The Show Must Go On, But Concert Venues Urge Iowans Who Are Ill To Stay Home

Mar 11, 2020

Codfish Hollow has cancelled the last indoor show of the season following news about cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in Iowa.

Venue owner Tiffany Biehl is monitoring information being provided by the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) closely and is prepared to cancel shows, and potentially the entire season, if that’s what experts recommend.

“I feel like with all the information we have about how contagious this is and how widespread it may be… having large public gatherings at this point is highly irresponsible,” Biehl says.

The venue has refunded ticketholders for the show scheduled for March 21 featuring Iowa City artist Jordan Sellergren.

“I’d rather lose some money than put people’s lives at risk,” Biehl adds. “I personally will not be responsible for any spread.”

She’s not the only promoter in the state who is planning for what may come next.

The Mission Creek Festival released a statement Tuesday informing ticketholders that the festival is still on, and that they are offering ticket refunds to those who are feeling ill or who feel uncomfortable attending the event.

“If you are feeling sick as the festival week approaches,” festival organizers wrote in an email, “please stay home.”

So far, there are 13 presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Iowa, the bulk of which are located in Iowa City. The IDPH stresses that the risk for Iowans remains low.

With the cancellation of at least one concert due to concerns about the virus, some promoters fear the impact on artists and music venues is just beginning.

The safety and well-being of our performers and patrons is a priority for us, and we will do everything we can to maintain that the show goes on. - Thom Kutz, co-owner of xBk in Des Moines

SXSW, which is held annually in Austin, Texas was cancelled, affecting at least a handful of Iowa artists including Elizabeth Moen, Condor and Jaybird, and Lily DeTaeye who were planning on making their way south to gig at the event. 

Moen and Detaeye cancelled their plans to travel to Texas. Condor and Jaybird are still embarking on their tour. 

“It’s a huge impact for artists who look at SXSW as an opportunity,” says Tobi Parks, who plays in Lily DeTaeye's band, co-owns the venue xBk in Des Moines, and manages the not-for-profit Station One Records. “It’s huge for exposure, and a lot of people plan marketing and tours around SXSW. It’s unfortunate, but I do understand the concern. It’s a massive gathering of people from all over the world.”

Venues are not yet reporting a slowdown in business because of the virus, but some are worried that might be coming. 

“Are we scared that it’s going to hit us, and we’re going to go out of business? I mean certainly, but we are taking every precaution that we can,” Parks adds.

The Englert Theatre, xBk, Octopus College Hill and the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in Cedar Falls, among other venues, are increasing the frequency by which they sanitize surfaces and are doing more regular cleaning.

“When something like this happens, it just reinforces things you should be doing all the time,” says Dave Deibler of Octopus College Hill, who has disinfectant wipes at the bar for anyone to use as she or he sees fit. 

Venues are also directing staff to stay home if they start to feel sick and encouraging staff to be diligent about proper hand washing. 

Thom Kutz manages alongside Parks and is a co-owner of xBk. Beyond what venue owners can do to clean and to monitor patrons for symptoms, he says personal responsibility is a factor at play.  

“The safety and well-being of our performers and patrons is a priority for us, and we will do everything we can to maintain that the show goes on. But protecting our artists and our patrons is a priority,” Kutz says. “If you don’t feel well, stay home.”