“I’m responding to a tweet,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said Wednesday, October 14, after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $20,000 fine levied against the promoters of last summer’s controversial “Safe and Sound” concert featuring the Chainsmokers.
Held in Water Mill at Nova’s Ark Project on July 25, the concert, which featured Mr. Schneiderman’s band as an opening act, devolved during the last 30 minutes, with a crowd forming in a VIP area stagefront, in violation of a special event permit. The permit for the drive-in concert allowed for spacing around each car parked on the 100-acre concert site.
Fans were only allowed in an area outside their specific car, according to the permit.
Video of the crowd violating social distance and mask edicts circulated, prompting an angry response from the governor, and state and town investigations commenced.
Mr. Cuomo announced the promoters of the event, In the Know Experiences, would be fined $20,000.
“The Chainsmokers concert promoter is charged today with violating an executive order and Section 16 of the Public Health Law,” Mr. Cuomo said in a press release. “As I said immediately following reports of this event, it was an egregious violation of the critical public health measures we have had in place since the beginning of this pandemic to protect New Yorkers from COVID-19.”
Spokesman Robert Leonard, from the public relations firm DKC representing the promoters said Thursday that his client is declining to comment on the matter at this time. On its website, the Manhattan-based In the Know describes itself as “a luxury travel and lifestyle consultancy — offering one-of-a-kind experiences and specialized services to a select few.”
The governor also announced the town could approve no further event permits without state review.
“We will continue to hold people and businesses accountable for their actions, and the local governments must enforce the rules or else we will hold them accountable as well,” he said in the release.
“We’ve been doing that. And they give the same response: as long as it meets the guidance,” Mr. Schneiderman said. The town has also issued three violations to the promoters, Town Attorney James Burke said during discussion of the issue at the Town Board’s October 15 work session.
All the towns are referring larger special event permit applications to the state for their approval, Mr. Burke said, adding, “We’ve been doing it since the summer.” The attorney said there’s “nothing special” about what the town is doing or required to do that all the towns on Long Island aren’t also doing.
The town has yet to receive any formal notification of its investigation by state officials.
“We believe the entities that reviewed that permit reviewed them carefully for compliance with all the state guidance and it met the standards and the organizer, unfortunately, did not follow the permit precisely,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “We don’t know what the state found in their investigation. If they found that our special events permitting process was flawed in any way, they haven’t shared that.”
“We’re conducting a top to bottom review of the special events permitting procedure, ” he continued. The board isn’t involved in special events permits — “We had no role to play in this,” Mr. Schneiderman said. The Town Clerk’s office is the point of entry, then applications get circulated to police and fire marshals and various entities for review.
The town hired a company that specializes in homeland security and health and safety to look at the town code and make recommendations if they find that things can be improved.
Analysts from RedLand Strategies met with the department of public safety last week, Mr. Burke reported, adding that in communication with the state and governor’s office “all my feedback has been the governor’s office and the state is very pleased with what the town is doing.”
Noting state guidance has been challenging and, at times confusing, Mr. Schneiderman looked to nearby Pumpkintown on Montauk Highway just outside Water Mill, where the state allows 4,000 people on the 30 acre site, compared to the 2,000 people on the 100-acre concert site. That’s the state guidance, he said.
What happened at Chainsmokers should not have happened, he acknowledged. “Thank God,” Mr. Schneiderman offered, “there has not been a single case of COVID-19 traced back to the event. It wasn’t a super spreader event.”
The Press conducted an in-depth interview with the supervisor following the fallout from the concert. He explained the restrictions of the permit and what happened during the final 30 minutes of the concert, after he’d left.
“It was determined that it met the [state’s] guidance [on social distancing],” he said at the time. “That it was going to be 500 cars, there was going to be a specific area next to each car where the individual could get out of the car and stay. They were not allowed to leave that area, except to use the bathrooms. They’re supposed to wear a mask if they did that. I think the permit required some 64 security guards, roughly, to make sure that social distancing [and] mask wearing were maintained.
“And, for the first three hours, looking at the aerial video that the police took, and pictures, it looks like everything was going relatively well.
“Something happened in the last 30 minutes of this show, where a crowd forms in front of the stage, in direct violation of the permit. This is in an area that is shown to be barricaded, or maybe [space for] press people, photographers, and things like that. This is in front of the first row of cars. And immediately in front of the stage. And people start to form in that area.”
Announcing the fines last week, Governor Cuomo said the Department of Health charged In the Know Experiences with violating the Public Health Law and is seeking $20,000 in fines for holding a non-essential gathering and failure to enforce mask wearing.
The governor explained in the release that the Town of Southampton issued the promoter a special event permit for the concert after its review of the promoter’s special events application, which stated numerous measures that ostensibly would be taken to protect against COVID-19. Critically, the promoter’s application omitted reference to a designated “friends and family” section where concertgoers could freely congregate and where mask-wearing was not enforced.
Tickets to the concert ran between $1,250 and $25,000, with proceeds going to a variety of charities. In August, Fortune’s online magazine reported $152,000 was raised for charities, including Southampton Fresh Air Home, which runs a camp on the East End for disabled kids; Children’s Medical Fund of New York, which supports a Long Island hospital; and No Kid Hungry, a group that works nationally to get meals to low-income children.
Mr. Schneiderman has repeatedly noted that any time he’s been asked to perform for charitable events, he does. He said that before he left that evening, he advised security to enforce social distancing and masks.
“And the fact that I involved myself in this event, believing it was charitable, believing it was safe, and believing the organizers would follow all of the rules — I’m extremely upset. I’m extremely upset. And the governor’s done a great job keeping us safe. And he has a right to be upset,” he told The Press following the concert this summer. “I wouldn’t have gotten involved or participated if I did not think that it was going to comply with all of the requirements.”