The tale of Trampled by Turtles' two Minnesota gigs this month exemplifies the uncertainty the entire concert industry is facing right now with COVID-19 guidelines.
Fans have two chances to finally see the acoustic Americana sextet perform in its home state over the next two weekends, and the differences between the shows are rather stark: One is offering Wilco for extra entertainment, and the other is requiring proof of COVID vaccinations or negative test results for extra safety.
Organizers of Riverfest in Grand Rapids – which Trampled is due to headline Friday – announced two weeks ago they were adding vaccine or test requirements to their two-day event, also featuring Yonder Mountain String Band, Kathleen Edwards, Charlie Parr, Annie Humphrey and many more touring artists.
The news was not surprisingly greeted with mixed emotions in and around the Iron Range-neighboring northern Minnesota town, which Trampled bassist Tim Saxhaug calls home.
"We have received some pushback by folks who disagree with the protocol decision, [but] this was never about politics," Riverfest spokesman Paul Marvin said. "It has always been about safety and responsibility."
Marvin said the decision came after Itasca County was listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a high-transmission area in August, and it was also based on the timing of Riverfest to both the return to school and the start of indoor fall tour itineraries for musicians. The festival also added a rapid-test site to its set-up to help fans at least meet the test requirements.
"When everything is said and done, we look forward to sending [Trampled] and the other act, on their way knowing we provided a safe experience for all — doing our part so the music can continue safely without another long break," Marvin said.
Riverfest now stands out as an alternative option for Trampled fans who feel uneasy about attending the band's gig the following Saturday, Sept. 18, at Treasure Island Casino Amphitheater near Red Wing.
The Treasure Island amphitheater is not requiring proof of vaccine or test results, as is also the case with Lizzo's appearance there this Saturday.
"We are constantly monitoring CDC guidelines and will make any necessary changes as appropriate," casino representatives said, adding that they are "strongly encouraging everyone" to wear masks to their concerts and are requiring masks inside the casino. (That's a contrast to Mystic Lake Casino's policies going into Friday's disputed Jonas Brothers concert.)
Treasure Island is not altering its no-refund policy in any of these cases, but fans can "transfer" their tickets to someone else who wants to go.
Trampled by Turtles' management said they have been largely at the whim of promoters and venues in dealing with varying COVID policies since the band returned to the road in June, and "if there is no COVID protocol for entry at one of our upcoming shows it shouldn't be assumed that we didn't try."
"The questions were asked in every room we play this fall — some accommodated our requests and some didn't," Trampled manager Christian Roreau said. "That being said, we don't feel we are leading people into harms way - the less than handful of shows that have no COVID rules are all outside."
These Minnesota dates are part of a string of Upper Midwest outdoor gigs for Trampled this month, also including: the Greenway Takeover Festival in Grand Forks, N.D., on Saturday (no to vaccine or test requirements); two other co-headliner shows with Wilco in Des Moines on Sept. 16 (yes to vaccine or test requirements) and Green Bay, Wis., on Sept. 17 (no); and a pairing with Mt. Joy in Milwaukee on Sept. 24 (no).