Tooele County legally blocks concert aiming to protest virus restrictions — but organizer vows to proceed

Tooele County officials issued an order Wednesday to block a concert that planned to openly defy and protest state COVID-19 restrictions — which earlier had been chased out of Kaysville when its City Council said it would turn sprinklers on it and cut its power.

But concert organizer Eric Moutsos said he plans to defy the order and proceed with the concert Saturday featuring country star Collin Ray at the Amphitheater at Studio Ranch near Grantsville. The venue has a capacity of 100,000 people, while state restrictions generally ban mass gatherings of more than 50.

“We understand that there might be repercussions on the back end,” he said. “But we believe that we’re kind of at a tipping point in America right now and especially in Utah. And and we’re moving forward in faith.”

The Tooele County Board of Health, the County Commission and the county health officer all issued a closure order Wednesday to Jason Manning, owner of the Amphitheater at Studio Ranch near Grantsville, which was to host the concert. He declined comment Wednesday about concert plans now.

The order said the event was a temporary mass gathering that poses “an imminent health hazard at this state of the COVID-19 pandemic” under current state restrictions, according to a written statement from the county health department.

“Failure to comply with this order may result in criminal charges being filed,” the statement said. “Tooele County Health Department’s goal is to continue protecting the health and well-being of the community.”

Moutsos said he has been in contact with the venue owner and “as of everything we know, we’re still on for 5 p.m. on Saturday.” He said about 100 businesses have confirmed plans to have booths there, to try to highlight and help businesses that were closed during shutdowns.

“It’s just ironic that places like Lagoon that bring the state a lot of money are allowed to open, but trying to save small businesses in a very safe environment” is not, Moutsos said, referencing the Farmington amusement park. “We call for social distancing of 7 feet. We have masks. The state is choosing the winners, and it’s just really sad.”

Plans for the concert earlier created a divisive political battle in Kaysville. Mayor Katie Witt — who is running for Congress in the 1st District — supported and praised the protest concert planned initially for a city park. She said she saw that as a move to protect the right to protest, while her opponents warned it would recklessly endanger residents.

The Kaysville City Council revolted against the mayor, and told Moutsos it would turn on sprinklers during the park concert and cut power there. It also passed a resolution denouncing the concert and the mayor’s actions to support it.

“It was a direct threat,” Moutsos said last week. “What I want to do now is have our next rally in our swimsuits in Kaysville’s Barnes Park because it’s absolutely ridiculous that the City Council did what it did to the people of Kaysville and Mayor Witt, and they should be ashamed.”

The council had a special hourlong session last week to allow residents to comment on the dispute. A long parade of them attacked the concert and the mayor, and only one spoke in favor of them.

As an example, Kaysville resident Camille Price told Witt in that session, “Wasting time accommodating and defending extremist outsiders who want to exploit our community to potentially disastrous events clearly shows your priorities are not currently aligned with the needs and wishes of your constituency.”

Witt said the fight in Kaysville shows in miniature the national debate of "freedom vs. fear. That’s what made this explode because there are so many strong feelings. So I think it was important to take a stand. I don’t regret taking that stand.”

Moutsos — who has led several rallies around the state against virus restrictions, including one with 1,000 people at the Salt Lake City Hall — insists they pose little danger and says the concert would be safe.

“We’ve had zero spikes with COVID with thousands at our events so I’m not worried about safety at all,” Moutsos said. “I think we’re going to be safer than Walmart and Costco."