CINCINNATI, Ohio (WJW) — Lawyers for a popular outdoor music festival in Stark County and another near Cincinnati have filed a federal lawsuit arguing the state cannot keep the concerts from happening.
Both the Bellwether Music Festival just outside Waynesville, Ohio and the multi-day Country Fest at Clay’s Park Resort in North Lawrence, Ohio typically attract thousands.
Both have tentatively scheduled dates to have their multi-day concert activities in August, but Christopher Finney, a Cincinnati area attorney who represents the event organizers, says the state has not yet even given them an idea of when they can reopen.
“They have acts to book, they have stages to build, they have permits to get, they have lots of logistics that are necessary to plan these big music festivals, and the state has candidly been callous with them in just not even giving them an opening date when they can have their gatherings,” Finney said.
Finney, whose firm has successfully argued for the opening of gyms and theme parks including Cedar Point and King’s Island in disrict courts, has filed this particular lawsuit in federal court insisting that concert performances are federally protected free speech under the U.S. constitution.
He believes concert gatherings should be no less regulated than recent protests and rallies around the state over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
“Protected speech in our society is given a special classification so the protests that we saw for two weekends dealing with the death of George Floyd were permitted under Dr. Acton’s order first amendment expressive activities, but a music festival is also a first amendment protected activity,” said Finney.
Finney also argues that Governor Mike Dewine and former state health director Dr. Amy Acton have been wrong about the impact of COVID-19, but if Dr. Acton has done anything well, it is to raise awareness about personal responsibility.
He believes concerts would be difficult for the state to come up with rules for regulating concert-goers, just as it would be difficult to social distance people at public rallies, but feels strongly that if people are permitted to attend concerts, they will be smart about their own health and safety.
“Your friends, your neighbors yourself, you are actually self regulating. You have been educated about washing your hands and distancing from people and this notion that we need a nanny government to tell people how they are going to govern themselves so that they don’t get infections is not how we have ever lived in this country, and it’s not how people are living now,” said Finney.
“I can tell you in my law office we have certain people working from home, we have people washing their hands more, we have people social distancing, people are being careful I think. People will use good judgement at these music festivals so that they don’t put themselves in harms way,” he added.
In an afternoon hearing with Federal District Judge Matthew McFarland in Cincinnati, the state countered that the venues could not open before June 19 so an injunction is not necessary.
Attorneys for the Governor and Dr. Acton also argued that they do have statutory authority to prohibit such events and have to act decisively because Ohio is still grappling with a major pandemic.
Judge McFarland did not issue a decision on Friday, continuing the case through next week.