This upcoming weekend (Jan. 14-17), the long-running and well-respected 30A Songwriters Festival in South Walton, Florida is set to transpire, with a lineup that includes Country Music Hall of Famer Emmylou Harris, along with Hayes Carll, Patty Griffin, Sierra Hull, Adam Hood, and 170+ other acclaimed songwriters from the country and Americana realm.
But the United States Representative who represents the district in Florida’s panhandle where the festival is held is petitioning Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to shut the festival down, and under false pretenses.
Rep. Matt Gaetz has sent an open letter to Ron DeSantis claiming that the festival is requiring “vaccine passports” from attendees, which would be against Florida law that forbids such requirements. But no such requirement is being made by the festival, nor is there even a vaccine passport system in Florida for them to require, since vaccine passports are forbidden by Florida law.
Furthermore, along with unfairly politicizing the musical event, by Rep. Gaetz working to shut down the festival, he is not aiding the free flow of commerce and people, or the protection of free expression, or the opening up of society from restrictive pandemic mitigation measures. He is actively working to get in the way of the opening up of the economy by asking the event to be shut down, which would injure a non-profit promoter, over 200 music performers, as well as patrons, and the local businesses who all benefit financially from the festival, and at a time when they need tourist revenue the most.
Similar to many other events and venues that have already happened both during the pandemic and after the Florida mandate law was enacted, 30A Songwriters Festival attendees do not need to show proof of vaccine for admittance. All they need is a negative COVID test within 72 hours. However, if attendees are vaccinated, then they can also show their vaccination status to forgo the test, all of which is permitted under Florida law.
In Rep. Gaetz’s open letter, he spells out the folly of his own claim, laying out in the first paragraph how Florida law does allow for COVID-19 test screening, but then goes on to say 30A Songwriters is requiring proof of vaccination.
See Rep. Gaetz’s full open letter below.
Regrettably, I write to inform you that within my congressional district there appears to be a blatant violation of Executive Order 21-81, “Prohibiting COVID-19 Vaccine Passports.” Your executive order allows entities to engage in COVID-19 screening, generally, but does not permit different treatment for the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
The 30A Songwriters Festival is requiring all participants and patrons to: “show proof of full vaccination (two shots of Moderna or Pfizer or one shot of Johnson & Johnson) or proof of a professionally administered negative COVID test within 72 hours immediately prior to the start of the Festival.”
This Festival is funded in part by the Tourist Development Council of Walton County, utilizing taxpayer funds. Vaccine passports should not be funded by Florida taxpayers.
Speaking with Chris Willman of Variety, 30A Songwriters Festival co-producer Russell Carter said Rep. Gaetz did not verify anything with the festival before publishing the open letter, nor did he reach out at all. “He just ranted about Vaccine Passports, which we do not nor ever have advocated or required … Prior to sending and publishing a letter to Gov. DeSantis, he easily could have called us to clarify what our policy is or researched it by going to our website to verify there is in fact no Vaccine Passport. Instead he quite simply misrepresented the facts in an irresponsible manner.”
Russell Carter underscored that unvaccinated patrons are more than welcome to attend the festival. He also revealed that Rep. Gaetz has apparently attended the festival in the past, and that his office has solicited the festival for complimentary tickets previously. The festival benefits the non-profit Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, and is believed to generate an estimated $8 million annually for local businesses.
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Even if you’re against vaccine passports, vaccine mandates, or even required COVID tests, anyone should be able to see that if Rep. Gaetz gets his way, it would mean the unemploying of some 200+ musicians, side players, and support staff over the weekend, and a large loss of revenue for the region. Those advocating for us moving on from pandemic restrictions should be encouraging the economy to open back up, not attempting to use government statutes to shut down events.
Clearly, Rep. Gaetz is using the 30A Songwriters Festival as a way to signal to his political constituents his steadfast opposition to vaccine passports. But since the festival is not requiring vaccine passports, it’s just politicizing a non-political event. Mr. Gaetz may even know his protestations will fall on deaf ears, but his open letter is still injurious to an independent music event looking to support songwriters.
Though Rep. Gaetz’s concern of a “slippery slope” scenario of vaccine requirements may find favor with some, blocking the free flow of commerce and patrons—which is what he’s requesting—would result in a sum negative for those wanting to move on from COVID era cancellations. And if he wanted to address the testing protocols the festival had put in place, he should have done so well before the week of the event. Now, the only freedoms that would be impinged upon would be that of festival patrons who’ve already willingly paid for tickets and chosen to accept the festival’s requirements, and the musicians who’ve been dealing with restrictions and cancellations now for two years.