FORT WORTH — On July 4, TABC officers gave Rail Club Live owner Chris Polone two options: He could either shut down his Tea Party Protest show, a concert he organized in response to Gov. Abbott’s bar shutdown order, or face the prospect of having his liquor license suspended. He, now infamously, confidently strode on stage and ripped up the TABC’s order.
“We did not have a single drop of alcohol in this bar, but they still suspended our license,” Polone said. “The Rail Club Live is a guitar school. We have churches come in here. All sorts of things. We’re not even allowed to do that because we’re bound to a liquor license. They are not allowing us to create revenue streams and be open for other things.”
In the face of rising COVID-19 numbers, the state shut down bars, breweries, and various customer-facing businesses last month. Polone and others feel like the governor’s orders represent a double standard, since bar restaurants are still allowed to operate. Opponents of the shutdown say they have reached out time and time again to state officials, but they rarely hear a response. Fed up with that lack of communication, Polone is now organizing a protest he believes they can’t possibly ignore.
At 6 p.m. on Sat, July 25, Freedom Fest will span 300 bars and music venues all over Texas. Some of the more prominent venues to confirm their participation are Machine Shed Bar & Grill in Kilgore, Shooters Dance Hall in Pasadena, and, of course, The Rail Club. Polone also owns a production company, Stand for Something, which is organizing the event.
Polone said he’ll post a list of participating venues next week. All of the bars must pass a vetting process and sign an agreement to implement strict safety measures.
“We don’t want some jackass being involved in this,” he said. “We don’t want a 100-capacity room putting 900 people in there.”
Every participating venue has also been asked to choose a charity – 100 percent off the $10 cover charge collected at the door will be donated.
“What we’re doing is putting Gov. Abbott in a position, as of now, to shut down more than 300 benefit shows across the state,” Polone said.
The Rail Club’s charitable partner will be Brandi’s Play in the Shade, a nonprofit that donates all of its resources to building shade canopies over playgrounds to help prevent skin cancer.
Polone is protesting the suspension of his liquor license, though he conceded the appeal doesn’t matter, since his bar will unlikely to be reopened after the 30-day suspension. He is also suing the state of Texas for violating his First Amendment rights. In his view, since alcohol wasn’t served at his bar during the Tea Party Protest, the state shut down a legal demonstration of free speech.
“Greg Abbott continues to sweep this issue under the rug,” Polone said. “We’ve written letters, we’ve contacted their office over and over again, and no matter what kind of protests other bars are doing, no one is talking about it. We’re going to put him in a position to have to talk about it.”
For more information on participating venues, follow the Facebook event page.