Rochester’s bar and music scenes are reeling after clarifications on guidelines from the New York State Liquor Authority that put an abrupt end to the ticketed concerts that have been on the rise at bars and venues across the state.
The clarification stipulates that live music has to be incidental, meaning it cannot be advertised. Bars cannot charge people to hear music, and they cannot promote the music performances, even those as modest as a singer-songwriter providing background music to guests.
Before the State Liquor Authority's update, Abilene Bar & Lounge owner Danny Deutsch had already been greeting his patrons a little differently as of late, since the state mandated that bar patrons wanting a drink must also order food with their beverage. When they stroll through the door at 153 Liberty Pole Way, they’re offered two options.
“Would you like a big hummus plate or a little hummus plate?" Deutsch says.
State spokesman Jack Sterne cast the mandate as nothing new, explaining that food being required at a bar has been on the books since 1964. It’s been relaxed over the years.
“A full bar required premade food,” Sterne said. “Just because you’ve not adhered to it then, doesn't make it OK now.”
But that rule, unlike the mandate, never specified that bar patrons had to order food with their drinks.
Although Deutsch believes his establishment is in compliance with the guidelines, he sees the mandate as simply a way to slow things down a bit more.
Live music events are exactly the kind of high-risk environments the state is trying to avoid, said William Crowley of the State Liquor Authority.
"This guidance is not new,” Crowley said in an email. “Live entertainment activities, including all ticketed events, have been prohibited since New York went on pause in mid-March to stop the spread of coronavirus.”
Crowley added that the State Liquor Authority clarified the guidelines this week, and reached out to bars and restaurants to reaffirm the existing restrictions, because there was a rise in ticketed events advertised by the bars and venues hosting them.
Three Heads Brewing’s Geoff Dale, who had been hosting its “Easy Like Sunday Evening” concert series at the brewery since July 19, feels blindsided.
“This mandate was totally sprung on us,” he said.
Under the restrictions, Three Heads can’t charge admission at the door. The remedy for that -- $45 for a reserved table -- got the kibosh, too. Dale has since pulled the plug on the concerts altogether.
“We just can’t lose our license,” he said.
Pete Frank of the Zac Brown Tribute Band feels entertainment is being targeted unfairly.
Frank said he is spearheading a movement to sue the government. His Facebook group, United Entertainment Industry Professionals of New York, has amassed 1,000 members in its first 24 hours.
“I don’t see this working for any musician as it stands,” Frank said.
Frank De Blase is CITY's music writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.