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Oregon’s Music Venues Are Just as Unsure as You Are About What Reopening Will Look Like

Current state guidelines would allow venues to reopen at half capacity when a county is designated as “low risk.” But the details aren’t totally unclear.

WW presents “Distant Voices,” interviews for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they’re doing during quarantine.

As more and more Oregonians get vaccinated, it finally seems in-person concerts could be reasonably close to making a return. But just how far out are venues from reopening, and what will post-pandemic concerts even look like?

Many of Oregon's music venues are asking the same questions.

Jimi Biron, McMenamins' music director, is hoping the company's outdoor venue, Edgefield, can open at full capacity sometime in late summer. Current state guidelines would allow venues to reopen at half capacity when a county is designated as "low risk." But the details aren't totally clear.

"I'm still trying to get clarity," says Biron. "The real question is: Is it 50% capacity, or is it 50% capacity, however it needs to be in pods and groups?"

If it's the latter, Edgefield won't reopen. Even half capacity could be financially unfeasible for the large venue, which typically books big-name touring acts.

Earlier this month, more than 40 live event venues across Oregon, including theaters, signed a letter to Gov. Kate Brown's office requesting industry-specific reopening guidelines. Among other things, the letter requests that venues be allowed to operate at full capacity 30 days after a county is deemed low risk.

McMenamins was one of the signees.

"If there are requirements—hygiene, mask wearing, or things like that—that would make sense," says Biron. "But at the point where everyone is essentially vaccinated, there's no more reason to have anything closed, in my opinion."

WW talked to Biron about why smaller venues have been allowed to reopen while larger venues have remained shut, and how venues like Crystal Ballroom will handle the extreme backlog of postponed shows.

See more Distant Voices interviews here.