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Judge calls off Grantsville country show that planned to defy public-health orders

SHARE Judge calls off Grantsville country show that planned to defy public-health orders

The Amphitheater at Studio Ranch in Tooele County is pictured from the air on Thursday, May 21, 2020.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

TOOELE — A judge issued an order Friday prohibiting a Saturday country music concert in Grantsville organized by activists who oppose public health restrictions.

Third District Judge Dianna Gibson sided Friday with Tooele County leaders who argued the planned free show, featuring headliner Collin Raye, would put more Utahns at risk of falling sick with COVID-19.

“The facts are these: There is a global pandemic; Utah has issued a state of emergency; and while all indications in Utah show that everything that we’re doing here is positive and we’re on the right track, this event — now, under these circumstances — creates an unnecessary health risk to the Tooele County citizens and all citizens of Utah,” Gibson said.

She found that the show would violate state and county health orders restricting mass gatherings and noted the organizers flouted the county’s event permit process.

Gibson applauded Jason Manning and Eric Moutsos’ efforts to support small businesses but said that work doesn’t outweigh the health risks or justify their “acts of defiance” to the public health orders.

The activists had argued that other large events continue to take place in Utah and maintained the gathering of an anticipated 3,000 to 5,000 at the expansive venue would not pose a serious health risk.

But Tooele County leaders disagreed. They sought the court order after issuing an official notice of closure earlier this week to Manning, owner of the Amphitheater at Studio Ranch.

“This is a clear threat to public health,” Tooele County Attorney Scott Broadhead said.

Paxton Guymon, an attorney representing Manning and Moutsos, emphasized the amphitheater is “a 40-acre venue in the middle of nowhere,” with no neighboring homes or businesses. He noted the risk of infection is believed to be less outdoors.

His clients sidestepped Broadhead’s questions about whether the show would go on.

Moutsos noted he planned to have masks on hand for any concertgoers who may want them, plus hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations. He detailed his group’s recent safety measures at a series of events and said it calls for 7 feet of social distancing.

“We feel like we’ve taken a lot of precautions, in fact more so than places like Lagoon and Costco and Walmart, as far as safety,” Moutsos said.

The founder of the Utah Business Revival, Moutsos said he is passionate about reinvigorating small businesses. He sought out the Grantsville venue because he was inspired by Manning’s move to host a graduation ceremony there recently, he said.

The country concert was originally set to take place in Kaysville until residents and the Kaysville City Council pushed back against Mayor Katie Witt’s decision to allow it.

On Friday, the state recorded its highest daily count of new COVID-19 cases at 343, pointed out Tooele County health officer Jeff Coombs. The county’s number of hospitalizations has grown in the last week, although none there have died of COVID-19 to date.

Coombs said large outdoor gatherings pose risks, and the disease is transmitted by people breathing, talking, singing and sneezing.

While the governor’s order permits gatherings of fewer than 1,000 if there are precautions like tracking attendance and social distancing, the event’s organizers did not apply for a smaller event permit, Coombs said.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Guymon asked about the potential to hold a gathering of that size. The judge emphasized it must have the approval of Coomb’s office.

Manning earlier testified that when he spoke to the county health department about applying for a permit, he was told they were not being granted. Gibson noted, however, that the event was advertised before he made an attempt to get in touch with the permitting agency.

Manning said he had hoped liquor sales at the concert would boost business for him and that other vendors could also reap the benefits. His venue and its bar, the Brazen Head Saloon, are his only source of income and have been hit hard, he said.

Guymon described a “crazy, hyperactive environment” that he said has given way to hysteria amid the virus and fueled opposition to the concert. He argued the risk that his clients may violate the health orders is not serious enough to warrant a judge’s order.

“We’re not talking here about the end of the world,” he said. “Nobody’s forcing people to attend.” 

Broadhead compared the argument to telling people staring at a loaded gun that they can’t do anything until after the weapon fires.

“We don’t need to sit around and wait for people to get sick and die,” he said.