“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,” Kelsea Ballerini tweeted to her million followers. “We all want (and need) to tour. We just care about our fans and their families enough to wait.”
Bobby Bones, the format’s most powerful radio personality, tweeted the video and wrote: “Aside from the obvious … probably also heavy liability here. Just talked to two different attorneys about this.”
On Monday evening, Rice released a video to his Instagram account to address the concert: “Everybody had a blast, but then once I posted the video, a lot of people seeing that online had a big problem with how the show looked, how the show went down," he said. “And I understand, there’s a lot of varying opinions, a lot of different opinions on covid-19, how it works with live music, crowds and what all that looks like.”
He continued: “My biggest thing is y’all. Y’all are why I get to write songs, y’all are why I get to tour the country, why I get to do live shows ... you guys are everything to me, so your safety is a huge, huge priority."
Rice went on to say that he has a drive-in concert scheduled on Friday, and while he encouraged everyone to “get out of your cars, get out of your trucks and party with me,” he also added that fans should “please go by the rules, please go by the laws” and stay confined in their own spaces. “The safer we are now, the quicker that we get to get to actual normal live shows, which I know we all want,” he said.
The concert took place at Historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, a former prison turned tourist destination that has a distillery, paranormal tours and a concert series called Live at Brushy — it’s located in Petros, Tenn., a 2½-hour drive from Nashville. Brian May, vice president of the Brushy Mountain Group, said in a statement Sunday evening that fewer than 1,000 people attended Rice’s show, even though the venue’s maximum capacity is 10,000, so there was “ample space in the outdoor lawn area for fans to spread out to their own comfort level.” The venue abided by all local requirements and “numerous precautions were taken,” he said, including temperature checks for guests, free hand sanitizer, and masks and gloves for staff.
However, he added, in the wake of Rice’s concert, the organizers are “reevaluating the series from top to bottom,” including further safety measures, changing the setup to drive-in concerts or postponing shows entirely. “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 said. The next Live at Brushy show is Sawyer Brown on July 18, followed by Kip Moore on Aug. 1.
Adrienne Brown, a Nashville resident who attended the show, said the experience was “wonderful” — in her view, Rice’s Instagram story videos made the audience look more packed than it was in person. While a crowd of people did stand around the stage, she said, she and her friends mostly stayed in the back of the lawn.
Brown said she understands why some say it’s too soon to hold a concert, but she was comfortable with the fact that it was an open-air space, and fans had the option to social distance. “The people that chose to go up to the front, that’s who Kelsea [Ballerini] needs to be talking to,” she said.
Still, the images of people standing so close together in the middle of a pandemic unnerved many observers. Chris Janson also posted Instagram videos of a big crowd at Gordy’s Hwy 30 Music Fest in Idaho on Saturday night and deleted them after he started to see criticism. He apparently blocked Morris on Twitter (“ummmmmm what did I DO?!” she tweeted, with three cry-laughing emoji), as well as Whitney Pastorek, a Nashville manager who previously worked for Janson’s management company and tweeted that the scene at Janson’s concert was “reprehensible.”
“Our industry was a shining light of what happens when people place the well-being of society over their own pocketbooks. We did it right and didn’t complain,” Pastorek wrote on Instagram, referring to the many Nashville acts who canceled tours this year. “But even if it meant I could earn back every lost dollar and every second of lost health insurance I would not work with an act who decided to jeopardize the health of their fans (and their fans’ families and communities) the way Chase Rice and Chris Janson did last night. It’s abhorrent.”
A representative for Janson’s record label, Warner Music Nashville, said Janson “was one of two dozen performers to fulfill a contractual obligation after being told that last weekend’s event would adhere to all safety and social distancing protocols." In March, Rice, whose record label Broken Bow Records did not return a request for comment, vented his frustration about canceled tours with a Facebook post.
“If it were up to me I wouldn’t cancel one damn show, but it ain’t. Today a lot of tours and shows got canceled or moved. I’m not throwing blame to any promoters or decision makers on this, they gotta protect themselves and the well being of people, so I get all sides of this deal. I personally, choose not live scared, especially of something that I can’t really control,” he wrote. “THANK YOU to fans all across the world. This thing has made me realize that there is no music without y’all. If I’ve gotta break it down to just me and a guitar on the bed of a truck and play to whoever shows up I’ll do it, love y’all.”