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Austin music scene reacts to Texas Gov. Abbott lifting COVID-19 restrictions, mask mandate

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday announced that he would lift all capacity restrictions for businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as end the state mask mandate. Austin's music community, which has struggled over the past year with shuttered venues and stagnant tourism, was swift to react.

Abbott, in lifting the restrictions, cited declining hospitalizations across the state as more people are vaccinated against the coronavirus. His new executive order will take effect next Wednesday. He said that businesses can still limit capacity, require masks or implement other safety measures if they choose to do so. The move flouts warnings from health experts and federal officials, who have urged caution from state officials as new, more contagious variants could lead to a rebound in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations after promising declines.

Others are reading:In Live Music Capital of the World, venues feel let down by Austin leaders

A South by Southwest sign inside of the Mohawk is seen on March 15, 2020, after the venue's shows had been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic is ongoing as are the challenges facing Austin’s live music scene, Cody Cowan, executive director of the Red River Cultural District, said. The district is home to popular clubs like Cheer Up Charlies, Mohawk and Stubb's. Noting that Texas lags behind much of the country in vaccination rates, Cowan said “consumer confidence for in-person experiences is low due to public health realities.” With tours and festivals that help venues pay the rent unlikely to return nationwide for some time, he worried that “return to 100% will not only negatively affect public health, but also may also trigger outstanding debt as due, by manufacturing the false public perception of financial viability for cultural tourism businesses.”

Dianne Scott, publicity director of the Continental Club on South Congress Avenue, was furious about the announcement. Beyond the risks to service industry workers, she felt it sent the wrong message to people who are on the fence about whether to get the vaccine. "It's going to tell them that they don't need to. It's going to cost more lives. No question about it," she said.

On Wednesday, Steve Wertheimer, owner of the Continental Club, the Continental Gallery and C-Boy's Heart and Soul announced that his venues, which have been closed since March, will not be reopening. "Steve's decision is based on his concern for the health and wellbeing of our staff, musicians and patrons. We will be closed until it is deemed safe for us to open our doors, and we will closely follow CDC guidelines once we do open," a post to the Continental Club's Facebook page said. 

Jack McFadden, talent buyer for key downtown venues ACL Live and 3Ten, expressed dismay at the announcement on social media: “Abbott and the GOP is BAD FOR BUSINESS. I literally just confirmed a dozen socially distanced shows for summer that get to go away because (Abbott) decided to pull the mask mandate, thus 4th wave. HE COULD'VE DONE NOTHING.”

'We’re nowhere near herd immunity':Some worry eased restrictions could threaten COVID-19-progress

Austin musician Mobley posted several remarks on Twitter that were critical of the governor’s announcement. “This will extend (& maybe mutate) a deadly pandemic & the death/suffering it’ll bring are the most important thing to worry about,” he wrote in one post. “Also, spare a thought for those of us who depend on crowds to work and stand to lose YEARS of our careers to this. Pleeeeeease mask and distance.”

He followed it up with strong words for both government officials and some businesses. “I’ll never forgive him for this,” he wrote, “and we should never forgive all the ghoulish business owners (large AND small) who have put constant pressure on every level of government to ‘reopen.’ They’re more concerned with their bottom line than the lives of their neighbors or employees.”

Americana troubadour James McMurtry offered biting satire in a Facebook post: “Ok, which one of you big kids told Abbott that a twelve percent vaccination rate would guarantee herd immunity? Y'all gotta quit telling that boy stories, he's real impressionable.”

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks about the winter storm at the State Operations Center on Feb. 18. On March 2, Abbott announced he was lifting Texas' coronavirus pandemic capacity limits and ending the state mask mandate.

Texas isn't alone.  These 15 states also do not currently have a statewide mask mandate.

Fellow local singer-songwriter Kelly Willis posted the following reaction on Twitter: “What is so hard to understand about wearing masks to save lives? I desperately want to get back to work. Why can’t we just follow thru with a consistent plan led by science? Why can’t we get back to work the smart way? Why all the political surprise moves? It’s just stupid leadership.”

Austin guitarist Kathy Valentine of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame-nominated band the Go-Go’s tweeted: “I literally cannot take it anymore. My hometown, my home state is not safe because of this reckless pandering fool.” She added in a follow-up tweet: "I'm more likely to go to a place where I know everyone's wearing masks.  Now I probably won't even try."