Melody Ranch attracts students, social distancing in question

Photo illustration by Emileé Edwards | photographer

By Gabby Sherwood | Contributor

Baylor students waited Friday night outside Melody Ranch, a local dance hall and night club, even as some had concerns about how COVID-19 safety practices were being practiced.

Houston freshman Sarah Michael, who went to Melody Ranch with her friends, said she acknowledged the risk she was taking, but believes people who go understand that risk.

“I went, but I kept my mask on,” Michael said. “It is a risk going because of the amount of people that do attend Melody Ranch, but I think if people take the right precautions, it can be safer.”

According to Michael, the number of students who attended Melody Ranch made the venue crowded and difficult for social distancing to be maintained, but it was possible to stay away from others while dancing.

Frankfort, Ill., sophomore Keara Powers said she felt uncomfortable knowing her peers were going to Melody Ranch to socialize within large crowds of strangers.

“I totally understand the want to do normal things,” Powers said. “But we have to do that responsibly, and I think it is kind of irresponsible to go do things like that and gather in large groups.”

Shawn Seay has been the owner of the Melody Ranch name since November 2019. Melody Ranch is an old-school honky-tonk that’s been part of Waco nightlife since the 1970s.

The pandemic “impacted Melody Ranch’s business quite a bit,” Seay said. The business was closed by the executive order of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, but Seay said Melody Ranch was later able to reopen because of the venue’s restaurant.

“The landlords weren’t expecting that we would be allowed to reopen,” Seay said. “But we were allowed to make arrangements with the TABC and all of our licensing.”

In light of COVID-19, the staff at Melody Ranch have put measures in place to keep its customers safe. However, Melody Ranch is not listed on the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District list of “Safe Businesses” that have pledged to implement safety practices to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Seay said ensuring social distancing at Melody Ranch has been an “ongoing process.” Some of the measures that have been taken include the construction of an outdoor dance floor targeted towards college students to help separate the crowds.

On Friday and Saturday nights, when the venue is more crowded, Seay said his staff spaces out people waiting in line outside the venue and hands out extra masks to those who didn’t bring one before they enter the building.

Seay said the biggest focus right now is reminding college students and regulars to keep their masks on whenever they are not eating or drinking.

“They come out and want to take their masks off,” Seay said, “and we have to constantly tell them to put their mask back on.”

Waco freshman Seven Tang said seeing Baylor students share photos on social media that show students neither wearing masks nor social distancing at Melody Ranch made him anxious of another possible spike in COVID-19 cases on campus.

“I’ve only seen one picture where people were in a group with a mask,” Tang said. “Majority pictures I’ve seen of people were not wearing masks, which is very concerning.”

Marble Falls freshman Christian Wilcox, who attended Melody Ranch, was not bothered by people not wearing a mask.

“I do think it’s acceptable because it’s off campus,” Wilcox said. “I don’t think it’s the university’s place to tell me or whoever what they can and can’t do off campus. But on campus, following protocol is what needs to happen.”