UPDATE: Chase Rice’s Concert at Penitentiary Ignites Debate Over Safety of Live Shows

With COVID-19 Cases Starting to Spike, Concert Shaming Is on the Rise As Well

On Saturday night (June 27), Chase Rice went back to the old normal.

He loaded in all of his gear, he did his sound check, he poured himself a Jack Daniels, and he took the stage at the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.

UPDATE: On Sunday evening, country star Kelsea Ballerini shared her thoughts on Rice’s concert, saying, “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. We all want (and need) to tour. We just care about our fans and their families enough to wait.”

The former maximum-security prison in Petros, Tennessee — 160 miles east of Nashville — has been closed for more than a decade, and the Rice show was just one in the prison’s Live at Brushy concert series.

While the prison website declares, “We will be observing social distancing guidelines,” the photos and videos from the Rice show tell a very different story. Fans were not wearing masks, the very large general admission crowd was standing elbow to elbow, and the concert went on for more than an hour.

It’s obvious that the people there were eager for real live country music, and were just kind of done with the whole virtual live streaming shows. But what about the rest of the world? With all those fans in such close proximity, it’s possible that some might have been exposed to the virus from a fan standing nearby. Even if only one person in the crowd had the virus, symptomatic or not, imagine how many fans around the infected one would’ve been at risk. And then when those fans got in their cars and went home, think about the people they came in contact with that hadn’t even attended the show.

Throughout the current COVID-19 pandemic we are living through, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been encouraging the use of contact tracing to slow the spread of infection: identifying people who have an infectious disease and their contacts who may have been exposed, working with them to interrupt disease transmission, and self-isolating the infected person and their contacts.

So after a larger-than-large gathering, how does contact tracing even work? It’s too soon to know, but the country fans on Twitter are not happy about Rice’s decision to go ahead with a show that, under the circumstances, should have had much more stringent guidelines in place.

Sawyer Brown, Kip Moore, and Jamey Johnson all have shows in the prison series throughout the summer and fall.

But in a statement received on Sunday night from the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, the group’s Brian May said that they are reevaluating the concert series from top to bottom. “All local requirements were abided by for the recent concert, and numerous precautions were taken. We drastically reduced our maximum venue capacity of 10,000 to 4,000 maximum capacity (lower than the state’s advisement of 50 percent) 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 wrote. “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. 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. 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.”

Meanwhile, the plan to Reopen Tennessee is asking that everyone take the pledge to do so responsibly, with safety guidelines and best practices in place.

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.
@alisonbonaguro