The Sturgis motorcycle rally continued for its fourth day on Monday after a raucous concert on Sunday night, in which coronavirus concerns were laughed off by the lead singer and mask-less masses.
Steve Harwell, the 53-year-old frontman of California rockers Smash Mouth, opened his band’s set with a rant caught on video against the virus, which has killed more han 160,000 U.S. citizens.
‘F*** that COVID s***!’ he yelled, to raucous applause.
Experts have warned that the gathering, which is expected to bring 250,000 people to the city of 7,000, had the potential to become a ‘super spreader event’.
Sparsely populated South Dakota has been relatively spared by the pandemic so far.
As of Monday night there had been 146 deaths and 9,500 cases, with 59 cases confirmed in the last 24 hours.
The Buffalo Chip, a campground hosting many of the bikers and putting on concerts, was reportedly at half capacity, but many of those attending were not wearing face masks.
Smash Mouth’s manager, however, praised the organizers for the work done beforehand, and said the band members were confident of their own safety and that of their crew.
‘The promoter did a fantastic job with their COVID protocol,’ said Robert Hayes.
He told Billboard: ‘They had a very strict social distancing and mask policy in place for all workers.
‘Everything backstage was sanitized, etc.
‘The band has their own COVID addendum to their rider as well and the promoter and venue adhered to all of our requests.
‘We spent endless hours advancing this event to make sure that it was pulled off as safely as possible and we are very happy with the outcome.’
Hayes said Smash Mouth felt very good from the stage.
However, as the performers, he said they did not have any control over which protocols the attendees followed.
‘That said most all of them were on their motorcycles which eliminated a lot of physical contact between attendees and actually created a forced social distance,’ he said.
‘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.’
On Saturday night, a ZZ Top tribute band played to packed, mask-less crowds.
Willie Nelson and Lynyrd Skynyrd were due to play, but pulled out due to the pandemic.
At Monday’s rally press conference, Geody VanDewater, Sturgis police chief, said his department has had 65 fewer calls than last year, but there have been more misdemeanor drug arrests and non-injury accidents.
The Department of Public Safety reported that police made 84 arrests for driving under the influence or drug-related offenses during a 24-hour period spanning from Saturday into Sunday morning.
That’s up from last year, when 76 people had been arrested in a similar time frame.
Police have also issued more citations, with 226 people getting tickets.
The figure is 37 more than last year. But it appears police are less lenient this year and are letting fewer people off with warnings.
So far, police in the region have reported 18 crashes, which is down from last year’s mark of 20. None have been fatal.
‘Overall, it’s a typical rally similar to last year,’ he said.
Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin said he has seen an increase in arrests for drug violations and DUIs at the county jail.
He also said it appears there are fewer people walking in downtown Sturgis and more spending time outside of city limits.
Daniel Ainslie, manager of Sturgis City, told Rapid City Journal that the city is expecting fewer rally-goers this year due to COVID-19.
‘Months ago, we halted any advertising and promotion of the event. We also have canceled all of our city activities and everything else in hopes to ramp down the numbers,’ he said.
‘The number of first-time visitors has really been huge, and it’s interesting people are saying they’ve been cooped up for months and they were going to come out here.’
Ainslie also said that consumer spending has been ‘unbelievably high.’
‘The spending is far higher than what we’ve seen in the past several years, especially given the numbers are slightly lower than we’ve seen in the last couple years,’ he said.