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“One day at a time”: Uncertainty faces Yellowstone Garage’s Rock the Block summer concerts

Rock the Block in 2017. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo — The Yellowstone Garage Bar, Grill and Venue has been at the center of a number of flare-ups recently between public officials trying to stop the spread of COVID-19 and business owners trying to stay afloat, with citizens anxious to dine out and enjoy public life caught in the middle. 

“We were wide-open and then it was a dead-stop,” said John Huff, owner of the Yellowstone Garage, of the toll the closure of public spaces has taken on the restaurant since March.

On May 4, the bar and grill ran afoul of the the city council after bringing diners inside to escape rain, before Natrona County had been granted a variance to allow indoor dining.

Then, Yellowstone Garage had been granted a variance from the Casper-Natrona County Health Department in order to hold its annual Cruzin’ with the Oldies car show on Memorial Day weekend. Street permits and security services were in place, and a band was booked. According to a Facebook post from The Yellowstone Garage, the health department retracted the approval on May 18 after Natrona County saw 9 new COVID-19 cases over the previous weekend.

Now Huff is warily considering how, and if, the Garage’s summer outdoor concert series “Rock the Block” will go forward.  

Huff has solicited feedback from the Yellowstone Garage’s Facebook page to gauge interest in the events, which has been overwhelmingly positive. Huff said some musicians are anxious to play and fill the spots left by other bands that have cancelled.

After the sudden reversal of fortune for the car show, Huff said he is making plans for Rock the Block,  “incrementally, one day at a time.” 

Huff said as frustrating as the last few months have been, he’s been appreciative of the open communication among city and county officials and himself. “Everybody has been willing to work with me,” Huff said. “When communication breaks down, nobody wins.”

Huff was able to defuse tensions with city officials and county health officers following the dine-in incident May 4.

“It got pretty emotional,” Huff said, “But by the end of it I realized that both parties are facing insurmountable odds.”

Nevertheless, the reversal of fortune for the car show has left Huff a bit weary. As of Friday, May 28, he has yet to speak to CNCHD about logistics or other considerations concerning the Rock the Block events.

Even with the Cruzin’ with the Oldies car show cancelled, about 80 (of the usual 300) classic car owners brought their rides down for an informal display while having breakfast at the Garage. The event was monitored by the Casper Police Department.

“I called the [Casper Police] Chief [Keith McPeeters] and told him ‘these guys are coming’ down, so I’m just giving you a heads up.  He worked with me to keep things in check. He was incredibly good to work with.” Huff added that he had plenty of masks to offer patrons but no one took them. “It went off without a hitch,” Huff said. “And no burnouts.”

Huff stressed that his moves to open and hold events have not been “on a whim.” He spent a month and a half after the initial March closures “scrubbing [the Garage] from top to bottom,” arranging tables to allow for spacious flow of foot traffic, and assigning dedicated staff for scheduled sanitization. 

“I’m trying to do things in a good way and be a good steward of the neighborhood,” Huff said. 

For now, Huff is awaiting new public health orders (the current orders are set to expire May 31) before making further plans, and hoping his venues stay afloat. 

“If it weren’t for the people working for me, I might have closed up already,” Huff said. “I just hope we can get through the summer without losing the whole thing.”