Hawaii live event industry says they’re on brink of ‘collapse’

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — As more businesses get the green light to reopen, there’s one industry where things are left uncertain.

Live events are starting up again on the mainland, and those in the Hawaii industry say they’re on the verge of collapse.

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The last show at the Blaisdell Concert Hall was in early February 2020.

Diana Ross, Common Kings and Lauryn Hill were all scheduled to play at the Concert Hall last year but were canceled due to the pandemic.

The same place where some of the biggest musicians once played has turned into a vaccination site, and one state leader says it’s vaccines that will provide the timeline for big events to resume.

“We’ve lost 90- to 95% of our business going on to 14 months now, so it’s very dire,” explained Mark Montgomery, with Rhema Services, who provides sound for many large events.

Those who work behind the scenes said many people have moved back to the mainland where concerts and events have been able to resume.

“It’s scary,” said Rick Bartalini, promotor of Rick Bartalini Presents. “There is no hope. We’re on the verge of collapse, and then what happens if the sound people and the lighting people and the promoters collapse? There’s no future for events.”

Live event industry leaders said they haven’t been able to discuss a timeline or a safety plan with Gov. David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi.

“It’s my intention, myself as a promoter, to require vaccines or negative tests, masking, sanitation and all recommended precautions from the CDC,” said Bartalini about the future of events.

Bartalini and Montgomery said structured live events can be done with COVID-19 safety officers, contact tracing and following CDC guidance.

“What I fear is that with the discussion being pushed off, and if we get to September, and [government officials] say like a switch, ‘Okay, you can open now.’ Well, then we’ll be in February,” explained Bob Harman, with Eggshell Lighting.

Industry experts said discussions need to begin soon because it takes months to put on a big show, and they worry it will be two years too late by the time the next show comes to Hawaii because staff and professionals will have left the islands.

“We’re not trying to do anything reckless. In fact, we want to be part of the solution,” explained Harman.

KHON2 asked Lt. Gov. Dr. Josh Green why the industry was still on pause in Hawaii from a medical standpoint.

“Well the main reason is that 63% of our population has not been fully vaccinated yet,” explained Green. “We’ll never get to 100%, but we got to get to about 75% to get herd immunity. So until we get there, an event with three, four or 5,000 people will very likely spread a lot of COVID.”

Green said he believes Hawaii will see concerts and conventions again in the fall but thinks having any large events before July 1 isn’t a good idea.

“I think that people are making a mistake if they open up for large events before July 1,” he said. “July 1 is a demarcating date that I see us as really getting a lot safer.”

“And to allay anyone’s fears, I’ve had some good discussions with people who both support and oppose this idea of using vaccines as an exemption to attending events,” Green added. “There’s still lots of options, and these are going to be fully optional. The vaccine should be optional.”

He said using a vaccine card to get into an event will be optional, and they’ll still have testing options too, including mask standards.

“There’s lots of ways to do this,” Green said. “We should be fair to everyone and, and not make, you know, not make anything onerous in the process of preventing COVID because we really do have to find people’s comfort zones.”

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