Minnesota music venues and festivals cheer Gov. Walz's looser restrictions

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For the music festivals that were already banking on it, the rollback on capacity limits and mask mandates announced by COVID-19 Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday means their events can go on as planned.

For music venues and promoters of smaller concerts, it means it's time to start planning.

The new state rules will remove the 10,000-person capacity audience limits for large outdoor events such as Twins games and summer music fests starting Friday. On May 28, indoor venues such as clubs, bars and restaurants will also be free to operate at full capacity, and without any mandatory early closing times.

And if at least 70% of Minnesota's population is vaccinated by July 1, all mask mandates will be eliminated, too.

This is the news that the remaining music festivals were banking on. Organizers of We Fest in Detroit Lakes — usually Minnesota's biggest annual music festival — announced their Aug. 5-7 headliners Blake Shelton, Dierks Bentley and Florida Georgia Line back in January with the hope that audience-size limits for outdoor events would be scaled back by summer. The state's prior capacity limit of 10,000 people would have been "a nonstarter" and likely led to a cancellation, they said.

"We're feeling hopeful about moving forward and getting our staff and crew of 1,000-plus back to work," said Matt Mithun, owner of We Fest's host facility Soo Pass Ranch and co-organizer with Live Nation.

"We're also excited to see that economic impact back at work. It's a multiple of what is spent on the festival alone, and ripples through the local and regional economies."

In recent months, Twin Cities Summer Jam's CEO Jerry Braam headed up a new organization, the Minnesota Coalition of Outdoor Events, to push for the loosening of restrictions in time for summer festivals. The TC Summer Jam was even more pressed for time than We Fest, with the Zac Brown Band, Carrie Underwood and Lynyrd Skynyrd due to headline Canterbury Park in Shakopee July 22-24.

"This is the moment we've all been waiting for in Minnesota," Braam said Thursday, noting that most of Minnesota's annual events "are financially crippled after having to cancel in 2020, so having a 2021 event is crucial to survival."

"We are thrilled to bring people back together to enjoy live entertainment for the first time in more than 16 months. We are so thankful those who have been on the frontlines working to get us through the pandemic. We are confident we can hold our outdoor event safely, and we appreciate the support of the governor's office."

The news from the governor's office still came a bit too late for some summer festivals to go on as planned.

Organizers of the Winstock country music festival already pushed off their June lineup until Aug. 20-21 and lost a headliner as a result (Darius Rucker has been replaced by Sam Hunt). The Basilica Block Party's team is looking at moving to September. June's Rock the Garden was canceled entirely for 2020.

Big summer stadium tours such as the Hella Mega trek with Green Day and Weezer and the Def Leppard/Mötley Crüe/Poison throwback are also still very questionable even with looser restrictions in Minnesota. They also have to contend with rules in other states on their itineraries. Most indoor arena shows have been, also newly including Justin Bieber at Target Center.

Thursday's announcement was also a bit bittersweet for indoor performance venues such as First Avenue and its sister clubs and theaters like the Palace and Fine Line, which can begin hosting shows starting May 28; however, they were not planning to reopen till the fall and need time to plan.

"I wish we had been given a little more time and guidance leading up to this," said First Ave general manager Nate Kranz, noting that concerts typically have to be booked months in advance. "We have to build our staffing and bar inventory back up and everything like that."

Still, Kranz anticipates their concert calendar to slowly start ramping up over the summer — largely relying on local and regional acts in lieu of touring shows, which are largely sidelined until late summer and fall. His team is now extra-happy about the already busy fall schedule they've been assembling.

"We've been booking those shows in September and beyond just based on the gut feeling [the restrictions] would loosen, and now we know for sure that's the case," he said.

Thursday's announcement also amounted to a green light for the promoters at Sue McLean & Associates (SMA), who are planning to soon announce outdoor concerts at Canterbury Park and Plymouth's Hilde Amphitheater in lieu of their usual Music in the Zoo series. They also can now consider booking shows at indoor theaters, too.

"SMA is thrilled to hear Governor Walz's message today regarding the lifting of the COVID capacity restrictions for concert venues especially for outdoor concert events," the company said in a statement.

"As we move forward [in our] commitment to the live music community in the Twin Cities and beyond, this news today allows us to deliver the live concert event experience to more music lovers and loyal fans."

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658

@ChrisRstrib