A bit shy of 20 years ago, I was a 13-year-old kid excited for my first-ever live rock show. I had won a pair of tickets to Counting Crows at the USANA Amphitheatre from a local radio station, and, in true 8th-grade fashion, I was going with my mom. The band had just released Hard Candy, its fourth studio album, and one of the first albums I ever owned. I remember the concert itself was a blur of energy, dancing on the grass, bright lights and scream-singing along to songs I still know by heart. While I have been to many rock shows since, I, like many, remain sentimental about my first time.
Even at the risk of going from sentimental to positively drippy, I admit I was in love with the idea of seeing Counting Crows again this year. They were set to play this week at Red Butte Garden’s Outdoor Concert Series, and I would get to relive the untamed, childlike joy of that first show. I would spread out my blanket on the grass, and, just like I did back then, dance around and sing along to all of those same songs. It’s been a hard 18 months; why not indulge in some blatant and shameless nostalgia? Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen, and it’s all the Utah State Legislature’s fault. Yes, Utah lawmakers are ruining my childhood.
If you too were planning on attending the Counting Crows show, then you already know it was canceled. The Counting Crows will not be “hangin’ around this town,” and you have the Utah lawmakers who passed and the governor who signed H.B. 308 to blame. The bill prohibits a governmental entity from requiring a vaccine for COVID-19. So what does that have to do with Counting Crows? I’m getting to that.
COVID-19 cases are back on the rise, fueled by the Delta variant. In Utah, the average daily rates of new coronavirus cases are back to where they were in fall 2020. Back then, we were all pretty squeamish about going to events like concerts and most traveling musicians had long ago canceled any planned tours. Unlike last fall, we now have a vaccine that makes you much less likely to develop a serious coronavirus case. Of course, we actually have to get the vaccine for it to work.
This is all to say, touring bands and musicians who may have canceled their tours last fall are ready to rock this time around if people are ready to prove they’ve been vaccinated for coronavirus. This is the case with Counting Crows. The band announced on their Facebook page that, starting Aug. 21, all Counting Crows concerts would require fans to produce either a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the show or proof of full vaccination. It’s their show; they should get to do whatever they want, right? Well, not if the great State of Utah has anything to say about it.
The Counting Crows would have performed on stage at Red Butte Garden, which is on the University of Utah campus. The university, as a state school, falls under the law’s definition of “governmental entity.” That means, under H.B. 308, the venue can not require people to show proof of vaccination at the Counting Crows concert or any other event (should another performer insist on vaccine mandates), so the band had to cancel the show, and it is all the State’s fault.
In a statement to ticket holders, the band says as much, “Unfortunately, due to state mandates in Utah, the venue for our Salt Lake City show on Aug. 26 at Red Butte Garden is unable to enact our Covid-19 entry protocols so we have made the difficult decision to cancel the show.”
The band goes on to say, “This is a decision we didn’t make lightly but we must continue to prioritize the health and safety of our fans and crew. Stay well and we’ll see you next time, SLC.”
The venue likewise apologized to would-be concert-goers, saying, “We are all disappointed that the Counting Crows concert has to be canceled. If you are planning to attend other concerts at the Garden this summer, we look forward to seeing you soon. We appreciate your understanding and support of Red Butte Garden’s Outdoor Concert Series.” You can learn more about getting a refund to the Counting Crows show on the Red Butte Garden website.
Because of the State ban on vaccine mandates, private venues might be at an advantage when it comes to attracting touring musical performers who want some assurances, especially if more bands decide to require vaccines. The State Room is requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test result for attendees. Live Nation also announced that it will require proof of vaccination at its venues like USANA Amphitheatre and The Depot.
At the time of this posting, about 60% of eligible people are fully vaccinated in Utah, according to the Utah Department of Health (UDOH), and the FDA has granted full approval of the Pfizer vaccine for people 16 years old and older. In a statement on the FDA announcement, the UDOH says, “Full FDA approval is the final step in a rigorous approval process to confirm the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. The FDA’s announcement should provide confidence to anyone who may have hesitated to get the vaccine while it was under emergency use.” (I think the health department is looking at you, 40% of eligible Utahns who are still not fully vaccinated.)
Most Americans also support some form of COVID vaccine mandates. According to a poll from the Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, concerns about contracting the coronavirus are at their highest level since January but confidence in vaccine effectiveness against new variants has remained largely unchanged. More than half of Americans support vaccination requirements for government workers, members of the military and workers who interact with the public, like at restaurants and stores. About 6 in 10 support vaccine mandates for hospital or other health care workers.
No matter where public support lies, any change to the State’s policy on vaccine mandates would require another act of legislature unless it becomes subject to lawsuits like unto the Utah law that prohibits schools from mandating masks. In the meantime, it remains free to ruin more childhoods like mine.