Rice in particular has drawn the brunt of negative attention, after posting a video of a packed Saturday night (June 27) show in East Tennessee with the caption “We Back.” None in the crowd were maintaining a safe personal distance or wearing face coverings, ignoring safety precautions even as COVID-19 cases in the state rise to their highest levels ever. That prompted stars like Kelsea Ballerini to speak out in frustration, writing “Imagine being selfish enough to put thousands of people’s health at risk, not to mention the potential ripple effect, and play a NORMAL country concert right now. @ChaseRiceMusic, We all want (and need) to tour. We just care about our fans and their families enough to wait.”
Rice has long been vocal about his opposition to coronavirus restrictions that have completely shut down the concert industry on which many country artists depend, posting in March as pandemic began he refused to live in fear “especially of something that I can’t really control,” and releasing a song laced with anger over the lockdowns. Others like Mickey Guyton also expressed their disgust with the move, noting that as an asthmatic, “I’m high risk and seeing this just broke me. Shame on him.”
Rice has not responded to the wave of negative media coverage, but the promotor who put on Saturday’s show at the converted Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary defended the concert in a statement to Variety.
“We drastically reduced our maximum venue capacity of 10,000 to 4,000 maximum capacity (lower than the state’s advisement of 50%) with less than 1,000 in attendance Saturday night, providing ample space in the outdoor lawn area for fans to spread out to their own comfort level,” said Brian May, VP of the Brushy Mountain Group. “All guests were given temperature checks prior to entering the venue and free hand sanitizer was provided to everyone at entry. All vendors and staff were advised to wear masks and gloves when interacting with guests, and bandanas were available for purchase on-site.”
May went on to place blame for the controversial scene on fans themselves, and fans who attended the concert spoke up in defense of Rice and the promotors. Brushy Mountain has more shows scheduled for Kip Moore, Jamey Johnson and Sawyer Brown in the coming weeks, Variety reports.
“We were unable to further enforce the physical distancing recommended in the signage posted across the property and are looking into future alternative scenarios that further protect the attendees, artists and their crews and our employees,” May wrote. “We are reevaluating the series from the top to bottom — from implementing further safety measures, to adding stanchions, to converting the space to drive-in style concerts, to postponing shows.”
Rice wasn’t the only artist drawing fire, though, as Janson also performed over the weekend in Idaho, reportedly drawing almost 3,000 fans who also were not social distanced. Video showed him playing at the Highway 30 Festival and was included in reports that quickly went viral, leading to fellow stars like Maren Morris retweeting posts saying the concerts would prevent “conscientious” artists and fans from getting back to normal sooner. She then shared a screenshot showing that Janson had blocked her, but Janson claims it was a mistake.
It appears to be first weekend of widespread live music since the pandemic began almost three months ago, and more concerts will surely be coming as summer continues. Whether or not artists and fans adhere to safety guidelines will be watched closely, especially if cases nationwide continue rising.