You may have heard over the weekend that the South Dakota town of Sturgis was hosting its annual motorcycle rally and summer music festival despite a pandemic raging across the country. And San Jose-based Smash Mouth was there performing on Sunday to a crowd of mostly un-masked, un-distant revelers.
The 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally went ahead this year in a state that has no mask mandates or social distancing requirements for businesses — in a rural county that has only seen 94 COVID-19 cases to date, in a red state where the governor never ordered any lockdowns and where there was a noted hot spot in April that began at a meat processing plant. With 250,000 expected to attend the event this week, it's easily one of the biggest or the biggest public gathering in the U.S. since the pandemic began.
And while Smash Mouth said through their Robert Hayes that they only agreed to play the festival because the promoter had taken many safety precautions, that wasn't exactly the attitude of front man Steve Harwell at the show. As the Chronicle's Datebook reports, he took the stage and said, "We’re all here together tonight! Fuck that COVID shit!"
Smash Mouth frontman Steve Harwell told the crowd: "We’re all here together tonight! Fuck that COVID shit!"https://t.co/K4XWoCEMOl— NME (@NME) August 10, 2020
I hope everybody is still humming "All Star" to themselves as they're being intubated!
By contrast, Hayes issued a statement to Billboard and others saying, "The Smash Mouth organization is taking this pandemic very seriously and has taken measures to keep our band, crew and fans as safe as possible during this time."
Smash Mouth was one of many bands slated to perform at the festival, called the Buffalo Chip concert series, with the lineup including the likes of 38 Special, Quiet Riot, and the Reverend Horton Heat. But they're they only one with Bay Area roots — and probably the only one to have had a stupid Twitter fight with he Oakland A's, and the only one to regularly support Black Lives Matter on Twitter as well.
The New York Times had reporters on the scene, documenting the first weekend of the motorcycle rally, and talking to attendees who mostly sounded either skeptical that the pandemic was real, or resigned to getting sick — with "nothing more than the flu" — and determined to make their annual pilgrimage to the event.
Many in the Sturgis community were against hosting the event this year, as CNN reports, but the town council decided to move forward with preparations and allow the concert series to happen because it sounded to them like tens of thousands of bikers were going to show up regardless. There are limited sanctioned events happening in the town, as there typically would be — and attendance last year was around 500,000 people, with around 750,o00 showing up for the 75th annual rally five years ago.
When Sturgis, South Dakota, officials asked all households if they wanted its annual motorcycle rally that brings thousands to the city to proceed on its scheduled date, a little more than 60% of residents said no. But the City Council approved it anyway. https://t.co/zbyyq13Hto— CNN (@CNN) August 10, 2020
What's most worrying to health experts, besides the fact that 250,000 people are gathered and acting like the virus isn't anything to worry about, are the after-hours gatherings at bars and elsewhere in the area, where people are likely to be congregating indoors with no precautions at all.
"Those super spreader events are real," says Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and associate professor at Brown University, speaking to CNN. "We have reports from across the country of one person infecting 90 or 100 (people) or even more. And so if you have a few of those infections that start at Sturgis, people go back home and even have the potential to spread in their own communities." Ranney adds, "This has the potential to seed new hotspots literally across the country."
Anyway, when there are hundreds of cases being linked back to Sturgis, and when South Dakota starts having to deal with overwhelmed hospitals because their own residents get sick from this insanity, we'll all be able to say 'Remember when Smash Mouth got to perform there?'
Great job, everyone. Making America greater every day.
The Sturgis biker rally is in full swing— Lady Lizmo Blue 🔄 🐝 Late Boomer (@lizmoblubuckeye) August 10, 2020
250,000 riders are expected to participate in the festivities this week with no masks in sight
The town of Sturgis and the towns the riders return to should beware of virus spikes #COVIDIOTS #FreshTweets pic.twitter.com/oMT3x3ugmk
Photo: Brad Barket/Getty Images