Aug 27, 2021 - COVID
Iowa's vaccine passport ban puts venues in lose-lose situation
Illustration of a microphone and cord in the shape of a downward chart trendline.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Vaccine passports are becoming the new standard for the music industry, but Iowa's law banning businesses from asking about vaccination status creates a lose-lose situation for venues booking artists, said Sam Summers, owner of Wooly's and First Fleet Concerts.

Why it matters: Iowa's music and entertainment venues are trapped in a corner — either lose ticket sales or, if they break the law, lose state funding.

State of play: Iowa venues are deciding for themselves how to handle bookings if an artist requires ticket-holders show proof of vaccination for entry. But there are risks involved in each decision.

The Iowa Events Center is requiring either proof of vaccine or a recent negative COVID-19 test for concerts where the performer asks for such a policy. So far, those have included Michael Bublé and James Taylor.

  • General manager Chris Connolly said he wants to abide by artists' wishes, and believes the testing alternative circumvents Iowa's law.

Meanwhile, Hoyt Sherman Place has lost out on business by not implementing such measures. Indie rock band Spoon canceled their Sept. 9 show at the Des Moines venue because of Iowa's ban. (They're playing in Omaha, Nebraska, instead.)

  • But defying Iowa's law means the nonprofit could lose significant state funding, which helps support not only Hoyt Sherman's theater, but its art gallery and mansion.
  • "We just can't," said CEO Robert Warren. "We're trying to play nice and follow the rules that are on the books and the laws there currently."

Wooly's, a private venue, plans on siding with artists' requests, even if it means losing future state funds, Summers said.

The big picture: All of these venues that already suffered last year each have something to lose because of Iowa's law.

  • "I'm weighing all of these options and they aren't great ones," Summers said. "I would like the ability to be able to decide if I can mandate vaccines at my venue — that's really all I'm asking for."
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