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Why Lucasfilm canceled Spielberg’s Curse of Monkey Island movie

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Why Lucasfilm canceled Spielberg’s Curse of Monkey Island movie

Over the almost 50 years that Lucasfilm has been a company, some notable projects have fallen by the wayside — from games such as Star Wars 1313, Project Ragtag, and Star Wars: First Assault to films including George Lucas’ original sequel trilogy. In this graveyard of scrapped and forgotten projects, you’ll find the story of The Curse of Monkey Island, an undeveloped animated film named after the third game in the popular video game series. Not only was this an attempt to bring the Monkey Island games to the screen, but it signaled one of Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic’s first attempts to enter the world of digital features (a feat ILM wouldn’t manage until a decade later with Rango). In addition, there were some high-profile names in the world of film attached, with Steven Spielberg even linked to the project as a producer.

Lucasfilm has not shared many details publicly about the film since its cancellation in 2001, when the company shut down ILM’s digital story department, the division working on the project. But that hasn’t stopped people from speculating over the decades on what happened to it — one persistent rumor being that the project eventually morphed into the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, 2003’s The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Lucasfilm didn’t publicly confirm the Monkey Island film’s existence until 2011. That was when the Monkey Island Special Edition Collection came out, containing storyboards of the film that the project lead for these games, Craig Derrick, had located and cleared for release.

In the years since, many questions about the film have lingered. Who was involved? How far did it get to completion? Why was it canceled? Recently, we were put in contact with the director of this long-forgotten project, David Carson, who had previously never commented publicly on his connection to the film. Carson had been a visual artist at ILM for many decades, working on films such Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, The Goonies, and Jurassic Park, before becoming part of the digital story department tasked with developing concepts and treatments for computer-animated features in the late ’90s. Together with former members of ILM, he gave us new insight into the making of the Monkey Island film.

Frankenstein and the Wolfman

When Carson talks about Monkey Island, he begins with the tale of another canceled ILM project: Frankenstein and the Wolfman.

Pixar originated as a group within Lucasfilm’s computer graphics division; it was spun out of the company as a separate corporation in early 1986. Carson, who was working as a visual effects art director at the time, says that Lucasfilm felt it had achieved all it could with the computer graphics division, and wanted to focus on its own film projects, as well as its famous visual effects company, ILM. ILM typically worked with real materials, such as plastics, rubber, and foam core, to produce effects for movies, but as the ’80s gave way to the ’90s, the company began experimenting more and more with computers, pioneering industry-leading digital effects for films such as The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Jurassic Park. Despite the success of these films, Carson says that ILM executives harbored fears about how digital effects would impact the visual effects industry.

“Doug Norby, the president of Lucasfilm, feared what might happen if computers were increasingly used to create visual effects,” Carson tells us. “Computers were constantly becoming more powerful but cheaper. He feared a future where small groups of people with modest amounts of money could use computers to create effects similar to what ILM was currently providing, but at far less cost. And he feared that the studios would gladly hire them.”

Then, in 1995, Toy Story happened. When Pixar’s film about sentient toys became a critical and commercial hit, many of Lucasfilm’s competitors rushed to develop similar computer-animated projects to capitalize on the new innovation in digital effects. Not keen on missing out, ILM’s then-president, Jim Morris, established a team of eight people to develop ideas for CG-animated feature films. The plan was that ILM would develop concepts for animated films, and then offer their services to other studios to help develop these projects further. According to Carson, this was a potential way for ILM as a company to diversify and future-proof itself against the potential erosion of the visual effects business.

The first result of this was Frankenstein and the Wolfman, a collaboration between Universal and ILM that hoped to revive Universal’s horror properties of the 1930s. There were two directors: Carson was attached to co-direct the project for ILM, with Universal Pictures chairman Casey Silver selecting Tremors writer Brent Maddock to be Universal’s representative. Over the next few years, the team produced multiple scripts, as well as animatics and artwork from those who would later be involved with Monkey Island’s film adaptation. But the story was canceled before it ever made it to the screen, with the main problem being Universal’s approval.

During development on the project, there had been a shake-up at Universal, with Silver resigning after the failure of Babe: Pig in the City at the box office. The new heads of production at the studio then conducted a review of the project, the outcome being that Universal removed Maddock from it, believing his script with Tremors collaborator S.S. Wilson to be “too dark.”

Universal allowed ILM to pick Maddock’s replacement, and the company chose the project’s animation supervisor at ILM, Tom Bertino. Carson and Bertino continued working on Frankenstein and the Wolfman, with The Mummy director and screenwriter Stephen Sommers coming onboard to develop a treatment prior to starting production on The Mummy Returns. Sommers was soon distracted working on that sequel, however, and there was a period of silence, with Carson requesting to leave during this time, turning the project over to co-director Bertino.

“I was just getting no feedback from Universal,” Carson says. “We would have shots in progress. We would have models of the creatures in progress, and there was nobody to show them to, nobody to approve them, and a sense of ‘Is this all going to be disapproved later?’ I just felt like the film needed somebody who was actually in charge and who had the power to make decisions. And I didn’t feel like I had that power.”

“I met with Stephen Sommers a couple of times,” says story artist Tony Stacchi, who worked on Frankenstein and the Wolfman and Monkey Island at ILM. “He had a very different vision. So he came in and he gave his thoughts. But none of his thoughts really jived with what Dave wanted to do. He was a really nice guy, but he was very into modernizing the myth and not being [beholden] at all to the old Universal thing. […] So [Universal] were trying to find somebody to sort of take the ball and go forward with it and own it, and I don’t think he was interested until after he finished [The Mummy Returns].”

Carson’s departure turned out to be the silver bullet for Frankenstein and the Wolfman, which was canceled only a couple of months later. But ILM was not done with feature animation just yet.

Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate

 

An illustration shows Monkey Island hero Guybrush Threepwood standing with a group of pirates

 

 

Guybrush and friends in movie concept art, via 2011’s Monkey Island Special Edition Collection.
Image: ILM via eisnerguy1/Twitter

 

Shortly after leaving the Frankenstein project, in 1999, Carson was on a weekend break with his 15-year-old son Neal for the Fourth of July, out in the mountains near Clear Lake in Northern California, when the conversation turned to the two’s shared love of LucasArts adventure games. One of the perks of working at ILM at the time was that Carson was able to get copies of the latest LucasArts games at a heavy discount, so he would often play LucasArts point-and-click games with his kids when they were growing up.

During this conversation, Carson asked his son whether he thought Monkey Island might make a good feature film, and his son enthusiastically said it would. Then, little more than a week later, Carson was in Morris’ office at ILM talking about his idea for a film about grog, ghouls, and the adventures of a wannabe pirate named Guybrush Threepwood. Morris was unfamiliar with the games, but he suggested taking the idea to Amblin Entertainment, Steven Spielberg’s production company.

The original treatment that Carson wrote for the film was a rough adaptation of the first game, 1990’s The Secret of Monkey Island, with some changes here and there to the plot. One of the drafts, for instance, starts with a new scene with Guybrush, described as “at most, twenty years old,” bumping into a local pirate at a seaside market. After a brief conversation in which Guybrush expresses his hopes of becoming a mighty pirate, the pirate character tells Guybrush about Melée Island and informs him of a supply boat that he could hitch a lift on. The opening credits are then written as follows:

From high above, we watch as the boat heads out into deeper waters and stronger waves. The Monkey Island theme music starts, and the head-credits roll. In a series of cuts, the small boat makes its way to Melee Island, and in the final shot, we see the supply boat pulling away from a sandy beach at dusk. On shore, Guybrush happily waves to the uncaring crewmen. He turns and begins to make his way up a steep winding trail into the cliffs above. Night has fully fallen when we cut back to a wide establishing shot of Melee Island, and the theme music ends.

The next scene segues into the opening of the first game, with Guybrush standing on the cliffs overlooking Melée Island, where he meets an old lookout who directs him to the SCUMM Bar.

Other changes from the game in this version of the script include whittling down the three trials Guybrush must complete in order to become a pirate to just one. In addition, the scrapes with the local pirates on Melée Island are condensed into a single fight with the villain LeChuck’s undead skeleton crew. And Murray the Talking Skull makes an appearance, despite not being introduced in the games until the opening of the third entry in the series. Murray figures into the final act of this script, where he works together with the island castaway Herman Toothrot and a band of wild monkeys to rescue Guybrush from being thrown into a river of lava from LeChuck’s ship.

After Carson wrote this initial treatment, Patty Blau, who was becoming head of digital features at ILM at the time, paired Carson with a couple of young writers named Corey Rosen and Scott Leberecht. Rosen was a CG artist at ILM and Leberecht was an art director, but they were also both filmmakers in their spare time, producing films for festivals as well as animated comedy shorts such as The Spirit of Spawn. These two wrote another treatment for the film, in order to pitch it to Spielberg, and served as screenwriters on the project.

Rosen and Leberecht’s treatment deviated even further from the game. It followed Guybrush searching for the treasure of Monkey Island in order to pay his union fees and become a mighty pirate. As he leaves the SCUMM Bar, he bumps into Elaine Marley at the docks on Melee Island, and the two begin to talk. Marley is setting off to find her younger brother Kitt, who was shipwrecked on Monkey Island, and Guybrush needs a ship to take him to the treasure. Elaine is reluctant at first, but then some henchmen appear, on orders from LeChuck, who has been tracking Elaine to make her his undead bride. The two escape, and the rest of the film follows Guybrush and Elaine exploring Monkey Island and evading LeChuck and his crew: They find Kitt among a tribe of monkeys, Elaine is kidnapped, and Guybrush defeats LeChuck, dousing the pirate in molten lava. This was the script that ILM pitched to Spielberg.

“[We] flew down to Amblin with Patty Blau and we met with Steven,” says Carson. “The first thing he said to me was, ‘I told George years ago that he should make Monkey Island into a film,’ so I knew I had a pretty easy pitch ahead of me. After [that], Steven suggested that Patty meet with two of the Amblin producers to see if we could work something out.”

“The meeting ended the way you want those meetings to end,” Rosen says. “It was like shaking hands, like, Let’s make the movie. I remember very clearly Dave Carson, as we were getting back in the car, goes, ‘You can trace the decline of your entire career from this moment. It’s never going to get better than Steven Spielberg shaking your hand.’”

Asked who he had in mind for the voice of the characters, Carson says, “We were far from voice casting on Monkey, but I would have definitely considered those who voiced the characters in the games.” That would’ve been Dominic Armato and Earl Boen, who voiced Guybrush and LeChuck, respectively, in 1997’s The Curse of Monkey Island, the first Monkey Island game with voice acting.

Charting a new course

The plot changed significantly as the project progressed, with Carson and the two writers working with the rest of ILM’s story department to develop the treatment further. This story group included Steve Purcell, the creator of adventure game series Sam & Max, who was a background artist and collaborator on the first two Monkey Island games, as well as storyboard artists such as Delia Gosman, Garett Sheldrew, and Tony Stacchi. Around this time, other LucasArts employees also started to hear news of a Monkey Island film.

“The first I heard of it was when I saw some people I hadn’t seen before in Sean Clark and Mike Stemmle’s office,” says Bill Tiller, background artist on the game The Curse of Monkey Island. “They were working on Escape from Monkey Island at the time. I guess management figured they should consult, though I’m not sure why they didn’t bring Larry Ahern [co-project lead and art director on the game The Curse of Monkey Island] and I in too.” In fact, ILM’s story department only held one meeting with LucasArts.

“Sadly, I have only vague, whispery memories of rumors of a Monkey Island movie over at ILM,” says Escape from Monkey Island co-director Mike Stemmle. “I’d be hard-pressed to even recall when I heard such rumors. I do remember seeing some Steve Purcell concept art at one point or another, but that’s about it.”

“In retrospect, there should have been a lot more interaction,” Rosen says of the relationship between his team and the game developers at LucasArts. “They know this world. They love this world. They were deeply steeped in Monkey Island, and we were Hollywood types. We were dicks. We were taking their idea and making a movie of it and we weren’t including them. That’s stupid. That’s not how anything should be done. When you are using source material and you have access to those people, that’s dumb that we didn’t do that.”

The one major connection they did have, however, was Purcell, and he proved important. Purcell worked closely with Tony Stacchi throughout development of Monkey Island, giving him unique insight into the games.

“I think Steve Purcell was a little frustrated with me, because I was like, ‘I don’t play video games at all, but I love pirates,’” says Stacchi. “I like Defoe and Robert Louis Stevenson, so I was really into the pirate thing. […] But I thought everything that I learned and read, and the little I played of the game, I thought was super clever, taking from all that stuff.”

Under this story group, the film changed to an original story about the villain LeChuck trying to unite all pirates, living and dead, under a single, terrifying flag. In this version of the story, Guybrush is portrayed as a Chum-Bait fisherman, living with his pet monkey sidekick, Sam. Much like in the earlier scripts, it’s his dream to become a mighty pirate, so when LeChuck shows up at the local SCUMM Bar recruiting pirates for his ship, Guybrush volunteers to join and accidentally becomes embroiled in a plot involving dancing monkeys, blood rituals, and pirate armadas.

“The story started to take on a different quality,” says Rosen. “It became more of a crew, more of a gang of pirates that Guybrush recruits […] so it became less of a solo adventure. Our original script was basically Guybrush and Elaine on a journey, and LeChuck [was the bad guy]. It was really simplified; it was like Romancing the Stone. [The new story] was about a young, idiot Guybrush Threepwood [who] wants to be a pirate, but he doesn’t really know what that is. So our chin-scratching GFN of that for the story was, ‘What does it mean to be a pirate?’ Guybrush thinks of piracy as this fun adventure, [but then] he crosses over with LeChuck, who is actually a demon … pirate.”

“That’s the part that really resonated with me — to have such a blinkered character who really wants something,” says Stacchi. “That’s what I got out of it. And you read the Defoe book on pirates, and that stuff is sort of in there. There are all these interesting stories about these guys who were straight-up thugs who turned into pirates, but then there’s all these noblemen who became pirates [too]. And that was Guybrush in a fun, cartoony nutshell.”

 

An illustration shows pirates approaching the cove of an island

 

 

Pirates arrive on the island in movie concept art, released as part of 2011’s Monkey Island Special Edition Collection.
Image: ILM via eisnerguy1/Twitter

 

The Pirates of the Caribbean ‘connection’

Two of the most pervasive myths about the Monkey Island film are that Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio were writers on the project and that they later recycled many of the elements from the unfinished film for their Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The truth, however, is much less straightforward.

While the story department was putting the finishing touches on this third draft of the story, one of the producers at ILM, Kim Bromley, started a series of lunchtime interviews where she hosted various professionals from across the film industry. ILM employees were invited to attend and ask questions, and the guests would often receive a tour of the offices afterward. According to Carson and Rosen, the screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, who later worked on Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and its sequels, were among those who visited the studio during this period, with Amblin helping to arrange the visit, hoping that the two would want to work on a new script for the project.

“They toured ILM and came over to the story group’s offices,” says Carson. “We talked with them about films they had developed, and we showed them the artwork we were working on for Monkey Island. What we didn’t know was at that time Ted and Terry were developing a script for Disney based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. They weren’t the first writers to tackle this assignment. Disney had, several times in the past, assigned writers to develop a script based on their ride, but no one had achieved a script that the studio put into production.”

Tony Stacchi adds, “We pitched them Monkey Island, which had artwork for every sequence and there was artwork for all the beats. […] All I remember from their response was like, ‘Look, you love pirate movies, we love pirate movies, nobody in Hollywood is going to make a pirate movie.’ […] Later, [when they announced Pirates of the Caribbean] I remember talking to Jim Morris about it and saying, ‘Hey, those guys are making a pirate movie, and they told us that nobody would make a pirate movie.’ And Jim went, ‘Yep, and we have all the special effects, so it’s a win-win.” ILM went on to win the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest in 2006.

Some online have misinterpreted this pitch meeting as proof that the Pirates of the Caribbean writers were involved with the Monkey Island project, or that they later transformed it into Pirates of the Caribbean. But this simply isn’t true. The screenwriting duo, however, has been bombarded with questions about the connection ever since, with fans highlighting a resemblance between the films and the games. The pair have always denied any similarities as pure coincidence. For instance, in August 2006, Ted Elliott responded to a question on the duo’s screenwriting website, Wordplay, about whether they had played the Monkey Island games with a forum post titled “Nope”:

But wasn’t the Monkey Island game itself inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride? I recall that after the first movie came out, someone said we ripped off the “prisoners calling dog with keys” from the game.

Terry Rossio waded in not long afterward, addressing other comparisons people were making between Monkey Island’s Voodoo Lady and Tia Dalma, a character introduced in the second Pirates of the Caribbean film:

Wow, people are strange.

I read through some of those posts made by people who are familiar with the game (I’ve not played it, but then, I’ve not played ANY video game … I couldn’t get past the first challenge of MYST).

Anyway, in several posts listed, people said stuff like, “Wow, look at the voodoo lady, man, that is so similar, taken directly from the game.”

It seems as though (from what I can glean) that the only similarity between the two characters is that each is a Voodoo Lady. Actually I did always feel less than brilliant on that character — like how Stephen King felt about Abigail in the STAND, writing a kind of standard black mystic character from the south, a gypsy queen, swamp lady, voodoo queen, etc). The character always felt a bit ‘stock’ (though we worked to make her as unique as we could).

Anyway — who would have thought that the choice to create a Voodoo Lady in a pirate film would lead a number of people to think we had to steal that idea from somwhere?

I was going to write a horror film with a witch character, but now I’m not so sure …

Despite these protestations, the rumor has refused to die, with fans and even some former members of LucasArts bringing it up when referring to the canceled Monkey Island film. Asked what he thinks about this, Carson makes it clear he doesn’t believe that the visit the writers paid to the studio had any great influence on Pirates of the Caribbean and its future success as a film franchise. Instead, he stresses how much he admires the writers and what they accomplished with the character of Jack Sparrow, before talking about the joy of getting to meet them and how important their advice was for learning the basics of screenwriting and story structure.

“Their website in those days — we were learning anything we could about story structure,” says Carson. “At least, I remember reading it all the time. I liked what they had to say, and it was great meeting them.” He goes on to echo Elliott’s sentiment: “I also don’t think it really matters. The games were inspired by the rides, so if a movie based on the ride is inspired by the games, it all seems like good fun to me.”

Tony Stacchi agrees: “The fundamental thing is that the inspiration for all these things is some people were really into the old pirate movies, but everybody was inspired by this odd ride at Disneyland that mixed living dead pirates with real pirates and skeletons, and it was just this strange little thing. We all just were taking from the same place, and honestly, any writer who starts working on a pirate movie […] all these themes of signing your name over, signing your soul over, that kind of stuff, is in the literature, so you’re going to end up there.”

Monkey business

LucasArts released the storyboards for this later version of the film in 2011, as part of the Monkey Island Special Edition Collection, a retail package containing the modern remakes of the first two Monkey Island games. These storyboards primarily show the art of Tony Stacchi and Steve Purcell, with some additional pieces from Garett Sheldrew, Delia Gosman, and David Carson. But arriving at this story layout had been difficult for the team.

“[Developing the story this far] did not go as smoothly as I would have hoped,” says Carson. “Story development is often contentious, and it was rare that we all saw things the same way. But we eventually managed to hash out a story that was a good start. The main character [Guybrush Threepwood] was one of the biggest challenges. While his character made a great avatar for the player of the game, it was harder to get a lock on who he was as the hero of the film [because he’s not typically heroic and much of his background is left unexplored].”

Beyond the problems of adaptation, there were also more troubling concerns. This included a second meeting with Spielberg. Jim Morris, Patty Blau, Rosen, and Tom Bertino (who was going to act as animation supervisor) were all present at this meeting.

“The first meeting was just this little table, but now Steven wanted to make the project the table … [imagine] this cartoonishly long conference room where Steven is sitting at one end, Tom Bertino is sitting at the other,” Rosen recalls. “The funny thing about Hollywood meetings and creative projects when you come up with ideas is, you’re like, ‘Oh, I have this great idea,’ and then the committee assembles. All of a sudden, this story that everyone was shaking hands on becomes, ‘What if we change the main character to a monkey?’”

“We gathered in Steven’s office, and the first thing he said was that we shouldn’t have the main characters be human,” Carson says. “Instead, he suggested we should make the movie be about the monkeys on Monkey Island. Everyone just nodded, but my heart stopped. What the heck? We had worked for several weeks on a story that was based on the charm and humor of the games, and Steven wanted to throw all that out and make some new story about monkeys? I was completely confused.

“The next week I met with Jim at ILM and told him I didn’t know where to go with the project,” Carson continues. “I didn’t have a script where the monkeys were the main characters, and I didn’t really believe that Steven would be interested in financing such a movie. Certainly, people who came to see the film because of their love for the games would be disappointed. And it was clear Steven wasn’t ready to finance a film based on our current story.”

Morris told Carson to keep improving and developing the existing treatment, realizing that the director was reluctant to make Spielberg’s suggested changes, but the project quickly lost steam. The story department continued working on it, developing artwork, and Rosen finished a screenplay, but it never entered production. Instead, ILM put the project aside, while waiting for the next financial steps to make the film a reality, with the team conceptualizing other ideas in the meantime.

“The [Monkey Island] story was in a good place […] so we just had an open season on pitching ideas,” says Rosen. “I had a heist movie that I pitched and developed into a beautiful pitch deck. We had a Tintin project. We just had a really great sort of bench of things.”

“We fell into a routine,” Carson says. “We would develop potential story ideas [for different animated feature films] and pitch them to each other once a week. The best ones would be fleshed out with more detail and some art, and once a month, those would get pitched to the ‘story advisory group.’ We had a number of stories that I think showed promise. I developed a story based on the Arabian Nights. There was a story that involved a number of rats that escape from a lab and meet up with rats living in the streets of New York. There was an idea for a story based on The Five Chinese Brothers. I even pitched A Princess of Mars as an idea. Any of these could arguably be developed into an entertaining film, but there was never an idea that the entire advisory group agreed was a surefire hit.”

“I like to think it wasn’t the project [itself] that didn’t go through,” says Stacchi. “I think it was just figuring out, ‘Who is going to pay for this?’ I think George Lucas and Jim Morris were very willing to do a very decent rate for anybody who wanted to finance the movie, just to get in the game of making digital features, but it was just too much of a risk.”

In 2001, the story department was dismantled and digital feature development continued under a new department called LFL Animation (Lucasfilm Ltd. Animation). Some continued to work under this new department, though many others departed to pursue other opportunities. Among them was Carson, who left Lucasfilm and ILM for the chance to work as an art director on a number of James Bond games for Electronic Arts. LFL Animation continued developing feature projects until 2005, but the Curse of Monkey Island film slowly passed into legend among fans of the game.

Six years later, ILM finally released its first digital feature, Rango, in 2011, in collaboration with a number of other studios. Ironically, Pirates of the Caribbean series director Gore Verbinski helmed the film.

With time behind them, many who were attached to the Monkey Island project, as well as individuals who worked on the games at LucasArts, say they are disappointed that the film never reached the screen, bringing the series to a new audience. But, they say, it wasn’t for a lack of effort.

Correction: At the end of this story, we originally suggested that digital feature development stopped at LucasFilm in 2001. We have updated the story to note that it moved to a new department called LFL Animation.

Entertainment

Sports & Entertainment Spotlight – May 2021 #2 | Foster Garvey PC

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Sports & Entertainment Spotlight - May 2021 #2 | Foster Garvey PC

The word of the week for this edition is “credibility.” In the courts of law and public GFN, credibility (or the quality of being trusted and believed in) is everything. Just ask famed Triple Crown horse trainer Bob Baffert, who is currently embroiled in a doping scandal over the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit—the fifth horse of Baffert’s to test positive for banned substances this year. Baffert served up wide-ranging explanations/conspiracy theories/excuses for the infraction, blaming “cancel culture,” then cough syrup-urine-soaked hay and most recently—and perhaps most plausibly—a daily ointment administered to the horse. Probably should have led with the ointment.

The impact of credibility was also on full display when avowed cryptophile Elon Musk hosted last week’s Saturday Night Live, he pulled the rug out from under meme cryptocurrency, Dogecoin, referring to it as a “hustle”—robbing it of the credibility that he himself had lent it—only to prop it back up by stating his company Space X would accept Dogecoin payment for trips to space.

The theme of credibility finally brings us to NCAA President, Mark Emmert, who has dragged his feet for years in the efforts to enable college athletes to receive compensation for the use of their names, images and likenesses (NIL), to the point that many are suspect of his credibility. Then came news (featured below) that Emmert is asking the NCAA to move forward with plans to approve new NIL rules in advance of July 1, the date on which several states’ NIL legislation comes into effect. What those rules might look like is unclear, but Emmert, who just received a five-year extension to his tenure as NCAA President, appears to be on the precipice of either salvaging or irretrievably losing his credibility.

What else grabbed my attention this week? Glad you asked…

  • Model Ashley Graham’s hair removal partnership with Harry’s Inc. highlights how more and more brands are giving celebrities a more integral role in product development, creative and financials, going beyond the more run-of-the-mill ambassador/influencer relationships. Smooth move.
  • Live sports streaming service DAZN inks a content development deal with world-renowned footballer Ronaldo. More eyeballs is clearly the goooooooooooooooaaaaaaalllllll!
  • Jay-Z once again proves he’s not just a businessman, “he’s a business, man,” by making preparations to launch his own film and TV production company.
  • Carole Baskin (“famed” from Netflix’s hit show “Tiger King”) is the latest “cool cat” to look to cash in on the NFT craze – which has appeared to have cooled down in recent months.

Endorsement Deals, Sponsorships & Investments

Harry’s Partnership With Graham Shows Celebrity Deals’ Evolution
May 11, 2021 via Bloomberg – Top Stories (subscription may be required)
Shaving company Harry’s Inc. is bringing on model Ashley Graham to create and sell a line of body hair removal kits, and the partnership shows how beauty companies are gravitating toward new business models for celebrity deals.

Elon Musk Accepts Dogecoin as Payment for a SpaceX Mission
May 11, 2021 via Entrepreneur
Is it a scam or not? In his recent appearance on Saturday Night Live (SNL), Elon Musk called Dogecoin a “scam.” However, this Monday (May 10), GFN Business reported that the founder of Tesla and SpaceX will accept cryptocurrency as a form of payment in a space mission of his company.

Jay-Z Joins the NFT World With $19 Million Investment Venture
May 8, 2021 via HotNewHipHop
Jay-Z does not rest when it comes to making the right investment ventures to earn him a proper return. He owns his own liquor brands, marijuana line and just recently reportedly filed paperwork to trademark “2/J” for TV and film production. That all being considered, fresh off selling his Tidal venture to Jack Dorsey’s Square for a cool $350 million, he’s now ready to enter the world of NFTs.

Foo Fighters’ Grohl — And His Mom — Usher Ram Into Post-COVID Ad Era
May 9, 2021 via Forbes – Top Stories (subscription may be required)
Dave Grohl is an actual rock star. But one of the stars of the new advertisement for Ram trucks, titled “Rock Star,” is the mother of the Foo Fighters frontman and a former school teacher. Virginia Hanlon Grohl exemplifies the everyday “rock stars” that the Stellantis brand is celebrating in a new national campaign that joins an important pivot by the U.S. marketing industry to a post-pandemic outlook.

Inside Jonathan Cheban’s Rise: How a Blimpie Driver Became the Foodgod
May 7, 2021 via New York Post
At 16, Jonathan Cheban’s car smelled of vinegar and oil, an aroma left over from his job as a Blimpie delivery driver in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Today, the infamous Kardashian bestie — some might say hanger-on — who has legally changed his name to Foodgod, lives large in multimillion-dollar properties in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, drives luxury cars and racks up astronomical restaurant bills — after all, his brand promise is that he eats out 365 days a year.


Film & TV

Dave Bautista Joins Daniel Craig in Director Rian Johnson’s Highly-Anticipated Knives Out 2
May 10, 2021 via California Sun
Dave Bautista has become the first to join Daniel Craig and writer-director Rian Johnson in Knives Out 2 for Netflix. It was reported in March that Dave Bautista has become the first to join Daniel Craig and writer-director Rian Johnson in Knives Out 2 for Netflix.

Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds: Stars Never Met Before Buying Wrexham
May 10, 2021 via BBC Sport
A Hollywood script along similar lines might be laughed out of Tinseltown. A famous actor with a soft spot for the spirit-lifting romance and bitter disappointment of sport is inspired to buy a club by a Netflix fly-on-the-wall football documentary. What is more, he manages to persuade an even more famous actor to join him.

Jay-Z Reportedly Files Trademark for New Film and TV Production Company, 2/J
May 10, 2021 via DJ Magazine
Jay-Z has reportedly filed a new trademark for a TV and film production company. TMZ reports that the rapper is planning to further extend his business projects by entering into the world of TV and film production, with a trademark having been filed for the name ‘2/J’.

Hit RomCom Webtoon ‘Let’s Play’ is Getting a TV Adaptation
May 6, 2021 via Forbes – Business (subscription may be required)
In another sign that the serialized GenZ-friendly comics published on mobile platforms such as Webtoon are a rising force in the media industry, Leeanne M. Krecic’s megapopular romantic comedy series Let’s Play just got a development deal from Allnighter to produce a live-action television series, the company announced today.

DAZN Reveals Ronaldo Development Deal, Executive Hugh Sleight Discusses Upcoming Originals (Exclusive)
May 5, 2021 via Variety
Global streaming sports platform DAZN and Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo have closed a multi-project development deal kicking off with “El Presidente,” a docu-series chronicling the former striker’s tenure as part owner of Spanish club Valladolid FC, which will launch globally on May 20.


Music Biz

Ten House Members Add Their Names to Resolution Opposing Radio Royalty
May 11, 2021 via Inside Radio – News
The race to 218 – the number of House members need to effectively block any legislation from becoming law – has begun again for broadcasters as the radio industry looks to sideline any bill that requires stations to pay performance royalties for on-air music use.

Court Releases $1.7 Million Deposit From Ed Stolz To Music Companies That Sued Him
May 10, 2021 via Inside Radio – News
Ed Stolz’s fight to hold onto his three FMs continues in an ongoing battle with a group of music companies who won a lawsuit against the broadcaster for airing their music without licensing it. In the latest twist, a federal judge in California has ordered that the $1,685,673 that Stolz had deposited with the court be released to the music companies.

Big Red Hot Chili Peppers Deal Shows Song Catalogs as a ‘Safe Asset Class’
May 8, 2021 via Yahoo Finance – Top Stories
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are said to be selling the rights to its song catalog, which include hits like “Californication” and “Scar Tissue,” — in a deal that may have implications for the music industry. London-based music investment company Hipgnosis will acquire the catalog.

Music Royalty Funds Hitting the High Notes, Liberum Says
May 6, 2021 via Proactive Investors – Markets
In the music publishing sector, digital revenue growth is outpacing the loss of performance rights income, which bodes well for music royalty funds. Liberum Capital Markets, in a research note on the burgeoning sector that includes in the UK Hipgnosis Songs Fund Ltd (LON:SONG) and One Media IP Group PLC (LON:OMIP), said competition for assets remains fierce with several investors announcing their intention to deploy significant capital in the coming years.

Record Industry Pushes Back Against Radio’s Fresh Efforts to Keep Royalties At Bay
May 5, 2021 via Inside Radio – News
Familiar battle lines are taking shape in Washington as the music industry is pushing back against efforts by allies of radio to block any attempts to change federal law to require radio stations to pay royalties for over-the-air music use.


Non-Fungible Tokens

NFTs: An Existential Question
May 11, 2021 via Bloomberg Law – Daily Tax Report (subscription may be required)
Are non-fungible tokens (NFTs) a fad or the next big thing? James Creech considers whether the issues for tax practitioners are as simple as what was the seller’s realized price and basis, and was the character ordinary or capital.

Boxer Floyd Mayweather Is Releasing NFTs Later This Month
May 11, 2021 via The Block Crypto
Boxing champion Floyd Mayweather is releasing non-fungible tokens (NFTs) on May 26. The post Boxer Floyd Mayweather is releasing NFTs later this month appeared first on The Block.

Merriam-Webster Is Selling the Definition of ‘NFT’ as an NFT
May 11, 2021 via Complex
Merriam-Webster is treating the definition of “NFT” in the only way that seems fit. The publisher announced on Tuesday that it will be selling the official definition of a non-fungible token (NFT) as a, you guessed it, NFT. The auction began on Tuesday and closed at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Big Cat Rescue’s Carole Baskin Announces New Cryptocurrency and NFTs. Here’s What That Means.
May 6, 2021 via Tampa Bay Online – All Content
She’s launched a line of cheetah-print face masks, strutted on Dancing With the Stars and sold personalized videos of herself to fans via Cameo. Now Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin is getting into cryptocurrency. Or as she calls it, “purr-ency.” Last week, Baskin announced the launch of $CAT, a new digital fan token for supporters of Big Cat Rescue. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are coming in a few weeks.

After First Quarter Frenzy, NFT Market Shows Signs of Stabilizing
May 5, 2021 via One America News Network – Tech
After a frenzied first quarter for non-fungible tokens (NFTs), the market for blockchain-based digital assets ranging from art and videos to songs and tweets slowed in April, platform and product data shows.


Right of Publicity

N.C.A.A. Chief, Pressured by State Laws, Pushes to Let Athletes Cash In
May 8, 2021 via New York Times – Global View (subscription may be required)
The University of Miami has long been able to make a glossy pitch to the students it hopes will star on its sports teams: an exceptional athletic tradition, respected academics, South Florida’s sun-kissed glamour. For months, though, coaches at Miami — and every other college in Florida — have had a new selling point: Play here and, thanks to a new state law, maybe make some money off your athletic fame.

Voice Actor Sues TikTok for Imitating Her Voice and Likeness
May 7, 2021 via Law Street Media
Last Thursday (May 6), voice actor Beverly Standing, also known as Bev Standing, filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York against ByteDance E-Commerce Inc., doing business as TikTok, alleging that the defendant has imitated her likeness, particularly the likeness of her voice.

New Georgia Law Legalizes College Athlete Endorsements
May 6, 2021 via WTXL ABC Tallahassee News
College athletes in Georgia may now collect endorsements and sponsorships. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed the state’s new bill regulating athletes’ name, image and likeness rights on Thursday (May 6.)

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Alan Jackson opens up about family tragedies, six-year recording hiatus and the joy of making music again:

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Alan Jackson opens up about family tragedies, six-year recording hiatus and the joy of making music again:
Alan Jackson (Photo: Kristy Belcher)

Alan Jackson (Photo: Kristy Belcher)

Not long ago, Alan Jackson, one of the best-selling music artists of all time, was at a crossroads both personally and professionally. In 2017, the Grand Ole Opry member, 17 ACM Award-winner, and 16-time CMA Award-winner lost his beloved mother, Ruth Musick Jackson, and then in 2018, his son-in-law, Ben Selecman, died at age 28 after suffering severe head injuries in a boating accident. In the past, tragedy had inspired some of Jackson’s most iconic songs, like the 9/11 ballad “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”; “When I Saw You Leaving (For Nisey),” a song he wrote for his wife of 42 years, Denise, when she was diagnosed with cancer; and “Drive (For Daddy Gene),” an ode to his late father. But after the double-whammy losses of his mother and son-in-law, Jackson put plans for next album on indefinite hold, and the recordings were shelved. Two years would pass before Jackson even wanted to try making music again.

“It took a couple of years to get through all that. I just didn’t feel like writing,” Jackson tells Yahoo Entertainment. “When you’re the daddy and you kind of feel like you’re the head man, and you’ve got your wife and your daughters and everybody, you really hurt more for them going through it. It just took a long time for me to feel good again, to feel like I actually wanted to sit down and try to write something.”

Now, after a six-year recording hiatus, Jackson returns this week with Where Have You Gone. Continuing the tradition of Jackson’s heart-on-sleeve heroes like Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and George Jones, the album features one poignant track, “Where Her Heart Has Always Been (Written for Mama’s funeral with an old recording of her reading from The Bible),” that includes an archival voice recording of Jackson’s dear “Mama Ruth” reading Scripture. Another, “You’ll Always Be My Baby,” was written for his daughter Mattie’s wedding, which took place less than a year before her groom Selecman’s death. But the album, which is filled with traditional instrumentation like fiddle and steel guitar, also includes upbeat anthems like “Beer:10,” and “Livin’ on Empty.” And its title is not a reference to personal tragedies, but a wistful commentary on a bygone classic country music era that neotraditionalist Jackson describes as a “lost love.”

Below, Jackson speaks with Yahoo Entertainment about the past few difficult years, the joys of making music again, and his fears for the future of country music.

Yahoo Entertainment: I know you’re not doing too many interviews, so thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I also know how significant Where Have You Gone is for you, because obviously it has been six years since the last album, and this album is so personal. What made this the right time to return to recording?

Alan Jackson: Well, I didn’t delay it on purpose. We just had a few setbacks there in the last few years, in my personal life. It kind of slowed things down for a couple of years. And then by the time I got ready to get in the studio last spring, the coronavirus really shut everything down again. So it wasn’t till late in the fall [that we recorded the album]. But I knew it had been quite a few years, and I finally felt like I was ready to try to write again and get it done.

As you say, the last few years have been difficult. You’ve experienced some tragic losses, some of which is addressed on the album. I know you were working on some music during this time. Was there anything you were working on then that made it onto this record, or did you shelve everything and then start over?

Well, when my mother died, I wrote that song on the album for her and for her funeral, and I went in the studio to do a little demo of it. I ended up cutting a couple of other tracks for when we thought we’d be going in the studio later that year. And then that’s when my first daughter, who had gotten married a year before… her husband died actually right before their first anniversary. That kind of put a halt on everything for a while, and so those tracks kind of lay in there for two or three years till we got back in the studio. So yes, there were a couple of tracks written and recorded earlier that we finally got to include on this album.

I’m so sorry for everything your family has been through. I’m wondering in particular if the song written for Mattie’s wedding is hard to revisit, if it has taken on any new meaning now that you’ve released it to the world.

It’s definitely made a little more difficult. I mean, when she got married, that was our [family’s] first wedding and she asked me to write a father/daughter dance song, which I tried to do. And I told all three of my daughters, “I’ll write this one song and all three of y’all have to use it, I’m not going to write three songs!” [laughs] And so she used it, and then my second daughter got married last summer and she used it as well, so that was nice. I think first couple of years it was really hard, but now we’re finally getting over some of the hurt, and in some ways it brings back good memories now. So, I think it was a good thing that the song happened. Now we have that memory, and we can use it for when my last baby gets married.

How did Mattie feel about you putting out that song? Did you consult with her about it beforehand?

Oh, yeah. I spoke to all three of the girls about it. I said, “Look, I wrote this song for y’all and your kids. If you want to use it, then I don’t want to put it on this record, but the label and everybody’s clamoring, saying it needs to be on there.” And I got their approval before I put it out, because I felt like it was their song. If they want to share it with the world, then that’s fine. And they were happy about it.

Does releasing such personal songs bring you some sense of peace? I imagine it does for listeners, because anyone who has lost a loved one can derive comfort from these songs.

Well, I’ve written a lot of songs in my career about things that happened in my life — good and bad and happy and sad and all that stuff. A lot of them are real personal, but I’ve always tried to write them where they’re just not about me. Like that song for my mama, other people could play that for somebody they lost as well, at that person’s funeral, if they wanted to. I’m glad that they aren’t so personal that other people can’t even relate to them. And it has always been that way. I’ve wrote one 20 years ago when my daddy died, a song called “Drive,” and I’ve had so many people relate to that song as well — and they didn’t even really know that it was for my daddy died.

Please tell me about the audio at the beginning of “Where Her Heart Has Always Been.” Where that was sourced from, and what is the significance of the Bible passage that your mother reads?

That was so, so sweet. We had already finished the album pretty much last fall, and around Christmastime one of my sisters sent this recording to us that they had found, I guess from a few years ago when mom was still doing pretty good. They had her read the Christmas story from the Bible and some other things, just to have a recording of her, and they sent that for Christmas. And I said, “Man, that’s so cool.” So, we tried to pull out a line that wasn’t so Christmassy in there that would work. I was just so happy to get that. And I just think it makes the song.

Last month at the ACM Awards, you performed a medley of “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” and “You’ll Always Be My Baby.” That must have been emotional for you.

I was just hoping to get through it! It was tough at first. … But it was a sweet combination, to be able to pull the song out from years ago about my daddy and tie it together with a new one about my daughter.

So, as we were discussing, you took a relatively long break between albums for various personal reasons. How did you get your artistic mojo back?

I don’t know that there was any lightning that struck. It just started coming to me. But during all that time, I was always scribbling down hooks and song ideas and melodies. And luckily with the phones, now I can sing a melody [into the phone] and I won’t forget it 10 minutes later! So last summer, I really wanted to write again, so I pulled that phone out and started flipping through those old videos and audio recordings, and I had about 200 to 300 song ideas in there! I had to sit down, trying to sort through all that and figure out which ones I wanted to write to.

Was there ever a time, before you started working on this album, when you considered retiring for good?

I didn’t really worry about it one way or the other. If I hadn’t never made another album, I just wouldn’t have made it. But when it felt right, it felt right. I think I would have been happy either way. I’ve had a crazy career and I’m surprised I still write songs now anyway, after all this time. But I tell you what, when [longtime producer] Keith [Stegall] and I went in, I said, “Man, we’re going to make a country album. I don’t have to worry about radio anymore; they probably won’t play me anyway. I’m just going to make what I like — and what I know my fans like.” And we went in there and I brought these old pickers back that played of most my records, and they played some of the coolest tracks that we’ve played in 30 years. When Keith sent me those first two or three cuts that were kind of half-done, it just about made me tear up. I had to pull over. I was so proud, and so glad to hear some real country music. … I just sat there, and then I told my wife, “These songs need to come with a six-pack of beer and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.” [laughs]

That actually brings me to another line of questioning I wanted to get to. I’ll be honest that when I found out the album was called Where Have You Gone, I assumed the title was a reference to the losses you’ve recently experienced. But then I realized it’s actually a reference to the classic country music genre, right?

Yeah, but it’s not an attack on what’s going on. I mean, there’s good music out there. There’s just really not much real country anymore, and I’m such a fan of that. I mean, I came to Nashville carrying my torch for country music in 1985, and it was the same thing then — there just weren’t many young artists trying to keep it going. And I loved it. I was a young man and I loved real, hard country. There’s still young guys and girls today that love that kind of music, but it’s just slowly fading away, and I don’t hear hardly any of it left in the new music anymore. And it’s not that to say that everyone has to sound like Hank Williams. I’m not criticizing. It’s just my personal feeling that it’s going away. I feel like it’s like a lost love. And that’s what this [title track] kind of represents.

Are there any new trends in country music that you think are positive or encouraging ones?

I confess, I don’t know if I’m that educated about all of that. … I’m pretty isolated! [laughs]

Is that a good place to be in? You mentioned you’re in a position where you don’t have to chase after radio play.

Well, I’ve had like sixty-something singles that have been top five, top 10, or No. 1. I can’t remember them all. [Editor’s note: Jackson has had 35 No. 1 country hits.] And I’m not bragging, I’ve just had such a wonderful career that I can’t hardly fuss about not getting played now. I’m 62 years old. I’ve had a wonderful run. It’s time for everybody else to be on the radio. If they play me, I’m happy, and if they don’t, it won’t break my heart. It is a good place to be in, as far as allowing me to relax and just worry more about making art and creating than about being commercial. I was thinking that way when I made this record. … Yes, sometimes it’s hard not to get those accolades, I guess, but I feel like I’ve been blessed and I should just enjoy making music now.

I am happy that you’re making music again. So, are we going to get to hear any of those other 200 to 300 songs on your phone?

Well now, I’ve got 200 or 300 ideas and melodies started. They’re not all complete. Sometimes I get an idea and sing it into the phone, and next day I listen back and it sounds like crap! [laughs] So it just depends on where my head is that day. I don’t really have any plans. It’ll just happen the way it’s going to happen. I guess if I’ve come up with some good songs that are worth recording now, I’m sure we’ll get in the studio again. And if I get to where I can’t write anymore, we’ll try to find somebody else’s song. We’ll see what happens. But I’m sure my fans would prefer me to come up with another album a little sooner than six years, yeah.

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DeWine’s ease of COVID restrictions brings out range of emotions in restaurant, entertainment industries

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CLEVELAND, Ohio – With the exception of “The Cleveland Browns have won the Super Bowl!” there probably won’t be eight words more pleasing to the ears of Ohio’s restaurant operators, entertainment-venue directors and patrons than “It is time to end the health orders.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine uttered those words Wednesday, offering a clearer view of the light at the end of the coronavirus pandemic tunnel. Beginning Tuesday, June 2, with the exception of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, the state’s health orders that were put in place to combat the spread of coronavirus will be lifted.

Emotions ranged from owners being excited to those in the music industry who will remain a bit cautious. Many said they still see a step-by-step approach for the time being.

The Winking Lizard Tavern’s John Lane, who has been following the restrictions since the orders were issued more than a year ago, and who has been outspoken about the efforts of responsible restaurants, said: “Good news today. I’m smiling from ear to ear.”

He said he asked at a meeting today with his staff: “OK, just because he lifts the orders, how are people going to feel? It’s still up to our guests and the people who work for us.”

He said if his employees and customers want to continue wearing a mask to feel safe, that’s fine by him. The restaurant hasn’t made a decision on the use of plexiglass and social distancing.

“We might phase it in,” he said. “I think people sitting at the bar don’t care as much about social distancing, so maybe the plexiglass all goes away from there. Maybe we keep some of it in sections of the restaurant for tables for people to still feel safe for a while. It’s a good question. It’s still predicated on how our guests feel.”

While he was pleased with the restrictions being lifted, he said he would like to see the $300 unemployment stimulus payments stopped, something several states said they would halt to spark a return to work. But he said he feels like a “huge weight” has been lifted.

“You’ve got more and more people who are feeling good about going out, and our people on the front lines are having to literally police people to make sure they are wearing a mask and keeping their distance.”

He said it really comes down to two key words: “Personal responsibility.”

“We’re at that point. Everyone can get that vaccine, it’s on you. … If you don’t, you live with the consequences.”

That jibes with what DeWine urged. Lifting the orders doesn’t ensure complete safety, he said. Masks and social distancing remain options for residents to decide.

Lane said he will have a “good handle over the next week or two” about what customers want.

Restaurant customers aren’t the only ones affected by Wednesday’s announcement. Entertainment options like theater and music also will have a familiar world opened to them.

Productions at Cleveland Public Theatre that were shifted outdoors will continue outside, said Raymond Bobgan, the theater’s executive artistic director.

Outdoor shows in July were “in the works already,” Bobgan said. “That would be in compliance with the current guidelines and would create a safe environment.”

That means CPT’s educational programming, teen-job training program and huge fundraiser, Pandemonium on Saturday, Sept. 18, will remain outdoors.

“We were kind of already in that direction,” he said. “We have been hoping to go back to indoor events in October so certainly I am feeling good. … I’m excited to be back. I’m excited we’re going to be able to do the work we’ve been doing. I’m super proud of the work that we’ve been doing in spite of all this. All the online presence we’ve done, the way we’ve been able to turn our classes into virtual classrooms, the way we’ve been able to do programming that have received not only local but national attention.

“I don’t think people are going to be super excited about going inside anyways,” he said. “I think people have been cooped up in their houses … and people are going to be excited about seeing theater outside anyways.”

But in the end, Bobgan hasn’t lost an intrinsic focus of what theater is all about.

“We all live to be live and in person,” he said. “That’s the whole point of theater.

“We’re going to open our season with the same show that we closed during the COVID closure,” added. “So, we’re going to open up right where we left off.” That show is Nikkole Salter’s “Breakout Session,” “a beautiful and hilarious play” inspired by the effects of the consent decree between Cleveland and the Department of Justice.

But some in the music-venue world will continue taking a cautious approach.

It’ll take local music venues some time to inch back to normalcy. Grog Shop owner Kathy Blackman said she will continue to host socially distanced, reduced-capacity shows at least for the next few weeks.

“We’ve just started reopening, we’re two weeks into it,” she said. “I think, at least through the next month or so, I’m going to stick with what we have already scheduled. People booked, people bought their tickets, with that understanding. I’m not sure that I’m comfortable, or my staff, or patrons, would be comfortable just yet, with a packed room.”

Blackman said she’d take a “wait-and-see” approach, watching vaccine numbers and how DeWine’s order rolls out. In the meantime, she will stay with the National Independent Venue Association’s “Safe In Sound” checklist for reopening entertainment spaces. The checklist covers physical distancing, air circulation, temperature checks, face coverings, touchless appliances and cleaning.

The Grog Shop and its basement B-Side Lounge space in Cleveland Heights are focusing on local shows with reduced capacity.

“We were so thoughtful and careful about opening after all this time,” Blackman said. “We have a really good plan in place, so I think we’ll stick with it for now.”

Detroit-Shoreway restaurant and venue Happy Dog isn’t open, but when it does open this summer, it will also follow the NIVA checklist for venues, owner Sean Watterson said.

“Those guidelines were developed with constant input and feedback from the CDC,” Watterson said. “I think they’re really thoughtful guidelines, and I think a lot of clubs will look to those.”

In the meantime, he echoed DeWine’s sentiment, hoping more Ohioans will get the vaccine.

“I’m glad the governor spent so much time and focus on encouraging people to get vaccinated, because that’s what will make coming back a reality. I’m glad he specifically said businesses can hold to a standard, to protect their customers and their employees.”

When Happy Dog reopens this summer, it’ll do so with reduced capacity.

“We are never going to be a light switch. This is a machine that takes time to ramp up. The shows that did get put out on the calendar for June 2 and later, while the restrictions may be lifted now, the tickets were sold under different rules. People may need to be reminded of that as health orders change. It’ll create questions for folks. That’s because we have to book and sell tickets weeks and months in advance. It’s just another thing worth highlighting – one of the challenges our industry faces coming back online.”

DeWine’s announcement set some plans in motion for Elevation Group, the organization behind WonderStruck music festival in Northeast Ohio (July 24-25) and WonderBus music festival in Columbus (Aug. 28-29).

Elevation Group president Denny Young said more tickets will go on sale to both festivals soon – meaning customers on WonderStruck’s waitlist will have the opportunity to get passes to the festival, which had previously sold out of its limited capacity run.

“That waitlist has over 3,000 people on it, which is pretty amazing. Those people will have the opportunity between now and midnight on this coming Monday [May 17] to fill out their order forms and return those to us,” Young said. “We will fulfill all of the orders we’ve received throughout the day on Tuesday, and at 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning, whatever tickets remain, will be put on sale to the general public.”

Young said he’s not bringing either WonderStruck or WonderBus to full capacity, and will instead operate both festivals at 80% capacity, regardless of DeWine’s announcement.

“We want to have room and space; we’re not going to burst at the seams,” Young said. “It’s a really important year to get people back out, to get people comfortable, to build confidence. For those that want to get into the action up close to a stage, they can have that experience. Those that want to have a little more open space, they can have that experience as well.”

Mark Leddy, co-owner of the Beachland Ballroom, said he anticipates his venue will continue to host its socially distanced, seated table shows as it has since February. Each show sells 16 tickets, with each ticket representing a table that normally seats four.

“We probably will start putting a few more tables in the room, but I doubt we’re going to do anything drastically different in the short term,” Leddy said. “I think we’ll gear up gradually, as our staff is comfortable and as our customers are comfortable.”

June 2 may be too soon for some customers to feel comfortable going back to full capacity, Leddy said.

“I think a slow, deliberate, gradual kind of thing – just seeing how it feels, for a couple of weeks, and then maybe going a little further, and then we go another couple of weeks – that would seem to be a moderate ‘see-how-it-goes’ viewpoint,” Leddy said. “I think we’re going to take it one step at a time.”

John Barker, president and chief executive officer of the Ohio Restaurant Association, has watched those steps carefully, seeing the pandemic’s catastrophic effects on its industry over the last 15 months. The easing of the restrictions “is the logical next step in fully reopening our state for Ohio’s businesses and families,” he said in a release issued Wednesday night.

He added: “Eliminating the six-foot social-distancing requirement will enable restaurant, bar and food service operators to return to greater sales capacity for indoor dining, which is critical to our industry’s recovery and profitability. … today’s news and ongoing support from the state, many local communities, and, of course, our customers, give us confidence that brighter days are ahead.”

Scott Kuhn of Driftwood Restaurant Group, whose holdings include Cibreo and Republic Food and Drink in the Playhouse Square area, said, “I’m a little bit on both sides of the fence.”

“It’s exciting news on one hand. On the other you’re going to have customers who want the full experience and you have the industry that doesn’t have the labor force to provide it, and those worlds are going to collide. But ultimately it is good news. It is a positive sign, but our industry has a lot to do to serve the people like they want to serve. It’s a dangerous spot that were in.”

Driftwood’s next step is opening Landerhaven, he said, and events will resume, and he will continue to face the rehiring challenge.

“We’re going to take it one step at a time and be methodical about it, but embrace the good news, but also we still have staff to protect and people’s health – both customers and employees are still at top of our mind.”

It was a combination of factors that led to DeWine’s announcement.

He talked about the anticipation of getting vaccines, which are being disseminated through 1,900 places throughout the state. Cases have dropped in Ohio. More vaccinations have led to signs that the tide has turned for the better, he added. And citing Centers for Disease Control, DeWine said Ohio’s cases per 100,000 have averaged among the lowest of neighboring states.

“What you have done has truly worked,” he said. “Now we have a powerful weapon in beating back this virus.”

Related coverage: Gov. Mike DeWine says he’ll lift Ohio public health orders on June 2

Related coverage: 2021 concert guide: Greater Cleveland music venues, festivals adjust to complicated scene during the pandemic

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