Country singer Chase Rice is taking heat after sharing video footage of a concerts he played in East Tennessee Saturday night, with footage showing large, packed outdoor crowds rocking out shoulder-to-shoulder with no sign of social distancing or masks.
Rice posted video of his riled-up audience in East Tennessee, taken from the stage, as part of an Instagram post with the caption: "We back." The video clips remained up Sunday on his Instagram story, even as it became the subject of angry voices on social media.
One of those was country hitmaker Kelsea Ballerini, who ripped into Rice in a tweet. "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," Ballerini wrote.
Another country star, Chris Janson, also used social media to share footage of a concert he played to a sea of fans Saturday night , although it was difficult to tell from the footage whether any of the members of the similarly jam-packed audience at the Hwy 30 Fest in Filer, Idaho, were wearing masks. Late in the day Sunday, he deleted his video footage from Instagram, along with a tweet that showed the festival crowd.
Although shots of jammed crowds at bars in Nashville had recently aroused controversy, these are believed to be the first instances of stars drawing standing-room-only, non-distancing crowds to ticketed performances in large numbers since national quarantining began, or at least the first where the lack of social distancing was proudly shared by the stars themselves.
Brian May, vice president of the Brushy Mountain Group, which hosted the Rice concert at the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, told Variety Sunday that "all local requirements were abided by for the recent concert, and numerous precautions were taken." But he said that different protocols were being considered for future shows, up to and including postponements.
Although the audience appears vast in the video Rice posted, and some news reports had attendance at 4,000, Brushy Mountain said the figure was actually well below that.
"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," May said.
All guests were given temperature checks before entering and free hand sanitizer and could purchase bandanas on-site, he said.
May indicated the crowd was not eager to voluntarily follow social distancing guidelines, which will prompt reevaluation.
A Twitter user with the handle @AlexFountain23 was at the Rice concert and defended the show.
"I was there, it was a great concert," he tweeted. "There was plenty of room for people who wanted to social distance. Masks do nothing. Can't live in fear forever... The venue was so large that if you wanted you could be 50 ft away from people at times... There are plenty more things out there that we could get sick from that's worse than COVID. Chase Rice put on a great show!"