Arkansas venue postpones concert ordered shut due to virus

Mike Brown, vice president of Temple Live, speaks during a press conference at the Temple Live concert venue on Thursday in Fort Smith. The Arkansas Department of Health issued a cease and desist order on a planned concert, what would have been one of the first in the nation to start up again. Travis McCready of the band Bishop Gunn was scheduled to perform at the venue. 

LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas theater said Thursday it will postpone a country-rock concert that would have defied the state's ban on large gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic, days after health officials ordered the show shut down.

The announcement by TempleLive in Fort Smith came less than two hours after state regulators suspended the venue's pemit to sell alcohol, saying it would remain suspended unless the concert was canceled.

TempleLive said it would move the Travis McCready show from Friday night to Monday, when the state is allowing theaters, arenas and other indoor venues to reopen with some restrictions. The theater said it was submitting an application to hold the show — expected to draw more than 200 people — which is higher than a 50-person limit the state initially set for such venues.

"At the end of the day, we fought the law and the laws won," Brown said at a news conference at the theater, a former Masonic Temple.

After the announcement, an Alcohol Beverage Control Division spokesman said the permit would be returned before Monday.

The state on Tuesday ordered the theater to cancel or postpone the show, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the venue would face "consequences" that could be enforced by local police if the show went forward.

It's unclear whether the state will approve the new date for the show. Arkansas is allowing indoor entertainment venues to reopen Monday but with a 50-person limit in the audience. That restriction can be raised to one-third of a venue's capacity, but only if its plan is approved in advance by the state.

Hutchinson said, assuming the plan is approved, "we're delighted to welcome the concertgoers to that venue."

"We are pleased that we have that resolution and the concert promoter recognized the need to follow the directives of the Department of Health," Hutchinson said.

The venue has said it planned to reduce its capacity from 1,100 people to 229 for the show, and that it would check the temperature of patrons at the door.

"I'm here to play music in the safest way that I can, whenever permitted," McCready said.

The decision heads off, for now, a showdown over coronavirus restrictions in a state that resisted the broad stay-at-home orders issued in most of the country. Of the few restrictions that Arkansas has had in place, Hutchinson has been rolling them back in recent days.

TempleLive had argued it was being treated unfairly, noting that the state didn't shut down places of worship during the pandemic.

"I don't see how you can say that you can do something two blocks up the street, but you can't do it in this beautiful theater," said Lance Beaty, president of Beaty Capital Group Inc., which owns Temple Live.

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