KAYSVILLE — In response to the backlash to a planned concert that was meant as a protest of sorts to lingering COVID-19 restrictions, organizers will hold it in Tooele County instead.
But that doesn’t mean the controversy’s over.
Officials in Tooele County are raising their own questions about the plans, as occurred in Kaysville, saying if such an event goes forward without a permit, it could result in a misdemeanor charge. Kaysville leaders who criticized the proposal, meantime, are defending their response, noting the limited outreach by organizers in planning the event and the public outcry it prompted, among other things.
News of the about face came Thursday morning, hours ahead of a planned Thursday evening Kaysville City Council meeting at which the concert was to be a focus of debate. The concert, sponsored by Utah Business Revival and to feature country singer Collin Raye, was also the target of a proposed City Council proclamation disavowing support for the event.
“We’re not going to stop,” said Eric Moutsos, the leader of Utah Business Revival. Such events, he said, are “the most patriotic thing we can do right now.”
Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt, also a GOP candidate in the 1st District U.S. House race, had backed the plans, arguing that the concert was a way for the public to assert its First Amendment right of assembly. She had also expressed accord with Utah Business Revival’s message about promoting business, hit hard by coronavirus guidelines and also a focus of the group’s efforts.
“The freedom to peaceably assemble is a bedrock principle that Utah was founded on. I will always stand up for your constitutional rights,” Witt said in a statement Thursday sent from her congressional campaign email account.
Witt didn’t mention the change of venue in her statement, but it seemed tinged with disappointment over the turn of events. She also sounded a cautionary message about overt government involvement and regulation.
“Let’s face it. If you have to wait until the government tells you it’s safe to exercise your constitutional freedoms, you have no constitutional freedoms at all,” she said. “This is a critical time for our nation. We need to safely reopen America. We have a choice to make — freedom or fear. I choose freedom.”
Critics like City Council members Andre Lortz and Tamara Tran, however, voiced more rudimentary concerns.
Lortz noted that those promoting the event rebuffed moves to work with city leaders in the permitting process, in planning its details and in addressing health concerns. Organizers “were going to do what they were going to do,” he said.
And despite Moutsos’ stated intent of promoting businesses that have suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tran said local business representatives she contacted knew nothing of the event. Alluding to concerns that a large gathering like the proposed concert could lead to the spread of the coronavirus, she said the best help to business is “by being cautious so we don’t have a resurgence (of COVID-19) in the fall.”
The concert was to have been held May 30 at Barnes Park, a city-owned park in Kaysville. Per the change, the event, free and open to the public, is now to be held at the Amphitheater at Studio/Ranch, a privately owned 10,000-seat venue in Tooele County, according to Moutsos. There will also be space for as many as 300 businesses to set up booths.
Moutsos sounded a defiant tone when asked whether the event was permitted, one of the roadblocks in Kaysville. “Because it’s on private property, I don’t care,” he said.
But the Tooele County Health Department issued a press release after news of the venue change emerged, noting that organizers hadn’t sought a permit, a potential hitch. Organizers of events expected to draw more than 1,000 people must get permits from the local health department ahead of time, spelling out how traffic, safety and other issues will be handled, according to the press release.
“After an event is held without a permit, it is possible for the health department to file charges against the property owner for allowing an unpermitted event to take place,” the press release said. Such a violation is a Class B misdemeanor, said Amy Bate, the department spokesperson.
Beyond that, the statement warned that it’s “nearly impossible” to assure social distancing during the sort of event proposed. “Our greatest concern is for the health and safety of our citizens,” the press release said.
The Kaysville City Council and many others had expressed opposition to the concert plans, worried such a large gathering could have caused an uptick in COVID-19 cases. Organizers didn’t seek a city permit, said Councilman John Adams, and countering criticism that COVID-19 restrictions have lingered on too long, he noted that the guidelines are gradually being pulled back. Moreover, the vast majority of those sounding off in Kaysville had expressed opposition to the proposal.
Still, the opposition and backlash in Kaysville miffed Moutsos.
“It’s super un-American,” he said. “I think in future years, they’re going to wish they were on the right side of things.”
He had heard scuttlebutt that city officials planned to turn the Barnes Park sprinkler system on to scatter concertgoers had the event gone on in Kaysville. In response, he said, he hopes to have some sort of demonstration in the city.
“We’re going to have a protest there and we’re going to bring our swimsuits,” he said. He doesn’t know when it will be, but when it does occur, part of the activities will be listening to taped Collin Raye music.