As Texans muddle through month 18 of the COVID pandemic, a new obstacle to quasi-normality has emerged in the capital city: rules regarding outdoor events that seem to favor large corporate events while punishing the little guys.
At immediate issue is the return of the Austin City Limits festival, the city’s iconic outdoor concert that was canceled in 2020. Scheduled to commence on October 1, the city has yet to issue the necessary permits. The proximate cause is confusion over the relevant COVID protocols.
This past summer, the city forced the cancellation of smaller festivals such as Batfest and the Pecan Street Festival. Ostensibly, this was due to COVID caseloads, though it’s difficult to see how outdoor events with ample room for “social distancing” would impact COVID.
Meanwhile, the Austin FC soccer team is routinely allowed to play in front of 20,000 maskless fans. Similar criticisms have been made of Texas Longhorn football games, though it’s worth pointing out the university falls under state—not local—jurisdiction.
Of course, this is hardly the first time ACL and Austin FC have received preferential treatment at city hall. ACL’s parent company, the Saudi-financed entertainment company C3 Presents, routinely receives sweetheart deals on their use of a public park, for multiple months, for the festival. (In 2014, they paid under $100,000 while grossing $38 million.) Meanwhile, Austin FC got the land on which their stadium sits for free from the city.
Austinites who want equal treatment on COVID rules for outdoor events can contact their city council member.