Q’s With Coalition Entertainment’s Peter Gross: The 411 On Florida’s Reopening & Beyond

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– Florida,
with Daytona Beach during Labor Day as a backdrop is a prime example of the differing guidelines, attitudes and pace of the reopening of the concert business.

After Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Sept. 25 that he was moving the state into the third and final phase of re-opening, lifting all COVID restrictions, some counties and cities quickly updated their emergency orders, keeping capacity and social distancing restrictions in place to protect residents against the spread of COVID.

Pollstar reached out to local venue owners to get their take on the Phase 3 news (read more HERE) and also caught up with Coalition Entertainment founder Peter Gross, whose company does talent buying and other services for events and festivals across the country. 

Gross has an interesting perspective, working with a lot of different promoters and clients in 15 to 20 states, including the 300-capacity Myth Nightclub in Jacksonville, Fla.  

Pollstar: We spoke with you for the cover story we did in May focused on Phase One of reopening in select states. What has changed for your clients since then?  
Peter Gross: A lot has changed in some states and not much has changed in others. We have projects that are in states like New York and California that have been generally pretty slow and cautious in terms of reopening and then on the other side of the spectrum, we work with projects in Tennessee and Georgia and Florida and Nebraska that have been pretty aggressive in terms of reopening.  

We book a venue on the campus of the University of Illinois with Jay Goldberg Events and that venue is just shut down. It’s not going to reopen this year. Illinois is pretty cautious … Colleges and universities tend to be places where people aren’t taking as many precautions as they should be.

We have a venue in Florida, a venue in Atlanta and a venue in Lincoln, Neb., that are all open and have been for a few months. It’s not as busy as they’d normally would be, but certainly we’ve been working. We’ve been working a lot on just booking the calendar out for next year. Some agents are willing to book things further out, waiting to see how things pan out.

What’s up with Florida, which just entered Phase 3 a few weeks ago with the governor dropping all restrictions?
Florida has been pretty wild. Florida and Georgia were really the two states in the nation that started to reopen first and then COVID cases started to skyrocket. We book a venue in Jacksonville, Fla. [Myth Nightclub] It shut down when everything started [in March] then it opened back up and then it went back into a state of being shut down [when bars were ordered to close in late June] and then it reopened again. And now it’s close to full capacity according to the Phase Three order that went into effect a few weeks ago.

What effect will Phase 3 have? I know it’s different per city, if the local government chooses to enforce 50% capacity.    
It’s by city and admittedly I’m not the expert on the full state of Florida and every single county. What’s interesting with Myth – and I think it’s been the same for most places in the country – if you have a venue or a nightclub [where] if you’re serving food, if you have a license to operate, then you’ve been able to open more rapidly or at least be seen as not necessarily just a club. There’s a restaurant that’s a part of it so because of that I think they were able to open more quickly than traditional places. 

I’ve been driving around, road tripping, it’s been interesting just to see the different places in the country and how they’re dealing with things. I drove up to Boston to see my parents. Massachusetts is very, very strict and when you go in public, 100% of people are wearing masks, even if someone is walking down the street by themselves, public. I’ve been down to Florida a couple times and it’s just the complete opposite, 10% of people are wearing masks.

I spoke to some venue owners from Florida who mentioned that even if they were allowed to open at 100% capacity, it didn’t actually give them more capacity because they had to keep six feet of distance between patrons.
Yeah, they pretty much haven’t changed how they’re doing things since [Phase 3] in late September. [Myth’s] still operating at the previous capacity, which I think is pretty smart. They’re also a small nightclub at 300-cap. Like you were describing, you can’t operate at full capacity with social distancing. It’s challenging in a very small space.

But being open in general at all I know has been everything to the owner. It’s such a tough time for small businesses. Even being able to be open at 50 percent is keeping the lights on. My heart goes out to people in other states who don’t have the opportunity to do that. It’s such a challenging time for independent places to stay afloat.

Hats off to Jon [Mroz], the owner of the venue, who’s done a great job to keep the lights on operating under the ordinances.

Peter Gross
– Peter Gross

When you’re having conversations with your clients about booking events, do you keep an eye on COVID updates from the CDC and local case numbers?  
I think it’s really important. I think most of the promoters are actively doing that and we’re   certainly doing that as well. I find most conversations these days, whether you’re talking to someone within the industry or not begin with talking about how the pandemic is going. With our clients, that’s how it is … what are the updates? What’s been going on with the government? It’s super important to stay up on that and make sure you’re in conjunction with what the clients are seeing as well. 

Besides Myth Nightclub, do you work with any other clients in the state?
We work with a smaller boutique music festival called Asteria Music Festival, which unfortunately was canceled this year. And then we’ve been working with some guys in Orlando called Blue Coffee Presents and they work with Central Florida Fairgrounds.

As far as having to navigate different restrictions on a state and local level, are you seeing that with venues in other states?   
Yeah, I would say that’s the case … generally in the most larger metropolitan areas, we do New York City, San Francisco, Atlanta, Honolulu,  those are a bit more challenging, the big cities, the metropolitan arenas or whatever state you’re in are generally a bit more delayed in terms of reopening as opposed to a smaller city. Again, it’s been tricky just following along to see what the governor is saying and what the mayor is saying, what’s the real deal, it’s an interesting time.

In the middle of the pandemic you’ve managed to put on a few events this year.
We work with a client that’s in New York City called BangOn! NYC and the festival. There’s a couple events in the city and there’s a festival [Elements Music & Arts Festival] that generally happens Memorial Day weekend, clearly that was canceled in Manhattan this year. But in the same place where the festival happens in Pennsylvania, a couple hours drive outside the city, we’ve been doing these tested retreats, In My Elements. It’s super limited capacity, 250 people, it’s a contained retreat. So it’s mandatory that people get a [COVID test], I think it’s 48 hours before or maybe 24 hours. And then they get a test post-event. 
Those have been really successful; they’ve sold out. There’s been no issues, no COVID cases.  It’s small enough where you can actually gather all the people at the beginning of the event and run through [social distancing] protocols. We’ve done two of them, one just happened the week before last. It’s really proven the demand. In My Elements also has a Halloween event coming up, which hasn’t been announced yet.
We book a lot of festivals. [With canceling or postponing] there’s actually a ton of work – you’ve got to renegotiate for later this year or next year. It’s been a pain … a really annoying process but I’ve been impressed with the agents and promoters and how they’re dealing with this.  
These are unprecedented times. There’s never been anything like this happening before. There’s no playbook. We’re in a time where no one knows what the fuck is going on. But people seem really, really flexible and willing to work with each other and figure it out together. … It’s been cool to see the industry rallying together.

You’re a co-founder of a company called Trailblazers, which is hosting The Blazers Charity Golf Tournament.
Trailblazers is more of a conference with speakers and culinary and health and well-ness and activities. It’s an event series 
focused on the cannabis and CBD space. 

We bring together the top players in that industry. So we’re pretty excited about [The Blazers]. We’re following procedures and guidelines, one person per golf car and, keeping their distance, which obviously on the golf course you can do. That’s in Ojai  [Calif.] Oct. 15-16.