The promoters of a sold-out charity concert in the Hamptons that drew harsh criticism for social distancing violations over the summer will be fined $20,000 -- and Southampton will no longer be able to approve group gathering permits without prior approval from the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
The state Department of Health launched an immediate investigation into the July "drive-in" concert, headlined by The Chainsmokers, after images of large crowds went viral on social media. At the time, Cuomo said he was "appalled" by what he saw. On Wednesday, he still appeared to be in disbelief it happened.
"Frankly, I don't understand what they were thinking," Cuomo said, adding that the town will have to get state approval for any outdoor event permits from now on.
Southamptown Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said that they've already been doing that, even though "it's a standard no other town has to go through," and that Cuomo's use of the term sanction may not be proper. He also reiterated that while the town issued permits for the concert, it was the organizers who created the COVID dangers.
“We followed the rule when we issued the permit and the state may feel otherwise,” he said. “It’s challenging when an event organizer doesn’t follow the rules.”
“If we made a mistake let us know what it is and give us a chance to fix it,” he added.
The organizers of the concert had no comment regarding the fines imposed by the governor.
More than 2,100 people attended the drive-in concert, which the state said violated an executive order and public health law. More than 200 people were close together in a VIP section, many of whom were not wearing masks.
The idea had been to allow attendees to enjoy the performances from inside their vehicles or outside but within parking spot lines. But some footage, including one video that has been viewed millions of times, seemed to show people mingling, many of them without masks.
The event had all the promise of a safe and fun experience, at least as detailed by the organizers' webpage and given the restrictions outlined in the town's response to Zucker. Both described how ticket holders were given 20-by-20 foot or 20-by-15 foot parking spaces that were not to be left except for restroom access. The size of the space depended on the ticket price, some of which went for up to $25,000.
Face coverings, which the town said were given out to all guests, were required for event staff and concertgoers who left their "assigned tailgate area" to use the restroom. Hand sanitizing stations were also positioned in every row of the concert area, along with two security guards per row assigned to enforcement.
All was going well -- to a point. And local authorities said they shut down the "drive-in" concert once people started to rush the stage. The town later said it was "disturbed" by what unfolded.
"The Town is greatly disturbed by reports of what occurred at the event and are investigating this matter and will hold the organizers accountable," the letter from Southampton Town Attorney James Burke read in part, and offered "official aerial video documenting site conditions" to aid in the state's investigation.
The concert organizers issued a statement as well shortly after the fracas back in July, saying in part that they "made best efforts to ensure New York's social distancing guidelines were properly maintained...the criticism based on a two-second video does not actually depict the entire event. This video is misleading."
The benefit concert was said to raise funds for No Kid Hungry, Southampton Fresh Air Home, and the Children's Medical Fund of New York.