Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Montana Law Prohibiting Vaccine Passports Slows Down Live Music

Will Fisher

Some musicians are backing out of playing shows in Montana because venues are not able to ask concertgoers to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test. Montana is among the states that ban vaccine passports.

Jeffrey Foucault has performed at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs. He’s toured in Montana for the past 20 years. Recently, he decided to cancel his fall tour of five shows around the state.

“I spoke to my agent, and I said 'You know obviously I’m willing to do these shows, but only if they are either outdoors or we have the ability to ask for proof of vaccination or a negative test result,'” Foucault says.

Foucault’s request that venues use vaccine passports is becoming more common around the country.

In areas with active music scenes like Nashville and New York some venues are requiring proof of vaccination. Broadway’s theaters announced that requirement this summer and AEG Presents, a global live entertainment firm, will also require proof of vaccination at Coachella and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

But those requirements, sometimes called vaccine passports, are against the law in Montana and other states, including Texas and Florida.

In 2021, the Montana Legislature passed House Bill 702. The law protects the rights of unvaccinated individuals under the Human Rights Act and makes it a discriminatory practice for a private business to ask patrons for an immunity passport.

Republican Rep. Jennifer Carlson from Manhattan, Montana introduced the bill.

“Your healthcare decisions are private. They are protected by the constitution of the state of Montana. Your privacy is protected and your religious rights are protected,” she says.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has also taken a stand against businesses asking for proof of vaccination. In April, Gianforte signed an executive order banning them, saying vaccine passports will “exclude Americans who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine from participating in everyday life, including accessing and receiving goods and services.”

The governor has also encouraged Montanans to talk with their doctor or pharmacist and get vaccinated, and said vaccines are safe and can save lives.

Major concerts and smaller venue shows have still moved forward in Montana with the state’s ban in place.

But, some businesses are seeing acts cancel, especially amid the latest wave of COVID driven by the delta variant. Sean Lynch owns and operates the Pub Station concert venue in Billings.

“Our fall calendar is a little slower than it was in summer time. We’ve definitely, as soon as the delta came out, saw a slow down on just booking in general,” he says.

Lynch says at his venue he’s noticed that the slow down in bookings is genre-based: more indie musicians are asking for vaccine passports while country artists tend not to. Overall, he says about 35% of musicians have requested vaccine passports. He’s had to turn them away.

“I understand the premise of the law to let people make choices. But inadvertently by saying everybody has a choice they’ve taken away business owners' choices. So, by giving somebody the ability to do basically whatever the hell they want to do they’ve taken away business’ ability to protect their staff, their fans,” Lynch says.

Lynch says he doesn’t want to have a blanket policy of vaccine passports for all shows at his venue. Some artists have said they won’t play there if this were the case. What he wants is the ability to use vaccine passports if an artist or their agent requests it.

“For me it would be the ability to be able to choose on a per artist basis what they are asking for for their crowd,” Lynch says.

Lynch says fewer shows means less revenue and his bookings are down by a quarter of what they typically would be for the fall.

Meanwhile, musician Jeffrey Foucault says at this time he will only play in states that will allow indoor venues to ask for proof of vaccination or a negative test.

“Well, the biggest worry that I have in any general sense is to take care of the whole community: that’s the clubs that we partner with to put on shows and the people that work in those clubs, bartenders, wait staff, sound engineers. And then obviously my band and the people who are coming out to see and hear a show,” Foucault says.

Foucault isn’t the only musician with trepidations about playing shows in Montana right now. Three bands scheduled to perform at Bozeman’s new indoor venue The Elm canceled, citing COVID safety protocols. This includes the band Death Cab For Cutie.

The band posted on Facebook about how it's approaching shows during the pandemic: “In an effort to keep everyone safe, we’re working with local promoters to implement vaccine and or negative covid test requirements at as many shows as possible.”

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.