David Muskat of Madison, a former smoker, used to avoid music shows because he couldn't stand the smoke. So it bothered him to attend a recent concert at the Barrymore, a smoke-free venue even before the city passed its indoor smoking ban, and have cigarette smoke wafting from the stage and backstage area. Bass player Sid Jordan from Minibar, the backing band of featured performer Pete Yorn, smoked throughout.
"It seems absurd to have a ban on patrons smoking, and then let musicians flagrantly violate the ban," says Muskat. "If I was a smoker, I'd be ticked off that I have to go outside."
City attorney Michael May says musical performers don't qualify for the ordinance's exemption for smoking "in connection with any theatrical performance" unless advance notice is given. In other cases, venue operaters must make "reasonable efforts" to enforce the rule: "At a minimum, they would have to ask the performer to stop smoking."
Barrymore manager Steve Sperling says the facility and backstage area are heavily posted "No smoking." And the theater enforces the policy in common areas. But if artists break the rule, "I can't really go onstage and stop a performance," which might pose risks greater than secondhand smoke. He's meeting with city health officials to discuss the issue.
What do other venues do?
Ralph Russo, cultural arts director for the Memorial Union, says "we've certainly had the smell of smoke from closed dressing rooms," but in such cases "do not knock on doors." If this happened on stage - it hasn't - "we'd probably let it go and tell them afterward." That or break out "a really good squirt gun."
Alliant Energy Center director Bill DiCarlo might "plead a technicality and say we're in the town of Madison," thus not subject to the city's ban. In the past, when performers like comic Ron White have lit up on stage, it was "considered part of the performance."
And Rudy Lienau says the Overture Center makes it "really clear," through promoters, that artists may not smoke inside. But this has happened anyway at least twice. In one case, a talk afterward led to resolution; in the other, "that party will not be back."