(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that's happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)
This is not about Tim McGraw. Or Michael Skehill. Even though those two will be forever linked because of Skehill's brutal beating at a McGraw concert this past Sunday (July 24) at a venue in Mansfield, Mass. This is about what is becoming of the free and easy nights at summer concerts, thanks to those whose bad behavior impacts those of us who just want to enjoy the music.
Mansfield Police Chief Arthur M. O'Neill gave me his honest assessment of the situation.
"Country used to be an easy night for us," he said. "Now it's anything but. Country's just changed. I'm a country fan, but the music and the singers have a party motif about them now. It's all about drinking. It's a drinking culture."
But he added that it's not just a country problem, it's a societal problem. He talked about rock concerts, specifically those by 311 and O.A.R., where there is excessive drinking. "These kids, especially the girls, are getting drunker and sicker faster," he said of the new trend of drinking hard liquor instead of beer.
O'Neill was quick to defend the concert venues and their staff.
"They are very strict," he said. "They always check bags. And they check IDs at concessions. And they watch for pass-offs. Like if a guy is buying drinks for his girlfriend who's sitting on the rail, he hands her a beer, then they'll go check her ID."
Yet somehow, underage kids are finding ways to drink at the shows and the tailgate parties before.
"They have flasks taped to their legs, or they'll stuff those refillable drink pouches with screw-tops into their bras," he said.
Concert venue rules vary from city to city, though. Some don't allow you to carry anything in. Some, like the Comcast Center, where the beating happened, only allow you to bring in sealed bottles of water. But others will allow you to bring one 20-ounce bottle of water. Which could mean 20 ounces of vodka, according to O'Neill. But when venues allow tailgating, bad things can happen before the show even starts.
"Last year, we had a statutory rape of a 16-year-old girl right in the parking lot," the police chief sighed. "These kids hide right out in the open because they are so many of them and so few of us."
Since Sunday night's attack, four men have been arrested. Whatever may have started the fight, the police say it was exacerbated by underage drinking.
Skehill, 19, a football player for the Catholic University of America, was seriously injured but is expected to recover.