Brian Kelley, Morgan Wallen + More Protest Live Music Shutdown, Despite Rising COVID-19 Cases
Ahead of the Wednesday night's (Nov. 11) 2020 CMA Awards, showrunners are promising a special night in the midst of a months-long global pandemic. Many of country music's biggest names will gather together in the same room, at Nashville's Music City Center, for the first time this year, for a socially distanced event.
Their pre-show advertising offers hope of a bit of normalcy (and "no drama") in a year that's been anything but normal and drama-free. Behind the scenes, however, the annual awards show has altered its sets and capacity and is taking extra steps to keep everyone safe and to go on live during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Both Lee Brice and Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days, necessitating their removal from the CMA Awards guest list and performance lineup. Both are largely symptom free and feeling well despite their diagnoses, according to public statements, but Hubbard and his wife Hayley have been vocal on Instagram about how worrisome and difficult his illness has been for their family of five, which includes a newborn baby.
In her Instagram Stories, Hayley shares that after Hubbard tested positive on Wednesday (Nov. 4), they immediately went into quarantine mode: He's isolated on his tour bus, which is parked in the driveway of their house, she's in the house with their two oldest children, and their infant son Atlas is staying with the family's nanny at her house.
Prior to Hubbard's first positive test, however, Hayley says he passed COVID-19 onto two other people. "It's seriously a miracle that I don't have it," she adds, noting that she's continuously getting tested and watching for symptoms in their children.
The "hardest part," Hayley says, was going through the list of people they'd seen recently and having to let them know about Hubbard's diagnosis: "Thinking, 'Oh my gosh, we could have infected them and not even known it' ... It's just such a domino effect," she reflects.
Hubbard's duo partner, Brian Kelley, and his wife Brittney, meanwhile, were among a contingent of country artists and their significant others calling for a return to touring over the weekend, spurred on by footage of people celebrating in the streets across the United States after news outlets called the 2020 presidential election for Democrat candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Saturday (Nov. 7).
"Knew we were waiting on the election since March when this s--t show started," Kelley posted in his Instagram Stories, alluding to a conspiracy theory that the pandemic is a tactic to make sure current president Donald Trump did not get re-elected, while sharing a photo of people celebrating Biden and Harris' election outside the White House. "Time to get back to work AMERICA. Booking shows ASAP."
Florida Georgia Line friend Morgan Wallen, too, shared the photo from Washington, D.C., on Instagram Stories, writing, "The hypocrisy is unreal."
"If you don't agree with me, fine. We can still be friends. But I have a family, band and crew that need to be provided for and taken care of," he adds. "If it's OK for us to party in the streets with no 'social distancing,' then we can book shows right now." (In early October, Wallen was removed as Saturday Night Live's musical guest after footage of him partying, maskless, after a University of Alabama football game, and kissing multiple women began circulating online.)
While large concert venues are shut down right now due to the pandemic, plenty of artists are still playing shows, both online and in person. In Nashville alone, venues including Marathon Music Works and the Listening Room are open at reduced capacity; writers' round-style events such as Song Suffragettes and Whiskey Jam are also taking place in person and on a regular schedule.
Booking larger-scale shows right now is easier said than done, however, given the associated costs: The profit levels that venues require to maintain a realistic business model are hard to come by with limited-seating shows. Larger events are mostly currently prohibited due to COVID-19 restrictions, and even if they weren't, it would be difficult to find someone willing to underwrite an insurance bond for a larger show with no social distancing that might become a super-spreader event and result in medical bills and lawsuits from attendants. Without such a bond, the artist would potentially be on the hook for whatever expenses derive from those risks.
Tennessee saw its highest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases on Monday (Nov. 9), with 5,919 new cases recorded that day, Nashville's WKRN reports. The record for cases reported in a single day had been reset only two days prior, on Saturday, when 5,071 new cases of the virus were recorded throughout the state. Also as of Monday, there were 1,543 people hospitalized with the novel coronavirus throughout the state — another record.
COVID-19 cases are on the rise throughout the United States, in fact. Per CNN, 43 states have reported a 10 percent rise in cases of the virus week over week as of Monday, with the new rate of infection outpacing the increased rate of testing. A cumulative 10 million Americans have been infected with the virus as of Monday, with the most recent 1 million infections occurring in just 10 days.
Country Artists Who Tested Positive for Coronavirus: