Chase Rice Says Fans' Safety Is a 'Huge Priority' Despite Performing to Packed Crowd During Pandemic
Chase Rice was previously criticized by fellow country music artists for performing to fans who weren't social distancing or wearing masks
Chase Rice is speaking out following his controversial decision to perform in front of a live crowd amid the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
On Monday, the "Eyes on You" singer, 34, addressed his recent concert at the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee, acknowledging that some people "had a big problem with how the show looked" after he posted footage on his social media that showed a cheering audience in close proximity to each other without face masks.
"I understand that there are a lot of varying opinions, a lot of opinions on COVID-19, how it works with live music crowds and what all that looks like," he said in a video message posted to his Instagram.
The country star went on to emphasize that his "biggest" concern is for his fans and their wellbeing.
"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 and sing these songs to you guys and you guys sing them back," he said. "You guys are everything to me, so your safety is a huge, huge priority."
Rice then urged fans to practice social distancing at his next scheduled concert, a "drive-in show" slated for Friday at Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, Kentucky.
"Take your truck. Take your cars. You have your own space," he explained. "You can get out of your cars, you can get out of your trucks and party with me. Please do sing the songs, but stay in your own space and the people you came with."
He added, "The biggest thing for all of us is the safer we are now, the quicker we get to ... actual normal live shows, which I know we all want."
Rice ended his address by thanking fans for their support, telling viewers, "Please go by the rules. Please go by the laws on this Friday show coming up and the shows moving forward, so we can get to regular shows soon enough."
"Love you guys. God bless you and God bless country music," he concluded.
Rice's Tennessee concert landed him in hot water over the weekend after other country artists criticized him on social media for holding a performance during the pandemic, including Kelsea Ballerini, who called him "selfish."
"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," tweeted Ballerini, 26. "@ChaseRiceMusic, We all want (and need) to tour. We just care about our fans and their families enough to wait. 🤷🏼♀️"
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Added 30-year-old Voice winner and musician Cassadee Pope, "Wait. Is this real? I’m so confused as to how this many people got approved by a venue to gather during a pandemic. Wtf?"
Meanwhile, country artist Cam, 35, added her own comments about the situation. "Everyone knows that Chase & Chris [Janson, who also held a non-socially distanced show over the weekend] as individuals are ....low hanging fruit. What if we aim higher? 🎯
"Basic Karen game: hurts Black people Next-level Karen game: agitate power structures to save each other."
American Idol mentor and radio host Bobby Bones, 40, also pointed out a different aspect of the situation. "Aside from the obvious ... probably also heavy liability here," he wrote. "Just talked to two different attorneys about this."
In a statement to PEOPLE, a spokesperson for the venue where Rice held his concert said that "all local requirements were abided by" for the event, and "numerous precautions were taken." According to the spokesperson, there were less than 1,000 concertgoers at the outdoor setting.
Guests were administered temperature checks upon entering and were given free hand sanitizer. Staff members were instructed to wear masks and gloves, according to the venue.
"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," read the statement in part.
"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."
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Rice told PEOPLE in early May that "I think all the major tours are going to be done for the year, but that doesn't mean music's going to stop. Sure. We're trying to plan together something where we can travel to the states that are open, the states that are legal to play, the counties that are legal to play and go to play to as many people as we can do in a healthy way, whether that's 500 people or whether it's 2000 people, go play music."
He continued, "I don't know what that's gonna look like yet, but there's a lot of people who are over this thing and ready to go out and do some stuff. And it's just the American constitution that allows us to decide for ourselves. So I think we're going to leave it up to the fans, and whether you guys want to come hang out and listen to some live music is up to them. And the ones that do, I think we're gonna have a great time this year and it'll be different shows then we were planning on doing, but I think that'll make it even cooler and more unique."
As of June 29, there have been at least 2,599,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in United States with at least 126,100 deaths from coronavirus-related illnesses, according to a New York Times database.
The global death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 500,000 on Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. As of Monday, there have been at least 10,189,350 confirmed coronavirus cases globally.
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