NY Probes Social Distancing Violations at Hamptons Drive-In Concert

The Chainsmokers performed at KTUphoria on Saturday, June 15, 2019. (Photo by Amanda de Lauzon)

Safe and Sound, a benefit concert Saturday that The Chainsmokers headlined in the Hamptons, may not have been so safe after all, prompting a New York State probe of alleged social distancing violations.

Social media videos from the event in Water Mill, show a not-so-distanced crowd of more than 3,000 attendees dancing and singing in close proximity. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Monday that health authorities would investigate the charity concert, which included performances by Goldman Sachs Group boss David Solomon, who goes by stage name DJ D-Sol.

“I am appalled,” Cuomo tweeted, calling the alleged violations egregious. “We have no tolerance for the illegal & reckless endangerment of public health.”

The drive-in event had space for about 600 cars. It was the first in a series of such concerts planned for the United States, according to its organizer’s website. It came as entertainment venues struggle to find new ways to organize performances amid crowd-size limits intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tickets for the event, hosted by promoter In the Know Experiences, ran from $250 to $25,000 for a package that included a personal RV. Proceeds from the event were donated to healthcare nonprofits such as the Children’s Medical Fund of NY and the Southampton Fresh Air Home.

The organizers said in a statement that they collaborated with all state and local health officials and the concert followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines.

“The group that put this together did an incredible job in a difficult environment,” Solomon told Bloomberg.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and his band were also among the performers.

“It was a fun night,” Schneiderman said, noting a highly positive reception to his band’s original compositions with lyrics he had penned himself. But event promoters did not follow the plan they had submitted to the town for approval, he said. By the time The Chainsmokers had begun performing, the venue was “packed,” he added.

The governor said Tuesday that the New York State Department of Health is going to do a full investigation into how the concert plans were approved by town officials, how the event as it was going on was allowed to get out of control, and why law enforcement on site didn’t do anything to control the situation, Cuomo said, with the possibility of civil fines and criminal liability.

Original plans for the drive-in concert show the 100-acre field venue marked with “cubicles” for each group of attendees to park and stay in, where each cubicle is physically distanced from others, Schneiderman said. But officials did not foresee the rave pit that ended up forming at the base of the stage, nor the number of attendees per car.

“The pit was not part of the permit,” Schneiderman said, saying he was told upon complaining that the pit was for VIP attendees. “We had gone over the whole plan, to make sure all the safety requirements were met.”

“There were definitely some people who didn’t stay in their cubicle,” he added.

Schneider said that expectations had been for 2,000 attendees, while an estimated 3,000 showed up.

“We had police there, but had we known the organizer wasn’t going to aggressively enforce mask-wearing and social distancing, we would likely have had four times the number of law enforcement that was actually present,” he said.

Ninety percent of the people followed the rules and stayed in their area with their family group, according to Schneiderman, but the remaining non-compliant 10 percent would make him “reluctant” to approve another large-scale concert during a pandemic.

On August 6, Southampton Town will be sponsoring another drive-in concert, but Schneiderman is determined not to repeat the mistakes made with The Chainsmokers, an EDM group known for their hit single “Don’t Let Me Down.”

“We’re going to have 100 cars instead of 500, and we’ve been going over what went right and what went wrong, tweaking our plans,” he said.

Cuomo said the town is going to have to do better in the future.

“The concert that happened in Southampton was not only a gross violation of public health rules, it was a gross violation of common sense,” the governor said. “The Town of Southampton is going to have a problem. The promoters are going to have a problem. I don’t know how while it was going on, there wasn’t a response from law enforcement.”

-With Reuters

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