Entering its fourth decade, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, the world’s No. 1 outdoor concert venue (you can look it up), has shut it doors, waiting for the coronavirus crisis to pass, or they develop a vaccine, or something … anything to get shows on the road again.
The impact on the Houston community goes way beyond Jimmy Buffett fans digging their grass skirts out of the closet or Tim McGraw fan dusting off their cowboy hats for their annual party on the pavilion lawn. Both concerts are officially canceled, see below for instructions how to get your money back.
Here’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion president and general manager Jerry MacDonald to explain what’s going on and what’s not happening at our amazing concert venue in The Woodlands.
CultureMap: How was the 2020 season shaping up before the pandemic shut the CWMP down?
Jerry MacDonald: Twenty-twenty was going to be our best year ever. We had over 40 Live Nation shows booked, and about half of those already on sale. In addition, we had a very strong performing arts schedule including Houston Symphony, Houston Ballet, and Houston Grand Opera dates scheduled.
CM: How is it determined if a concert is postponed for a later date or canceled altogether?
JM: It is completely up to the artist. The artist makes the call whether they want to honor tickets already sold and use for the new date or refund tickets previously sold and start all over.
CM: How big is the local economic impact when the CWMP shuts down for several months?
JM: The CWMP is a huge economic driver for the community. When we have events, area restaurants and hotels fill up with people attending our events. We draw over 500,000 guests a year and 80 percent come from outside our immediate area. Many of our guests make a weekend out of the experience visiting restaurants and retail shops.
CM: How many people are affected? How many employees does the CWMP have? Have they been furloughed or laid off? How many people have part-time jobs based on concerts held there?
JM: The Pavilion has 30 full-time employees. We are fortunate and have not had to furlough any of our full-time employees. We have been saving for a rainy day for a long time and this is the ultimate rainy day. We have over 500 part-time employees that work our events. These positions include ticket sellers, ticket takers, security, door guards, cleaning, medical, and more. With no events our part-time staffers are not making any money. Our 10-12 nonprofit groups that work in the concession stands during events and receive commissions are also affected. Last year the nonprofits received over $400,000 for their organizations.
CM: How did you handle high school graduation this year?
JM: Willis High School graduated over 400 seniors on June 13. Everything went well. We followed the guidelines issued by the governor’s office, keeping social distances among the graduates and guests.
CM: Did the government help you financially to keep the pavilion maintained?
JM: Yes, we applied and received Payroll Protection Program funds from the federal government.
CM: How is this affecting you personally?
JM: This has been devastating for the entertainment business. Our business was the first to be shut down and will be the last business to get the green light to get going again. The shutdown affects thousands and thousands of people from artists, agents, promoters, production, transportation, catering, and venues, and many, many more. I have been concentrating on booking 2021. When coronavirus hit, I was pretty much done scheduling 2020 and was already working on 2021. Now we are in the process of rescheduling 2020 to 2021.
CM: What is the process of refunding or crediting people who bought tickets?
JM: This is being handled by Ticketmaster, our ticketing company. On a rescheduled show you have the option of keeping your ticket for the rescheduled date in 2021 or getting a refund. On a cancelled show, you have the option of taking a refund or receiving a credit for future Live Nation shows at CWMP for up to 150 percent of the value of the ticket.
CM: What is your best prediction on when concerts will return to the CWMP?
JM: I think we will have concerts this season at the pavilion. They might not be the large national tours we are used to holding, but we will have concerts. The governor has given the okay to move forward under strict guidelines and capacity restrictions. We are reviewing these guidelines now and how we can make it work. You probably won’t see the large national tours until 2021, though.
CM: How will things be different when you are allowed to hold concerts again?
JM: The biggest change will be trying to maintain the 6-foot social distancing between our guests and staff. Seating areas will be different. Reserved seating will have three empty seats between groups of up to six people, and lawn seating will be set up in pods keeping social distancing. Every other row in reserved seating will be left empty. Following these practices reduces our capacity to about 25-percent. Guests will also notice hand sanitizer stations and hand washing stations located throughout the venue.
CM: In your career, has anything come close to turning the business upside down like this?
JM: Not in my 44 years have I ever seen a complete worldwide shut down of the entertainment industry or anything close to this.
Pet of the week
Name: Howdy, as in legendary puppet Howdy Doody and race car driver Howdy Holmes.
Birthdate: February 5, 2017. He’s a VIP (Very Important Pooch) at Citizens for Animal Protection, which means he can be adopted for half-off the regular adoption fee. Since West Houston Suburu already is covering half the fee, you can adopt Howdy for half off the half off. That’s how I see it.
Ethnicity: I’m half-shepherd and half-Australian Cattle Dog, g’day mate. I’m not petite, Paris Hilton couldn’t hold me when she appears on a talk show, which isn’t a problem since no talk show is interested in her anymore. But I digress. I’m 70 pounds of burnin’, churnin’, sweet, lovin’ dog. I like walks, playing and fetchin’ things. I don’t like being left alone, so keep that in mind. I’m housebroken and polite. I’m very gentle and big on cuddling on the couch, watching TV. You want a good watchdog? That’s me, all right.
Come and get me: If you want to bring me home, drop an email to: email@example.com. Tell then Ken Hoffman sent you and they need to treat you special.