against the SLA by Dwane Hall who owns the Buffalo bar Sportsmen’s Tavern.
“It means they can advertise that they have musical groups,” Attorney Paul Cambria, who represented Sedita in the suit, said in a statement following this week’s decision. “The state agreed that we could advertise so-called background music, but…our position was that it was an impediment of free speech because it’s content-based. Secondly, we’re already bound by all the safety and capacity regulations, so it doesn’t matter how people come to the establishment.”
Sportsmen’s Tavern, along with other restaurant and bars in New York which feature live music as a way to earn additional money, will still have to abide by all the state’s coronavirus safety guidelines.
The State Liquor Authority responded to the Judge’s ruling in stating, “We are considering all options, including filing for an immediate stay and appeal. Remember: we are still in the midst of a global pandemic, and with the threat of clusters around the state and cases surging across the country, preventing mass gatherings remains one of the best public health tools in our toolbox.”
Government policies on both federal and state levels on how to manage the live events industry during COVID-19 have drawn ire from industry executives and owners of independent venue owners, who have yet to receive any federal funding as concerts and festivals remain on pause. Although the drive-in concert format has begun to be utilized by a small handful of American artists heading into the fall months, those events are extremely limited and not meant for long-term profitability, and certainly won’t help the greater industry at large from disappearing venue by venue.
The American concert industry now relies solely on the proposed $10 billion Save Our Stages Act as the last remaining lifeboat that could possibly save an industry already on the brink of collapse as we approach the final few months of 2020.