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Chopped and Screwed: Mass Gatherings and Concerts in Texas

Mass Gatherings

It’s summertime and events are popping up left and right! On June 19th the nation celebrated a holiday that started right here in Texas, Juneteenth. On June 27th Houstonians honored a homegrown music legend with DJ Screw Day. On July 4th we will celebrate America with Independence Day, and on July 13th Houstonians will celebrate the Bayou City on 713 Day.

These celebrations are sure to include festivities, concerts, and gatherings across Texas. Currently, municipalities have some local control over these kinds of events within their jurisdictions, but the “Task Force on Concert Safety” – created by Governor Abbot in the wake of the 2021 AstroWorld tragedy – strongly recommends that municipalities adopt ordinances and policies consistent with current state law and best practices applicable to the county and unincorporated areas.  Two such statutes to consider are:

Texas Mass Gatherings Act (Texas Health and Safety Code, Chapter 751) (the “Act”) applies to gatherings outside city limits and provides that a person “may not promote a mass gathering without a permit issued under this chapter.” Tex. Health & Safety Code, Section 751.003. The Act outlines the application procedure (Sec. 751.004), investigation of the preparations (Sec. 751.005), and the hearing by the county judge to consider the application (Sec. 751.006). The judge must either grant or deny the permit and denial must be based on nine specific reasons including: false or omitted information in the application, insufficient financial backing, inadequate location for the purpose used, lack of assurance the scheduled performers will appear, inadequate traffic control, the preparations do not meet minimum health and safety standards, and inadequate availability of medical care. Sec. 751.007.

What is a “Mass Gathering”?

Under Section 751.002(1) a mass gathering is a gathering that:

  1. is held outside the limits of a municipality;
  2. attracts or is expected to attract more than 2,500 people, OR more than 500 people if it is planned or reasonably expected that alcoholic beverages will be sold, served, or consumer at or around the gathering and 51% or more of those people are expected to be under 21 years old; AND
  3. people will stay at for more than 5 continuous hours, OR for any amount of time between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

In 2023, House Bill 3262 would have amended the Act to apply to mass gatherings within city limits. Although the bill did not pass, state legislators have recently shown they are still concerned about municipal regulation of mass gatherings, so it is likely we will see a similar bill in the upcoming 2025 legislative session.

Regulation of Outdoor Music Festivals (Texas Occupations Code Chapter 2104)

Outdoor music festivals differ from mass gatherings because “[t]he County Judge has jurisdiction over mass gatherings. The County Commissioners Court has jurisdiction over outdoor music festivals.” EMCF Partners, LLC v. Travis Cnty., NO. 03-15-00820-CV at 5 (Tex. App. Feb. 15, 2017). Prior to applying for a permit (Sec. 2104.101), having a health report written (Sec. 2104.102), and the hearing by the Commissioners Court to approve or deny the permit (Sec. 2104.103), a promoter must first register with the county. Tex. Occ. Code Sec. 2104.051. The Commissioners Court must grant the permit unless it finds by a preponderance of evidence, by a majority vote, that the application had false or misleading information or the festival preparations were inadequate for reasons similar to those in the Texas Mass Gatherings Act.

An outdoor music festival is defined as any form of musical entertainment provided by live performances that occurs on two or more consecutive days or any two days during a three-day period if:

  1. more than 5,000 people attend any performance;
  2. any performer or audience member is not in a permanent structure; AND
  3. the performance occurs outside the boundaries of a municipality

These two statutes only apply to the unincorporated areas of a county in Texas (for now!), but municipalities may choose to enact local ordinances with similar processes and guidelines. As summer heats up, and so do the events and celebrations, make sure fun is safely had by all by anticipating challenges and ensuring adequate preparation.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. 

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