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As restriction ease, large outdoor events return to Wyoming

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Crowds gather for a concert at David Street Station on Friday in downtown Casper. Larger outdoor events are beginning to pop back up as the state eases coronavirus restrictions.

Festivals are underway again at David Street Station in downtown Casper, and Casper Events Center is welcoming larger crowds to its grounds amid recently loosened state restrictions for outdoor gatherings.

Larger outdoor events are now possible after the state increased the attendance limit from 250 to 1,000, provided the number of attendees doesn’t exceed half of a venue’s capacity. The change in Wyoming’s health orders took effect Aug. 16 and came after the state had success with allowing some larger outdoor events including rodeos.

The change for outdoor gatherings gave David Street Station the ability to move forward with Saturday’s 5150’ Festival and its upcoming FiestaWyo planned for Sept. 5, David Street Station marketing manager Julie Schmitt said.

“All of these large festivals that have been some of our favorite events for the whole season, we are very thankful that they’re now able to take place at our outdoor venue. We’re lucky to have this space for people to gather and come together.”

Plans amid restriction changes

The annual FiestaWyo offers a celebration of food, music and culture showcasing Hispanic musicians, food and crafts. Headlining this year’s event is Mariachi Garibaldi de Jaime Cuellar, a touring act brought in by local nonprofit Artcore.

The show was up in the air earlier this month pending a clearance from the governor to host up to 1,000 people, Artcore executive director Carolyn Deuel said at the time.

“Yesterday was a very happy day!” Deuel wrote in a text message the day after the eased outdoor gathering restriction was announced. The musicians were able to buy their plane tickets 21 days in advance as they hoped.

“It just kind of worked out perfectly ... we have all the plans in place and we don’t want to announce if it’s happening or not until we know that we can have a larger group,” Schmitt said. “So luckily, that number is perfect to be able to host these kind of larger events.”

The plaza has hosted smaller events through the summer, including its Cinema at the Station and Hilltop Bank Summer Concert Series, with social distancing and other precautions in place.

Meanwhile, the upped limit will allow more people at the Casper Events Center’s 307 Fest—Food Truck Rally and WYO Vendor Showcase, which features food trucks, vendors, live music and a beer garden.

“The Casper Events Center is deep into preparations for our 307 Fest—Food Truck Rally and WYO Vendor Showcase on August 26, so with Governor Gordon’s announcement of the attendance increase to 1,000, we’re pleased to be able to welcome even more people to the event,” the Events Center said in a statement. “Not only will we provide the 307 community an evening to celebrate outdoors, but the festival will now also help us highlight Wyoming businesses and promote local spending to a greater number of guests.”

Casper Events Center General Manager Brad Murphy said plans already in place to maintain social distancing will accommodate a larger number of attendees and staff will monitor attendance to ensure the event stays within the newly upped limit.

A second Kid’s Fest, which last year saw 2,300 people, will be delayed until state regulations allow large gatherings, but a Kid’s Health Festival on Sept. 12 instead will feature local health organizations and businesses working to keep kids safe, healthy and entertained during the pandemic.

The event offers both drive-thru and walking options, the later of which will be social distanced throughout the parking lot, Murphy said.

The venue has received state approval to host larger indoor events including July’s Casper Comic Con and the Professional Bull Riders’ Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour’s Casper Invitational slated for October. More indoor events are on the schedule for October, including rescheduled concerts featuring Foreigner and Nelly.

“We’ll just see how the rest of those events play out as well,” Murphy said. “We’re trying to fill weekends as much as we can with some sort of event, whether it’s inside or outside.”

Promoter Hamilton Byrd of Blue Pig Presents in Cheyenne plans a slow move toward increasing of the number of attendees at his outdoor shows. He organized indoor shows before the pandemic and now operates the Chinook Drive-in Theater at Terry Bison Ranch, an amphitheater with a stage and big screen built on the ranch in May to host outdoor concerts and nightly drive-in movies.

“One of the things that’s not totally obvious about the new update in restrictions is that even if you have a 1,000-person outdoor event, you still have to maintain groups of six people or less and have those groups be six feet apart,” Byrd said. “And we’re confident in our ability to do that with 250 people. And we hope to inch a little bit higher and a little bit higher. But we’re not willing to compromise our ability to keep the audience to maintain proper distance from group to group to jump straight up to thousand-person gatherings.”

Reminders of risks and precautions

As larger events return, state and local health officials are reminding people to maintain precautions including social distancing, hand-washing and wearing face coverings. The Casper-Natrona County Health Department in a Wednesday news release about risks and safety reminders for outdoor gatherings and events recommended increased diligence to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

The department sent the reminder as many events that would normally have been spaced through summer have been postponed or pushed to late summer, agency spokeswoman Hailey Bloom said.

“We are really trying to just remind people that we understand, we’re fully aware that people want to get out and do activities and engage, and that’s wonderful. (We’re) just reminding them to take appropriate precautions when they’re able and protect themselves and the communities so that we can continue to have events and have schools open and really live as much of a normal life as we can.”

There is still evidence of community transmission of COVID-19 in the county, which has recorded 228 confirmed cases to date.

“The Casper-Natrona County Health Department recognizes the substantial impacts events and gatherings have on businesses and the local economy and is in full support of encouraging those events safely,” it stated in an announcement. “The primary goal of CNCHD for the last several months has been to work to keep businesses open, allow for schools to reconvene and continue to limit COVID-19 transmission into the fall and winter. Precautions are crucial to ensuring all of the plans and work are not wasted.”

The department has been partnering with local groups and establishments to create safe plans for events and to minimize risk of COVID-19 exposure. It cited as an example an upcoming concern set for Labor Day weekend in downtown Casper. The Gaslight Social, a local bar, plans to host a Hairball rock concert on Sept. 6 at the old Stalkup’s RV Superstore parking lot.

Pete Maxwell, a Gaslight Social owner and organizer of the show, said the upped outdoor limit didn’t change the Hairball plans because organizers had already received a variance from the state for a larger crowd. However, it did prompt the move to the Stalkup’s parking lot because more room was needed to allow for social distancing.

The health department appreciates that businesses and the community groups have taken precautions so people can enjoy events, Bloom said.

“If each person in our community can do their part, we’re confident that we can continue to have some form of normalcy, especially as school starts to get back in session and all of that. That’s super important and super important to the community and super important to all of us.”

Follow arts & culture reporter Elysia Conner on twitter @erconner


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Related to this story

Many Wyoming musicians have faced cancelled, postponed and tentative gigs in the past two months and well into summer. As they follow updates on the easing restrictions in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, many musicians are considering when and how they might begin to perform in a future that remains uncertain.

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