After Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order this spring barring businesses in the state from making patrons prove their coronavirus vaccination status, Florida promoter Paul Williams came up with a novel way to make his shows more COVID-safe.
As the country begins to open up following more than a year of no shows due to the pandemic lockdown, Leadfoot Productions recently announced that a June 26 show by Teenage Bottlerocket at VFW Post 39 in Saint Petersburg will feature what Williams is calling “discounted” $18 tickets for those with a valid photo ID and COVID-19 vaccination card that shows you’ve gotten the appropriate amount of shots as of June 12. If, however, you don’t care for the discount, tickets are available to the non-vaccinated for just $999.99, a more than 5,500% difference.
A note on the show page states that all staff, volunteers and band members will be vaccinated. “Also know if you buy one of these advance tickets and show up without your vaccination card or government issued photo id, you won’t be let in at this price, you will need to pay the remaining $981.99 to enter or go back and get your card,” reads the show page, adding, “We are NOT telling you what to do here, we are making a business decision and letting the market decide. If someone wants to come in unvaccinated, they will scare off a large number of patrons and will need to pay the difference.
“I’m not denying entry to anyone,” Williams told the Washington Post. “I’m just offering a discount.” A spokesperson for DeSantis’ office, however, told the paper that the two-tiered pricing is a violation of the state’s rules. “Charging higher ticket prices for individuals who do not furnish proof of vaccination unfairly discriminates against people who have enumerated rights under Florida law,” said DeSantis’ press secretary.
Williams said he thought his scheme was safe since the executive order has limited penalties and the new law doesn’t go into effect until after the show, but he was not prepared for the flood of anti-vaccination Facebook messages, spam calls and death threats that the band’s next show could be their “last” one; he and the bands on the bill are forwarding the threatening emails to authorities.
The dispute comes as the country is slowly opening up after a year of COVID lockdown, with states and local governments each taking their own unique path to loosening restrictions and increasing capacity limits as the nation appears unlikely to reach the crucial goal of “herd immunity” to help stem the spread of the disease due to vaccine reluctance among some communities.
Despite the backlash, Williams told Post that he and the bands are “still sticking to our guns,” noting that just a handful of the “discount” tickets were left as of Saturday afternoon after the story of his stunt made national headlines and that none of the “standard” priced ones had sold yet.
Teenage Bottlerocket bassist Miguel Chen said his band is psyched to get back on the road for the first time since March 2020 and that they have accepted that COVID and music will have to coexist for a while. “So we had this idea of … let’s contact these promoters and kind of spitball and come up with creative ways to do safe shows,” he said of the Texas-based group, who all got vaccinated as soon as they could.
Experts told the Post that others should we wary of following in the band and promoter’s footsteps because such a large price difference for the unvaccinated “violates the spirit” of Florida’s ban on requiring proof of immunization. According to the executive order, Florida can’t require, “any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-transmission recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the business.”