Crowd at Rupp Arena’s biggest concert during the pandemic was almost entirely unmasked, making music writer feel unsafe on job

The crowd gathers for the Eric Church concert. (Herald-Leader photo by Estill Robinson)

“Masks are encouraged at today’s event,” read signs at the biggest concert at Rupp Arena since the start of the pandemic, a three-hour performance for 15,000 by country rocker Eric Church on Friday, Sept. 17. But Lexington Herald-Leader music writer Walter Tunis reports, “The ‘suggestion’ for the night was largely being shrugged off. To my eyes, the number of masked patrons was, at best, miniscule. Rupp employees were masked up. The bulk of the audience, however, seemed to view this concert event as business – or rather, pleasure – as usual. If there is one certainty to how any of us live our lives in a COVID-19 world, it’s that the term “as usual” no longer applies.”

“In addition to no mask mandate, the Church concert did not have a vaccination/negative test requirement in place for admission. Being an indoor event simply added to the Covid queasiness. It did to mine, anyway. . . . I’m of a somewhat advanced age with a health issue or two, so mask wearing on my part was a done deal,” Tunis wrote for the Herald-Leader Sept. 21. He said he felt safer at the Railbird festival at Keeneland Race Course, which drew 30,000 people but was outdoor sand required proof of a vaccination or a recent negative test.

“I want events like Church’s concert to play out as much as anyone. I’ve been writing about live music events at Rupp and elsewhere for over four decades. It’s something I am immovably passionate about. But we live in an altered world where we have to become more selfless if this kind of art and entertainment can truly be considered safe. All of us have to do more – from artists to promoters to venues to, especially, patrons. We all deserve to feel safe. Last weekend at Rupp, I simply didn’t.”
Tunis concluded, “What we have to wrap our heads around is the fact we aren’t back to normal in dealing with Covid. We’re not even close. . . . We have to do more to protect ourselves and especially others. Otherwise, the normalcy our country is literally dying for will slip further out of reach.”
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