30A Songwriters Festival responds to ‘vaccine passports’ allegation from Congressman Gaetz

On Monday afternoon, Congressman Matt Gaetz penned a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis regarding what he described as “the illegal implementation of vaccine passports” for the 30A Songwriters Festival.

In his letter, Congressman Gaetz wrote:

Regrettably, I write to inform you that within my congressional district there appears to be a blatant violation of Executive Order 21-81, “Prohibiting COVID-19 Vaccine Passports.” Your executive order allows entities to engage in COVID-19 screening, generally, but does not permit different treatment for the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

On Tuesday afternoon, a representative from the 30a Songwriters Festival responded to the letter.

“The Festival has been co-produced by the non-profit Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County every January for 13 years,” said Russell Carter, Board Member for the Cultural Arts Alliance. “The Festival brings in over 200 nationally recognized touring artists to South Walton to perform in front of an estimated 6,000 paying customers who travel to Walton County from all over the country.”

Carter states that the Festival generates over $8 million in revenue to the resorts, hotels, bars, restaurants, rental home companies and other small businesses throughout the county, according to data from the Walton County TDC.

  • “This includes Festival Sponsors and Partners as well as every non-affiliated business in South Walton that benefits from the tremendous influx of music fans during this off-season extended weekend,” he said.

Carter says that Congressman Gaetz’s open letter to Gov. DeSantis misrepresented the COVID protocol adopted by the 30A Songwriters Festival for ticket-holders.

“Rep. Gaetz states incorrectly that there is a Vaccine Passport requirement,” said Carter. “This is simply untrue. The Governor’s office has previously reviewed the language we used for our COVID policy and stated publicly and unequivocally that it is acceptable.”

Here is the protocol for the festival posted on their website:

  • All Festival Patrons MUST present a negative COVID test (within the previous 72 hours), along with a valid government-issued photo ID, to receive a 30A SONGWRITERS FESTIVAL wristband. (Note: Festival Patrons may choose to present proof of full vaccination in lieu of a negative test).

Carter went on to reference this previous statement from Gov. DeSantis’ press secretary:

  • “SB 2006 only prohibits businesses from requiring proof of vaccination from customers as a condition of entry or service,” said Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary. “If concert-goers can provide a negative COVID test instead of a vaccine passport, that is acceptable under the law. People who want to show proof of vaccination instead of a COVID test are free to do that. It just cannot be compelled.”

“Based on these stated guidelines from the Governor’s office, Live Nation and other big commercial promoters have produced concerts throughout the state with these legal protocols in effect and the support of the State of Florida,” continued Carter.  “Our local non-profit arts alliance deserves the same respect and support.”

As for the open letter, Carter says Congressman Gaetz could have called the Cultural Arts Alliance to clarify what their policy was.

“Rep. Gaetz is no stranger to the 30A Songwriters Festival,” he said. “He represents our county and has attended the Festival at least twice in recent years.”

  • “The event contributes to the livelihood of Rep. Gaetz’s own constituents, including local businesses who enjoy a boom in what used to be a very sleepy January,” continued Carter.

According to Carter, the festival brings in:

  • 5,600 room nights in Walton County hotels and rental accommodations.
  • Employs over 200 staff and crew members.
  • 700 volunteers (who work for the festival in exchange for a weekend pass).
  • Dozens of Walton County Sheriff’s Office off-duty officers.

“All of these people depend on the income, reward and personal enrichment the Festival provides,” ended Carter. “The 2022 30A Songwriters Festival begins at 4:00pm on Friday. We hope you will all join us for a weekend of amazing music.”

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