There was a lot to celebrate Friday night at Waterloo Park. The 11-acre downtown public space reopened last week after 10 years of renovations. The new Moody Amphitheater was christened with its first concert. And hometown hero Gary Clark Jr. performed his first full show here since the 2019 Austin City Limits Music Festival, after supporting several of his fellow local musicians at last month’s Blues on the Green concert in Zilker Park.
Musically speaking, it was a memorable evening. Clark and his four-piece group were on fire from the moment they arrived on stage at 8:45 p.m., delivering a two-hour show that showcased the Austinite native’s range of considerable talent and his imposing presence as a live performer. He will be back on Saturday for a second show.
Yet a glaring problem could not be overlooked, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. With Austin achieve step 5 guidelines earlier this month, the organizers added a compulsory mask for the concert. This requirement was ignored by the vast majority of participants, and no one on site enforced it.
The policy, announced on Wednesday, read: “In accordance with current Austin public health guidelines, masks are mandatory at all times for participants, regardless of their immunization status, except when actively eating or drinking at Gary Clark. Jr. at the Moody Amphitheater on Friday August. August 20 and Saturday 21. “
At the gate, security personnel and ticket takers admitted spectators without masks without asking them to mask themselves. A small box of free masks was visible on a table at the entrance, but no one offered or distributed these masks. Inside, most of the participants went without a mask. There was no signage advising participants of Wednesday’s policy change; In reality, a small Moody Amphitheater sandwich panel near the entrance appeared to contradict Wednesday’s announcement, listing “health and safety incentives” that included masks but made no mention of the requirement.
Lack of enforcement has turned politics into an empty shell. The venue has chosen not to require proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 testing, measures announced this week for events such as October ACL Party in Zilker Park and on Sundays Outlaw Music Festival with Willie Nelson at the Germania Insurance Amphitheater.
(Those sites that require proof of vaccination risk violating a state law which went into effect in June and prohibits companies from making it a condition of entry.)
And with social distancing nearly impossible at the 5,000-seat site, the end result was an event almost entirely devoid of COVID security protocols. Austin Public Health Stage 5 Criteria, which offers guidelines but not regulations, recommends masks for crowded outdoor events, even for those who are vaccinated and do not have high-risk health concerns.
This begs the question: why announce a policy just so as not to enforce it? The artist could choose to take a stand for additional regulations, as Jason Isbell did when he demanded proof of vaccination or a recent negative test. to his recent ACL Live shows. Waterloo Park is public land, but while the city has attempted to enforce its own guidelines, that attempt has failed.
Ultimately, the responsibility for taking precautions fell on the spectators. Enforcing a mask requirement would be difficult if not impossible with such a large crowd. If most of the people present do not comply, it is not difficult to imagine a ripple effect; fans taking COVID-19 more seriously can increasingly stay home. Saturday’s second show isn’t sold out, while some resale tickets on StubHub are below face value.
Beyond these concerns, the evening was a success in other respects. The Moody Amphitheater is an inviting and attractive space, with a variety of areas from which to take in the spectacle: reserved seating, a general-admission hillside lawn, sidewalk standing areas, and an upscale seating area. . The hallmark of the venue will likely become its spectacular view of the Capitol dome towering above the stage two blocks away.
And Clark put on a great show. At Blues on the Green last month, it largely put the spotlight on friends like the Peterson Brothers and Eve Monsees, but this show was all about his own music. The focus was on his Grammy-winning 2019 album, “This Land”, as Clark switched from the richly melodic R&B of “When I’m Gone” to the reggae-tinged beats of “Feel Like a Million” to punk- fueled blitzkrieg from “Gotta Get Into Something” to her passionate falsetto voice on “Feed the Babies” and “Pearl Cadillac”.
Learn more about the artist:Our 2019 interview with Gary Clark Jr.
He also sprinkled on old favorites and covers, hitting “Bright Lights” from his groundbreaking 2012 album “Blak and Blu” at the start of the set and paying homage to BB King with a scorching blues number on an extended encore. . He prefaced the latter with a humorous aside to the grateful crowd: “Someone said” PLAY BLUES! “from the moment we got here. Do you think I forgot where I’m from?”
Throughout, Clark’s group was a bedrock of musical support and versatility. Keyboardist Jon Deas, guitarist King Zapata, bassist Elijah Ford and recent addition JJ Johnson – a highly respected Austin drummer who has toured with the Tedeschi Trucks Band for years – have consistently pumped up Clark’s music without ever eclipsing. his talents.
Clark’s friends Blackillac, led by longtime rappers Austin Phranchyze and Zeale, opened the show with an energetic 40-minute set that emphasized their freestyle approach. They have at times become directly political, dropping a few F-bombs directed at Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, specifically calling the latter for “trying to blame black people for COVID” (referring to Patrick’s false statement on Fox News Thursday that “the largest group in most states are African Americans who have not been vaccinated”).
Besides the mask issues, the amphitheater’s first concert revealed a few more issues that need to be addressed. Blackillac continued 40 minutes past the scheduled 7pm departure time, possibly in part because the line was far too long. I arrived just before the show time and waited 20 minutes in a two-block line which continued to build behind me.
More problematic than the line – which moved quite quickly – was that it snaked from the site’s only entry point at 14th and Red River streets to 15th Street, then down 15th along a very narrow sidewalk. Those who walked in the back of the line were forced to walk down the street from 15th Street, against oncoming traffic. It seemed clear that a much safer route for the line would be along Red River Street, which is closed to traffic but has an open sidewalk. (A second entry point might also help; there is one VIP entrance on Trinity Street, but no others for general spectators.)
Food and drink sales, concentrated at two stations on either side of the stage, worked well given the large crowds. Small catch: the cashless payment system was unable to provide printed or digital receipts, at least at some stations.
Those sitting on the general admission hill at the southern end of the site might have benefited from video screens. Two large concrete walls flank the stage covered with trellises; it’s not hard to imagine Jumbotrons placed on these walls, which might enhance the concert experience for those further afield.
If you made social distancing a priority, there were at least a few options, as long as you didn’t mind giving up a better seat. Concrete paths wind around the eastern end of the park, and some onlookers have watched from these spots, providing additional protection from the crowds. However, these spaces can only accommodate a few dozen people.
For the most part, if you are attending on Saturday, expect to be in close contact with many attendees without a mask – unless the venue or spectators no longer take the mask requirement for the second show seriously.