Austin-based country artist Clayton Gardner was playing an acoustic set last Friday at Texican Court in Las Colinas when an audience member wandered up to him and asked if he could play a song by Lee Ann Womack. “You could ask that from 7 feet away,” said Gardner, whose bandana was around his neck at the time, He was about 15 minutes into his gig. And as a now-viral 50-second video of the incident that Gardner posted to his Facebook page shows, the woman continued to linger closely to him, and, Gardner says, coughed on him. Gardner is heard asking the woman nine times to back away and leave him alone. One audience member is heard saying, “He asked nicely.”
Gardner, who declined to comment on the video, said in his Facebook post Sunday that he’s taken social distancing and hygiene seriously since the outbreak of COVID-19 began, particularly because of his 3-year-old daughter. “In a matter of seconds, this lady took [those efforts] away from me. I was honestly shocked and pretty defenseless sitting there holding my guitar.” Comments on the post, which as of press has reached over 3,200 shares, flooded Gardner’s page, including one woman who posted a link to the musician's Venmo with the comment: “I’ve never heard of this guy before. But, I saw this clip yesterday and immediately went to this guy’s tip jar.”
Gardner also mentions in a subsequent post how hard it is for people like him who have to play gigs to support themselves. “I would much rather be at home, but unfortunately I have to play some gigs to pay my bills, just like the rest of you. I can’t even do that safely.”
Gavin Mulloy, marketing director at Legacy Hall, posted in a Facebook group in response to the video: “This lady is why we don't have shows and will only drag this out. But also this is on the venue for allowing this. They cannot protect their talent.”
Representatives of Texican Court couldn’t be reached for comment.
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Musicians around North Texas have had reservations about playing live performances since the pandemic began. Grand Commander’s Sam Damask told us earlier this year that he didn’t know how safe things would be for him if he played live music. “The safety issue is a giant question mark. It just isn't worth the risk,” he said.
Singer-songwriter Ginny Mac says she’s reluctantly taken to live-streamed sets out of concern for her safety. “For me, that’s the most gut-wrenching part. I feed off of a live audience in the room with me, energies colliding. I just can’t do it this way right now,” she says.
Many artists say they have long suffered harassment from audience members throughout their careers well before the pandemic. Stephen Ketner, a local blues guitarist (who is, incidentally, the partner of the Dallas Observer's music editor), says one time while he was playing in the middle of a crowd, a woman stuck her finger down the back of his underwear and kept it there. “I felt that guy’s pain in the video, especially because of COVID-19,” Ketner says. “Like, you’re not cute, lady! And you’re putting his life at risk!”