While you stayed inside and watched the BET Awards or awaited Beyoncé’s new visual album (to be clear, all the makings of a fun night), multiple crowds of country fans went to concerts — yes, those things — and broke guidelines for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic in the process. “Eyes on You” singer Chase Rice sparked backlash after posting video of his June 27 concert at Tennessee’s Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, a prison turned venue with a capacity of 10,000. The video, now deleted from Rice’s Instagram Story, showed the deep crowd packed together at the front of the stage, singing without masks on. Some reports said 4,000 people attended the show, while Brushy Mountain Group vice-president Brian May told Variety the crowd was actually less than 1,000. While guests underwent temperature checks and were given hand sanitizer, May conceded, “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” and said the group is “reevaluating the series from top to bottom.”
Chris Janson, known for the hit “Buy Me a Boat,” also played a packed show on June 27 at Idaho’s Hwy 30 Fest. He deleted an Instagram Story and tweet of the crowd, but according to reposted video, they look equally packed in and unmasked. A source told Variety attendance for the event was around 2,800, or nearly triple the claimed audience for Rice’s concert. An attendee told Variety, “I personally one saw one person wearing a mask the entire day, and that was a merch seller.”
The industry has been critical of these concerts, especially as coronavirus cases rise amid reopening in Tennessee and Idaho. “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,” country star Kelsea Ballerini tweeted. “@ChaseRiceMusic, We all want (and need) to tour. We just care about our fans and their families enough to wait.” John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats added, “the people in this audience, along with the presenters of this show, are assuring that conscientious musicians won’t be able to work their jobs for a while, and that conscientious audiences won’t be able to see shows for the foreseeable, and to be blunt, that fucking sucks.” Whitney Pastore, one of the loudest critics of Janson’s concert, is a former employee of his own management company. “Oh look, Chris Janson also doesn’t care about the health of his fans!” she tweeted. “I used to work for his management company but they laid me off in April so now I can come right out and say that this is reprehensible, yay!”
The rest of us will stick to the drive-ins, thank you very much.