Show Stopper

Kiki Wow had been performing regularly at Mika Sushi in Carmel Valley Village, where she had booked three months of outdoor performances to entertain diners.

When local restaurants were given the green light to reopen on a limited basis, many opted to bring in solo musicians to enhance the ambiance of serving food out on the sidewalk or in a parking lot. After all, if it was safe to do food outside, then it should be OK to have some music, provided the performer was masked and socially distanced from the tables, right?

Apparently not. Last week, the Monterey County Health Department sent out a robo-call voicemail message to all local eateries, talent agents and booking companies informing them that live music is still prohibited per the California Department of Public Health’s July 29 guidelines on restaurants reopening.

“This was just a reminder,” says Karen Smith, spokesperson for the county health department. “Nothing has changed. We’re just following the state guidelines.”

The state guidelines spell out the nuts and bolts of what restaurants must do to partially reopen. Within the 13 pages is a single paragraph concerning live entertainment: “This guidance is not intended for concert, performance or entertainment venues. Those types of establishments should remain closed until they are allowed to resume modified or full operation through a specific reopening order or guidance. Establishments that serve full meals must discontinue this type of entertainment until these types of activities are allowed to resume modified or full operation.”

In other words, until large venues are cleared to reopen, don’t expect to hear tunes emanating from your favorite local cafe or restaurant.

Sunset Center got the go-ahead to offer outdoor concerts in a drive-through format. Drive-ins qualify as outdoor recreation, says Executive Director Christine Sandin, who’s been in contact with county health officials since April. “Restaurants are of particular concern, in their thinking, because when people are at restaurants their masks are off, and when you add entertainment, you encourage people to congregate for longer,” she adds.)

The county’s reminder sent shockwaves through a local music community that’s still struggling for its very survival. Kiki Wow lost three full months of bookings. “This is killing our livelihood and our careers,” Wow says. “It’s a different kind of death than the virus – it’s financial death.”

Electric violinist Razz Palumbi echoes the sentiment. All of her October gigs were canceled with a phone call from her agent, who received the county health voicemail.

“I get why there’s this all of this fear. Caution and consideration are warranted,” Palumbi says. “But if we wait until no one is afraid, some people aren’t going to make it. I don’t see how a solo masked musician playing in an outdoor garden 10 feet from the nearest person constitutes a threat to public health.”

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