SALT LAKE CITY — The organizer of a controversial concert planned for Saturday night to support businesses impacted by COVID-19 closures and to protest restrictions on public gatherings held a fundraising picnic instead.
“This is how conservatives protest,” Eric Moutsos, the founder of Utah Business Revival, said in a Facebook Live video.
Moutsos noted that at the same time on Saturday evening, a violent protest in Salt Lake City was underway protesting the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd by police.
The video showed businesses’ booths set up around Benson Grist Mill in Tooele and at least several dozen people in small groups mingling.
Families gathered around food trucks just outside the park.
“We’re trying to unite America,” Moutsos said, noting that we need to “unite more politically” and “on the principles of freedom” before economic impacts caused by COVID-19 become more severe.
Earlier Saturday, Moutsos announced the location of the event and encouraged others to “Bring your money and bring your family and feel what liberty feels like.”
Organizers were taking donations “to pay back food truck vendors” that bought extra goods for the concert that was ultimately canceled.
“I’m so deeply, deeply sorry,” Moutsos said, adding that he would use his recent economic stimulus check and some of his own money to help cover the costs of perishable items.
“We have to be the light in this darkness,” he said in another video posted to the Utah Business Revival Facebook page on Saturday. “I truly believe that ‘we the people’ are the answer to this. The government is not the answer to this. ... We’re the ones who are supposed to be in charge.”
Moutsos said the concert with country musician Collin Raye that he planned for the night will be held in two weeks at a yet-to-be-disclosed location.
Third District Judge Dianna Gibson issued an order on Friday prohibiting the country music concert outside of Grantsville because of the projected size of the gathering. She sided with Tooele County officials, who argued the planned free show with 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 Tooele property owner Jason Manning and 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 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, who owns the Amphitheater at Studio Ranch, where the original event was to be held.
“This is a clear threat to public health,” Tooele County Attorney Scott Broadhead said.
Paxton Guymon, an attorney representing Manning and Moutsos, said on Friday that 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.
Moutsos said he is passionate about reinvigorating small businesses and standing up for “our constitutional rights.” 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.
“We’re going to have a beautiful event, with peace, with love and with light,” Moutsos said.