New York State’s top health official wants answers from Southampton Town officials about why a drive-in fundraiser concert, called “Safe & Sound” and featuring the Grammy-award winning Chainsmokers, was ever allowed to take place Saturday given all the state regulations in place to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter sent to Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, Dr. Howard Zucker said he was “greatly disturbed” by reports of the Bridgehampton concert, “which apparently involved thousands of people in close proximity, out of their vehicles, a VIP area where there was no pretense of a vehicle, and generally not adhering to social guidance.”
A video taken from the stadium-like stage set up at Nova’s Ark went viral by the weekend’s end and left many questioning if social distancing rules were in place at the 500-car event. The cars were supposed to park in designated spots on the 100-acre property and the occupants were supposed stay in that spot.
“I am at a loss as to how the Town of Southampton could have issued a permit for such an event, how they believed it was legal and not an obvious public health threat,” Dr. Zucker wrote.
The Chainsmokers had a “Drive-in” concert in the Hamptons last night…looks like social distancing was strongly enforced ♂️….when NY gets the inevitable spike just blame these rich selfish white people
Via IG:adamalpert pic.twitter.com/yLe1XaE0hS
— Icculus The Brave (@FirenzeMike) July 26, 2020
On Monday evening, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a Tweet that videos of the event show “egregious social distancing violations. I am appalled.” He said the Department of Health will conduct an investigation.
“We have no tolerance for the illegal and reckless endangerment of public health,” he said.
Zucker said in his letter that he wants the supervisor to report back within 24 hours with answers to various questions, including whether the town issued a permit for the concert, how the permit was consistent with state regulations and laws concerning COVID-19 and what security presence was in place. Lastly, the health commissioner wants to know: “What town officials were at the concert and why was it allowed to continue when it became clear violations were rampant?”
The supervisor, who is also a drummer, and his band opened for the Chainsmokers. Southampton Village Mayor Jesse Warren was the emcee for the evening. Singer-songwriter Matt White and DJ D-Sol (Goldman Sachs’ CEO David Solomon), also performed before the Chainsmokers took to the stage.
By phone Monday, Schneiderman said that the organizers submitted “a very specific plan” to the town clerk’s office, Southampton Town Police Department, and the fire marshal’s office. “Unfortunately the organizers deviated from the plan,” he said. “They opened up a VIP pit area and that was where most of the problems were.”
In videos and images posted on social media guests were shown dancing without masks and within close contact of each other directly in front of the stage.
Drive-in concerts are permitted, he said, noting that the Town of Hempstead held one with double the amount of cars. “We’re all trying to find ways to safely do things and we’ve been working really hard to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Schneiderman said. “I’m as upset about it as anyone.”
He said he was excited about the charitable concert and the chance to perform, his first performance live since the pandemic began. “Even when I performed at the beginning of the show, there was no VIP area,” Schneiderman said. “At some point during the evening they opened up that area and that’s unfortunate. . . we would never have approved that.”
Schneiderman said, “I’m furious about the VIP area.”
The supervisor said he did not stay for the whole evening, but left when a person he came with had an allergy attack, but before that, he said he saw “what was happening” and voiced his concerns to the private security, reportedly headed by former Southampton Town Police Chief Bill Wilson. “That VIP section was not acceptable. I told staff there that it was unacceptable and they needed to fix it,” he said.
Organizers will be cited by code enforcement, the supervisor continued.
Town police and fire marshals were present at the concert. The supervisor said he is also looking into what efforts were made to put a stop to the non-permitted VIP area.
In addition, they will likely get a bill that is double the $6,000 to $7,000 they initially agreed to pay for the police presence required at the event. Schneiderman said Chief Steven Skrynecki was there early in the evening and determined more police officers were needed.
“The rest of the crowd, for the most part, stayed in their cubicles. They wore masks when they went to the bathroom. Not everybody, but for the most part they social distanced, and I think most people considered it a safe event,” said Schneiderman.
The event, which was produced by In The Know Experiences and Invisible Noise Productions, was held as a fundraiser with all profits from the evening donated to No Kid Hungry, Southampton Fresh Air Home and Children’s Medical Fund of New York.
Other than the issue by the front of the stage, Schneiderman noted, “I believe they raised a lot of money for some good charities.”
Tickets started at $250 per person for a six-person sport utility vehicle and went up to $25,000 for a package that included a recreational vehicle for a group of 10.
Guests were able to drive onto the property and park cars of four to six people. Concertgoers were supposed to stay within their car’s parking spot. Many viewed the concert from on top of their car, while others set up chairs beside it. Guests were not required to wear masks in their assigned area, but were required to if leaving their area to go to the restrooms.
Someone from each car was asked to sign a waiver prior to the event that stated that no one had come in contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks and that everyone had self-monitored their own temperature for the last two weeks. It also stated that if anyone was diagnosed with COVID within 14 days following the event, they must notify management so specific steps could be made to quarantine others.
Traffic was backed up on Scuttlehole and Millstone Roads, leading into Nova’s Ark, and emergency responders reported difficulties traversing the area. Neighbors complained to police about the noise reverberating through the largely residential neighborhood.
“I would not have gotten involved if I knew they were going to violate New York state protocols,” the supervisor said.
“It is not everyday that a big band like the Chainsmokers come into town. People are a little stir crazy,” he said. “You want to help these charities out. You want to find ways to do it that are safe. You rely on responsible parties.”
Schneiderman said he would respond to the health commissioner by the end of business on Tuesday.
Town officials will also now have to mull over whether to continue with two town-organized drive-in concerts in Hampton Bays, planned in August, though they are on a much smaller scale.
Reporting by T.E. McMorrow, Taylor Vecsey, Jessica Mackin-Cipro