As everyone who’s lived in British Columbia for any extended amount of time is keenly aware, this province is—for all of its natural charms—quite frequently fucked where big decisions are concerned.
Before arguing that, ask yourself why you can buy beer at the grocery store in Bellingham, Belfast, Havana, Athens, Ho Chi Minh, Istanbul, Glasgow, Beijing, Tokyo, London, Montreal, Speightstown, Singapore, and Scotland’s charmingly named Twatt village. And then why you still can’t in Beautiful British Columbia.
Ever been to Holland, China, Vietnam, or Denmark—countries where cycling is so deeply woven into the fabric of society that babies learn to ride bikes before they walk? No one wears helmets. In British Columbia, some flaming nanny-state idiot decided to make them mandatory in 1996. They remain so today, giving us something in common with a small minority of other notoriously backwards countries that require all cyclists to wear helmets. Like Australia.
In addition to such legacy-like acts of idiocy, British Columbia is a province that’s always up for making new decisions falling under the umbrella of totally fucked. Which brings us to the current bizarre rule for concerts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
First off, let’s give credit where a whole shit-ton of credit is due. Take a bow, Mo Tarmohamed of the Rickshaw Theatre, for having the cojones to stand up and call bullshit on some current live-music regulations that make zero sense.
Pretty much universally, Tarmohamed is regarded as one of the most fundamentally decent people working in the often-indecent business known as the music industry. In a time of endless corporate takeovers and strategic mergers, he’s also a rarity—a music-venue operator who’s remained committed to going the independent-owner route.
But, as famously nice as he might be, that doesn’t mean that Tarmohamed isn’t above getting righteously pissed. And, right now, that’s exactly what he is.
Blame the case of outlaw-country shitkicker Eric Church. Or, perhaps, more accurately, the office of British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer. Actually, mostly the PHO office.
Let’s start by revisiting a Facebook post that Tarmohamed put up on October 30. Sometimes someone will write something perfect, there’s no point trying to get them to recapture the magic a second time, so we’ll quote him directly. Tarmohamed’s post begins like this:
“I am having a tough time of letting this go. Most of you know me as that chill guy who generally likes to stay in the background. The only time I get worked up is when I get hacked on a soccer pitch. but the current duplicitous PHO order has me incensed. So incensed that I have had to use this horrible social media platform to air grievances.”
In the interest of not making Tarmohamed do all of the work, let’s take a second to sum things up. What got him incensed was social-media photos and videos of Church performing for half the Fraser Valley at a packed Rogers Arena on October 29, 2021.
Cowboy hats were evidently mandatory. Face masks, based on all available evidence, were not. Social distancing was not exactly a thing, with fans of the Granite Falls shitkicker jammed together at Rogers like rush hour on Tokyo’s Ginza Line. Which, one might argue, was their double-vaxxed prerogative. There’s got to be some reward for doing the responsible thing and getting double vaxxed. That reward, for some people, is clearly a maskless evening bellowing along to “Smoke a Little Smoke”, “The Joint”, and “I’m Gettin’ Stoned”.
How does all this involve Tarmohamed?
The stands at Rogers Arena were allowed to be packed because there was a seat for every patron. That those patrons were up dancing, instead of passively sitting there tapping their toes to “Mixed Drinks About Feelings”, was irrelevant. All that mattered was that they had seats had they chosen to use them.
Let’s clarify why that’s important to B.C. health officials. An October 25 release from the Provincial Health Officer reads:
“Up to 100% of the seated operating capacity of a place may be used for the purpose of a seated inside event, and up to 100% of the standing operating capacity of a place may be used for the purpose of a standing inside event.”
That was followed by: “Subject to section 6, if the event is described in paragraph (a), (c), (d) or (e) of the definition of “inside event” (a) There is seating available for each participant, and each participant is provided with a seat. (b) Participants are seated throughout the place in such a way as to use all available space.”
Tarmohamed, who’s obviously had more time than the rest of us to process this mumbo-jumbo, broke things down on Facebook. Because he didn’t have enough seats for patrons to stand in front of—err, sit in— he was forced to cancel a sold-out October 30 album-release show for Vancouver’s Archspire.
“So what does Vancouver Coastal Health have to say about that?” Tarmohamed continued on Facebook. “I quote you verbatim: ‘...the key is that all patrons have seats and are assigned seats. When they are at their seats, standing isn’t as much of an issue.’
“Because of the Rickshaw’s configuration, I can only have a seat or chair for about 80% of our patrons,” he continued. “In other words, because I could not give about 80 attendees a seat or chair that they could point to, we had to cancel our show tonight, even though they were going to stand anyway regardless of whether they had a seat assigned to them or not; much like those people who attended the Eric Church concert last night. Who even thinks up these head spinning mandates anyway??”
Probably the same idiots who remain convinced British Columbians have no desire to be able to buy beer in a grocery store like the rest of the civilized world. And who think the province’s cyclists enjoy ruining their perfect hair days with mandatory bicycle helmets.
To sum up, again: you can stand and dance if there’s a chair behind you at Rogers Arena, regardless of whether you’re wearing a mask or not. Anyone think that the corporate lobby had something to do with getting the greenlight for mega-concerts, not to mention full-capacity hockey games?
Meanwhile, if there’s no chair behind at venues like the decidedly non-corporate Rickshaw, tough shit for 20 percent of you—stay home.
The doubly insane thing is the lengths that the Rickshaw has gone to to ensure the safety of, well, everyone that wants to see live music again.
Tarmohamed wrote: “Ironically, I have actually gone over and beyond the health mandates. I have insisted that anyone attending the Rickshaw be fully vaccinated, regardless of whether they are patrons, staff or performers. I firmly believe in public safety. So, just in case there are any anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists itching to comment, take a hike, I’m not on your side.”
So even if the Rickshaw could come up with enough seats, nobody would be line-dancing maskless in a cowboy hat to “Stick That In Your Country Song” by Eric Church.
Desperate to have some someone, anyone, acknowledge that the government is blowing it, Tarmohamed included a simple request in his Facebook post.
“All I ask is for everyone who agrees with me,” he wrote, “is to write a letter to your MLA asking them to engage the PHO and the Health Minister to come up with public health orders that are not hypocritical and not punitive to smaller live music venues like ourselves. All we want is to operate to our GA capacity while still maintaining all of the commonsense health measures: only fully vaccinated people allowed inside live music venues and masking at all times unless consuming a beverage. That’s all that’s being asked for.”
So get writing. And resist the urge to start things with “Dear _____: Your recent big decision is, like so many others in B.C., totally fucked.”