Being first is often a good thing, but the opening this week of what could be the first major concert in the United States is turning into a fraught affair.
While the world’s big touring acts remain on hiatus or confined to sporadic online performances, Travis McCready, a country-rock singer, is set to take the stage Friday for an intimate acoustic live performance at a venue in Fort Smith, Ark.
The performance, though modest, is attracting outsized attention, not only because it’s testing whether people are ready to return in numbers to listen to live music but also because it is challenging the restrictions the governor put on such performances.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said indoor venues such as theaters, arenas and stadiums can reopen on May 18 as long as they limit their audiences to fewer than 50 people. The venue, Temple Live, a former Masonic Temple, is saying the show will be held three days earlier, with more than four times that number of fans allowed in — 229 in the 1,100-seat theater.
Promoters have emphasized that masks will be mandatory and social distancing enforced, and they have questioned whether it is discriminatory for the government to have set more lenient restrictions on church gatherings than on concert venues.
“The directive is discriminatory because the virus does not know if it’s in a body in church or high school or a music venue,” said Mike Brown, a representative for Temple Live, in an interview. “Not that I have anything against church, but if you can go to a church and it’s a public assembly, there is no difference. How is it OK for one group to have a public meeting and it’s not OK for a music venue to have the same opportunity?”