‘We’re trying to survive’: Owner of Cotton Eyed Joe speaks out after large events over the weekend violate county regulations

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Cotton Eyed Joe owner Chuck Ward is speaking out after pictures and videos showing his crowded establishment spread quickly across social media over the weekend.

Despite warnings to avoid large gatherings over the holidays, Knox County bar Cotton Eyed Joe went on business as usual with their annual New Year’s Eve party, then they followed it up with a concert with 1,200 attendees the next day. Videos and pictures sent to WATE 6 On Your Side show several county regulations being violated. The videos show a packed venue, no social distancing and no visible mask wearing.

Ward confirms they did stay open past the 10 p.m. curfew, but he says it’s not his intent to spread COVID-19. He says he’s just trying to save his business from the large financial hit they took last year.

“We had to shut down March 15, 2020 for 10 weeks and that’s devastating. I mean that was a 900 thousand-dollar loss in revenue that Cotton Eyed Joe had to sustain. And you don’t get over those types of things, you never will,” Ward said.

Ward says masks and hand sanitizer were handed out at the door, but for people coming to his bar it’s their choice.

“I just feel like as bars we’re being discriminated against. People choose to come to bars, we don’t make them come to bars. I realize we’re not a necessity, but these people make their own choices,” Ward said.

Ward says he plans to continue to hold events. There are two more concerts scheduled at the venue before the end of this month.

“We’re going to still try to stay in business and survive. Like I was saying before, we have 35 or 40 people that work here on any given night. They’ve got families to feed, they’ve got house payments to make, they’ve got car payments to make. We have to continue to strive to stay open,” Ward said.

Because the establishment is located in West Knox County, and the county has decided not to enforce COVID-19 regulations, Cotton Eyed Joe was not cited.

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