Effort Afoot To Piece Together What Happened At Concert

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman holds a press conference outside of town hall on Tuesday afternoon regarding the concert in Water Mill on Saturday night. DANA SHAW

New York State is investigating Southampton Town for possibly violating guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at a July 25 benefit concert, “Safe & Sound in the Hamptons,” by the electronic music duo the Chainsmokers, and the town, in turn, has announced it is investigating the concert’s promoters.

The event gained notoriety when word spread that VIP tickets cost as much as $25,000 and videos of concert-goers, some of them maskless and crowded close together near the stage, went viral. As many as 3,000 people attended the show.

A chastened Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, whose band performed as one of the opening acts, bore the brunt of heavy criticism from both Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, who lambasted the town for showing poor judgment in allowing the show to go on in the first place, given the social distancing guidelines currently in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, David M. Soloman, who moonlights as DJ D-Sol when not overseeing the Wall Street behemoth, also performed.

“If they want to blame me, I’m a big boy,” Mr. Schneiderman said this week, admitting that in hindsight he probably would have not agreed to perform at the concert, even though it was listed as a charity event for the Southampton Fresh Air Home, No Kid Hungry, and the Children’s Medical Fund of New York.

But he stressed that the event, as presented to the town by its promoters in their permit application, appeared to meet state health guidelines by requiring attendees to stay in or near their cars in marked off areas and wear masks when leaving their designated area to use the restrooms. The town delegates issuing permits for mass gathering to a committee that includes representatives of the police department, code enforcement, and other public safety officials, and the Town Board did not sign off on it, he said

The issue now for the town, he said, is to figure out how a crowd was allowed to form at the foot of the stage late in the show, if by accident or design, despite the presence of Southampton Town Police and a private security company owned by former town police Chief William Wilson.

Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki said on Tuesday that Town Police were at the venue, an approximately 100-acre property known as Nova’s Ark on Millstone Road. The chief would not disclose the number of officers that were at the scene, citing security reasons, but he said town officers were busy with a variety of responsibilities, including directing traffic and helping make sure COVID-19 health guidelines were being followed.

“For the most part of the event, everything was being managed well,” the chief said, with people complying with the directives of officers. But he said late in the show, about a half-hour before its scheduled ending time of 10:30 p.m., officers noticed that a number of people had begun to approach the stage.

“At that time, police personnel and the fire marshal had to decide whether to abruptly stop the show, which could have had other consequences,” the chief said. Instead, they brought their concerns to the organizers, who, he said, told police they were planning to run the show until 11 p.m. He said officers told the promoters: “There will be no extra time. We are going to end this promptly at 10:30.”

The chief said drone footage showed that approximately 120 to 150 people had gathered in front of the stage. Of that group, about 75 wore masks and maintained proper spacing, he said

Mr. Schneiderman said he had already left the event when the crowd formed at the stage and was shocked when he saw a 2-second video of the scene that has been reproduced widely, but he said he was relieved when he saw the police footage because it showed the crowd was much smaller than it appeared in the video.

He said the plan now is to try to find out the identities of those who were in front of the stage to learn if any of them have tested positive for COVID-19.

One concert attendee, Max Modell, 18, said he did test positive four days after the concert, but he believes he was infected by a friend he met on the Monday following the event, who had also tested positive.

Mr. Modell said he was in the third row of cars and witnessed many people flouting the guidelines. “There were people running around drunk without masks. It was crazy,” he said. “If it didn’t cause a spike, it’s a miracle.”

But thus far, that seems to be case, according to Grace Kelly McGovern, a spokeswoman for the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, who said, “At this time we are not aware of any cases that are related to this concert.”

The concert was put on by In the Know Experiences and Invisible Noise Productions in partnership with Jaja Tequilla.

Their spokesman, Robert Leonard issued a statement this week: “As the name of our event states, we are committed to a safe concert experience. From the start, we set out to create an event that would benefit local charities, local businesses, and the music community while providing a fun — and safe — way for local residents to experience a live music experience this summer.”

He added that the organizers had followed state guidelines and looked forward to working with both the state and the town to provide any information they need “to conduct a thorough investigation.”