MURRAY — With all of Utah’s large concert venues still closed and summer concert series at outdoor amphitheaters being canceled left and right, many Utahns have been starving to experience live music again.
The good news is some smaller clubs across the Wasatch Front are slowly bringing live music back. But the return of concerts also includes restrictions to coincide with the state’s health guidelines, meaning for now, there will be a “new normal” for rocking out.
Friday night, The Royal, 4760 S. 900 East, celebrated its seventh anniversary. A live band played before an enthusiastic, sold-out crowd. One group even drove from St. George to see the show.
But “sold out” in this case meant 50 people, or about 10% of the venue’s capacity. To maintain social distancing, club patrons were required to remain in their assigned seats while the band played. The dance floor was off-limits, creating a 30-foot buffer between the band and the nearest table.
Those attending the concert had their temperatures taken at the door before being escorted to their seats. All of the bartenders, servers and hostesses wore masks and gloves. Servers washed their hands between every food and drink delivery.
Kelly Petersen, one of The Royal’s co-owners, said she exchanged numerous emails with health officials while trying to figure ways to reopen.
“We tried to be really creative once we were able to reopen. The rules are very stringent and of course we want to keep our customers and our employees safe, so we’re doing everything to the letter that they’re asking us to do,” she said.
“I’m a worker and I try to figure things out in terms of, how can I get creative and how can I get some revenue for not only the bar, but for some of these other people who are struggling in this industry? So that’s what we did. And it’s a work in progress.”
Petersen, who says she acts as everything from “chief janitor to chief accountant” to keep her club going, could be seen frequently walking around the club Friday with a spray bottle of cleaner, wiping down countertops, door handles and other commonly touched areas.
So far, the setup has worked. The Royal has had two consecutive sold-out weekends.
“Most people are very, very understanding and following the rules because they want to get out, too. People want to get out,” she said.
Likewise, Petersen said numerous local bands have been calling, asking to play on stage in front of a live audience again.
Now that The Royal has shown concerts can be done safely, other venues will soon follow.
The Cabin, 427 Main — the first bar in Park City to reopen its doors — will start allowing audiences back into its live music venue on June 6. But, like The Royal, there will be limited, socially distant seating and all tickets and reservations will have to be made online prior to the show.
Cabin general manager Junior Richard calls it “baby steps” in getting back to normal.
“We hope people feel safe and come out, and be safe when they come out. If customers don’t comply (with the rules), it makes it harder,” he said.
Leatherheads Sports Bar and Grill, 12101 S. Outlet Drive in Draper, expects to have live music again sometime in June. But again, all tickets will need to be purchased online prior to arriving, the dance floor will be closed, and there will be limited seating to maintain social distancing.
While the current setup will work for now, Petersen said the state’s move into the next phase of recovery can’t come soon enough.
“This isn’t sustainable in the long term,” she said. “We’ve got to let a few more people in to make this work.”
Petersen, who has been in the bar business for 24 years, is not dismissive of how dangerous COVID-19 can be. But while she can only allow 10% of customers in the doors, The Royal still has to pay 100% of its rent.
“I’m not sure where the balance is, I just hope we find it at some point. I’m not one that’s like, ‘Open it up. Let’s go crazy.’ That’s not my point. But my point is it’s just destroying businesses that people have worked for …. I don’t have the answer, I just hope someone figures it out.”