Unsafe concert conditions seem to know no genre boundaries in the mid-pandemic era. Two weekends ago, it was country artists Chase Rice and Chris Janson stirring outrage when they proudly posted videos of themselves playing to packed crowds of fans with no masks in sight. Last weekend, it was hip-hop star DaBaby in the hot seat for playing a show in a large, packed nightclub where his unmasked female fans were literally reaching out and grabbing him.
Now the attention has turned to veteran hard-rock band Great White, which performed an outdoor show Thursday night for a general admission audience in North Dakota, many of whom posted videos giving no indication of even a single mask in the crowd, with fans jammed together, and even shirtless in some instances.
As the lack of protocols at the show came up for scorn on social media, it was not lost on many commenters that, if there is any band that might want to avoid being mentioned in the same breath as “unsafe concert conditions,” it’s Great White,
“Great White doing a precaution-free concert right now is like if Great White were to do a precaution-free concert right now,” jabbed writer Evie Nagy — one of countless references Twitter users made to the 2003 tragedy in which 100 people were killed and 230 more injured in a pyrotechnic-related fire at a Great White show in Rhode Island.
In the tradition of Rice and Janson posting photos and videos of their caution-to-the-wind packed crowds, it was Great White singer Mitch Malloy himself who posted the most circulated video from the show.
Late Saturday night, the group issued a statement that emphasized that emphasized that the show went well while saying they consider themselves “far from perfect” and offering an apology “to those who disagree with our decision to fulfill our contractual agreement.”
“We understand that there are some people who are upset that we performed this show, during this trying time,” the group said. “We assure you that we worked with the Promoter. North Dakota’s government recommends masks be worn, however, we are not in a position to enforce the laws. We have had the luxury of hindsight and we would like to apologize to those who disagree with our decision to fulfill our contractual agreement. The Promoter and staff were nothing but professional and assured us of the safety precautions. Our intent was simply to perform our gig, outside, in a welcoming, small town. We value the health and safety of each and every one of our fans, as well as our American and global community. We are far from perfect.”
The group’s statement did not specify what safety precautions the promoter assured them about.
One difference between the show performed by Great White in North Dakota and the controversial gigs by Rice, Janson and DaBaby is that there wasn’t even the promise of social distancing Thursday, as organizers said ahead of time that none would be enforced or even encouraged.
“We do not have restrictions, believe it or not, we don’t have any,” event coordinator April Getz told the local Dickinson Press in touting the city’s “First On First: Dickinson Summer Nights” programming last month. (Grand White was the only act of national renown announced for the series.) ““I guess it’s one of the first events this year that didn’t get canceled and was approved by the city; we’re all very, very excited about it… It’s one of those things where if people feel comfortable coming down and mixing and mingling, that’s their personal choice. We’re leaving it up to everybody that chooses to attend.”
Although they were in the minority, there were some on social media defending Dickinson’s and the band’s right to put on shows with no coronavirus-related restrictions and fans’ right to attend.
“People are INSANE about masks right now,” wrote one Twitter user. “People are actually looking for pictures around the country of people not wearing masks to get pissed about. If you’re mad people in North Dakota at a Great White concert aren’t wearing masks, get out of the house and get a hobby.”
The version of the band that played Thursday in North Dakota has three members who have been with the group since the 1980s, along with lead singer Mitch Malloy, who joined in 2018. It is not to be confused with “Jack Russell’s Great White,” a spinoff group started by original singer Russell in 2011.
Russell is probably hoping no one associates him with this version of Great White or the North Dakota show, judging from recent omments he made strongly favoring the use of masks.
“There’s no need to be out [in public places],” Russell said in an interview with Austria’s Mulatschag that was found and publicized by Blabbermouth. “People don’t take it seriously — they don’t take the virus seriously. It’s sad. …It’s no small wonder that when you open all these places up, ‘Gee, the numbers [of coronavirus cases] rose up.’ It’s, like, what did you think was gonna happen? It’s, like, ‘I took my mask off and I got COVID.’ Well, what a big surprise that is.” Russell added, “If you don’t wanna help yourself, help everybody else. ‘Well, it’s my right. It’s my human right.’ Well, look, dude, you’ve gotta pay for your car to get smogged, you’ve gotta have a seat belt, you have a driver’s license, you have to have a license to be born, you have to have a marriage license. I mean, so you have to wear a mask for a while so you don’t die. What’s the problem?”
The version of Great White fronted by Malloy doesn’t have any other dates listed on its tour schedule before August 7, when it is booked for Riverfest FM in Fort Madison, Iowa, billed as “Southeast Iowa’s largest rock and roll festival.” That five-day festival in four weeks is “absolutely happening,” according to posts on the fest’s Facebook page. “With all of the uncertainty, it would have been easy to throw in the towel on this year,” Riverfest said, “but we firmly believe that ‘If we rock it, they will come’ and boy, do we have a line-up that is prepared to do just that!”
North Dakota has not been ravaged by COVID-19 as much as other states have, largely by virtue of a mostly rural population. Nonetheless, the state has seen rapid recent upticks. As of Saturday, North Dakota’s Department of Health reported 623 active cases, double the number from just 10 days earlier. Ninety of those cases were being newly reported Saturday. Earlier in the week, the state’s total case count was reported at 4,070.