Gaslamp Music + Bar + Kitchen owner Michael Neufeld wasted no time in booking dozens of acts after being told by city officials earlier this month that it was finally okay for restaurants to have live music again after reopening in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic — as long as they already had the proper permits.
But just a few hours before the first show was scheduled to take place last Friday night, the longtime Long Beach business owner got a call from the city telling him that they had given him and others the wrong information and that live music is not yet allowed anywhere in the state.
“I’m disappointed, I’m frustrated. It was very upsetting and we need clear accurate information from the city going forward,” Neufeld said.
Long Beach gave bars the green light to reopen on Friday, three weeks after it allowed restaurants to once more welcome dine-in customers. It was unclear how many bars in the city were ready to reopen Friday — more than a dozen bars did not return requests for comment, though hosts at several of them picked up the phone — but many that offered food were allowed to open with restaurants.
However, live concerts are not allowed until Stage 4 of the state’s plan with the end of the Stay-at-Home order once treatments or a vaccine have been developed for COVID-19.
The Gaslamp, which is known for booking tribute bands, recently reopened to dine-in customers and planned to welcome back live music with shows starting June 19 with 1980s tribute band Knyght Ryder, followed by Beatles tribute band Abbey Road on Saturday, June 20.
More than two dozen other acts were quickly booked at the Gaslamp through December, with shows set up to follow strict safety protocols such as having people sitting at tables with no dancing or standing near the stage allowed and reducing capacity in the venue.
Neufeld said that during a weekly conference call between city officials, which included Mayor Robert Garcia and Long Beach Health Director Kelly Colopy, as well as other business owners, they were told that restaurants with music permits could now resume live music.
And indeed, that was the case, Colopy said.
“We were on a phone call last Monday (June 15) and someone asked at that time if anyone who had a permit could do live music, and the (state) guidance that had been out, we hadn’t had a chance to really sit with it, and we said that it could be. And the Gaslamp worked from that knowledge,” she said.
“We misspoke, we did not have all of the state guidance in our heads yet, you can imagine there’s a lot out there. So they utilized our guidance and our approval to move forward. Since then we have confirmed that at the state level and county and city level that (live music) is not allowed,” she added.
This was a blow to Neufeld.
“I’m still soaking in everything. Things change week-to-week with this stuff,” he said.
But the two shows he had scheduled for last weekend still would go on, Neufeld said Friday.
“As far as this weekend, I relied on them (the city) for this weekend and it’s too late to turn back the wheels,” he said.
While citing how fast things can change with the pandemic, he added that he’s not sure yet what he will do about the others he booked in the coming months.
“I just need to get through this weekend and we’re going to re-evaluate everything on Monday. I still have to talk to the people at the city since all of this transpired. They’ve been so back-and-forth and so confused by the information themselves. They advise the businesses in Long Beach one way and we’re finding out that they’re either changing their position or they were wrong to begin with,” he said.
And since he’s owns a restaurant and not a concert venue, Neufeld is also wondering why people can’t have dinner while listening to live music as long as they’re not near the stage or other tables.
“We’re following all the protocols,” he said.
Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, whose district includes the Gaslamp, said that after a conversation with other city officials prior to the call, she too believed restaurants could have live music and had relayed that information to Neufeld as well.
“All I can say is that it’s disappointing that there is some confusion and it sounds like we may have given some inconsistent direction to our businesses,” she said.
And while it’s not up to the council to decide if places can have live music, she sees no reason why the Gaslamp can’t have live music now.
“He should absolutely be allowed to have music. His establishment is licensed for live music and as long as he’s following social distancing protocols and not having dancing there’s no reason why he can’t have music in the background at the restaurant. He’s already permitted for it and as long as he takes precautions he should be able to do it,” Price said.