Over the weekend, the country singer-songwriter posted a photo to his Instagram Story showing a packed, mask-free crowd. The snapshot was taken from the stage at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee, where Rice performed Saturday.
Rice, 34, quietly deleted the photo. Screenshots, however, circulated on social media and drew the ire of stars like Kelsea Ballerini, who deemed Rice “selfish” for his decision to defy coronavirus restrictions by proceeding with the show.
On Monday, Rice responded to the controversy in a short video on Instagram in which he emphasized to fans that his “biggest” concern was for their safety and well-being.
“I understand 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 the clip, viewable below.
“My biggest thing is y’all,” he added. “You guys are everything to me, so your safety is a huge, huge priority.”
Rice didn’t apologize for the controversy that ensued after Saturday’s concert. Still, he noted that his next performance ― slated for Friday at Kentucky’s Paramount Arts Center ― would be a “drive-in” show.
“Please do sing the songs, but stay in your own space, stay with the people you came with,” he said. “The safer we are now, the quicker that we get to get to actual, normal live shows, which I know we all want.”
As the coronavirus became a global pandemic, stars like Taylor Swift and Harry Styles were forced to cancel or reschedule their summer tours. Concert promoters say they’re still at a loss as to how to enforce social distancing among attendees at both large and small venues while still turning a profit.
In spite of the controversy, the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary claimed that staff had, in fact, taken “numerous precautions” related to COVID-19 safety at Rice’s show.
Brian May, vice president of the Brushy Mountain Group, which owns Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, told HuffPost in an email that Rice had played to a “drastically reduced” crowd that filled less than 50% of the venue’s capacity. Meanwhile, fans were encouraged to utilize an outdoor lawn area to “spread out to their own comfort level,” he said.