How Denver's Safer at Home Level 3 Restrictions Will Hit Music Venues

The state slashes outdoor music venue capacity to 75 as Denver enters Safer at Home Level 3.
The state slashes outdoor music venue capacity to 75 as Denver enters Safer at Home Level 3. Aaron Thackeray
With the City of Denver now moving back to Safer at Home Level 3 guidelines in order to control a massive uptick in COVID-19 cases, indoor events will be capped at 25 people, and outdoor events at 75.

Those mandates leave venues that have scheduled concerts with larger audiences in a bind: Do they cancel the shows entirely, or do they somehow try to reduce the number of ticketholders who can attend?

Already burdened by reduced capacities before this new reduction, venues are struggling to survive. According to a study by the National Independent Venue Association, nearly 90 percent of the country's venues say they won't make it until the end of the year without federal relief. And there is no sign that aid is coming. 

Without federal support and facing another possible stay-at-home order, many Denver venue owners say they will be forced to close, while others worry that they will face years of debt if they remain in business. Except for Levitt Pavilion, nearly all of them have already furloughed or laid off staff, and are facing further cuts if things don't turn around.

"Without federal support and without a vaccine, it’s just going to get worse," says Chris Zacher, executive director of Levitt Pavilion Denver, who serves as co-captain of Colorado's NIVA chapter. "It doesn’t matter if your [capacity is] at 25 or 50 or 75 or 175. Until we get to a point where we’re operating at 75 percent or 50 percent, depending on the capacity, the losses keep piling up."

Zacher attributes much of the current crisis to the Trump administration's failure to mobilize political will to support small businesses, and the federal government's dysfunction in passing relief measures. "This administration is such a fucking joke," he says. "They don’t care because they’re not being affected by it. It’s hard to give a shit about an everyday person when you’re a multi-millionaire."

In announcing Denver's move to Safer at Home Level 3 earlier today, Mayor Michael Hancock also criticized the federal government for its inability to create a competent, nationwide response to the crisis.

As for the mandate to reduce capacity, "It’s a bummer, but I get it," Zacher says. "I think we all get it. We’re tired and we’re frustrated, but this isn’t the city or state coming down on us and saying you did something wrong."

Venues like the Oriental Theater, Larimer Lounge, Dazzle, Broadway Roxy, Nocturne and others that have been struggling to throw shows in these tough times aren't making money, he notes. New restrictions will hurt them further...but so will rising case counts.

"The only thing you can do is take a deep breath and say, 'You people, just wear your fucking masks so we can get through this,'" Zacher concludes. "I think that Hancock probably made the right move. We’ve got more case counts per day than we did in March. This is the worst wave of it."
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris