In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre that resulted in more than 50 deaths at an outdoor country concert Sunday, the notion of “concert security” suffered another major blow.
Few public statements from concert promoters and music industry executives were forthcoming Monday except for expressions of sorrow and condolence. CEO Michael Rapino of Live Nation, which staged the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Vegas that ended in a hail of sniper fire and death, tweeted, “Our hearts are with the victims in Las Vegas, their families and loved ones who are grieving this morning.”
But in interviews with concert promoters who requested anonymity, there was growing concern that a string of violent incidents in and around concerts around the world has shaken confidence in their ability to keep concertgoers safe.
At one time, art was ostensibly staged in safe zones, places where people could detach from the world outside for a couple of hours and lose themselves in the highest form of human communication and creativity, whether it’s in a museum, a movie theater or a concert hall.
But now these very same venues have become terrorist targets, in large measure because of what they represent. Recent events, capped by the Vegas massacre, have put the notion of art as a haven, as a kind of cocoon for spiritual renewal, in deep jeopardy.
This uptick in violence has occurred even though concert security has been ramping up since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and two 2003 tragedies: the nightclub fire and stampede at the Chicago nightclub E2 in which 21 people died, and a fire at the Station nightclub in Rhode Island set off by fireworks during a concert by Jack Russell’s Great White that killed 100 people.
More recent incidents of gun violence around the world have magnified the difficulties of keeping large crowds secure in concert venues.
In 2015, a terrorist attack at the Bataclan theater in Paris during an Eagles of Death Metal concert resulted in 89 deaths. In 2016, 49 people were gunned down in an attack at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub. Earlier this year, a terrorist detonated a bomb as patrons were leaving an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena in England, which left 23 dead.
Bands have been coordinating tighter security measures with concert promoters and venues. U2’s show a few months ago at Soldier Field included bomb sweeps of cars at nearby parking garages. U2 and Ed Sheeran more recently canceled concerts in St. Louis over concerns that security standards would not be met in the wake of rioting over a police officer’s acquittal in the fatal shooting of a black man. Wand metal detectors are now commonplace at most arena shows and outdoor festivals.
But the Manchester bombing and Vegas shooting put a new, horrific spin on security concerns because the perpetrators did their damage from outside the concert venues. Promoters noted that outdoor festivals such as Lollapalooza, Pitchfork and Spring Awakening in Chicago were particularly vulnerable because of access to high-rises and other concealed areas outside the venues that might escape typical concert security measures.
“I guarantee you everyone (in the industry) is thinking about it today,” said one promoter. But promoters said that venues would likely be purposely vague in discussing any heightened security responses to the latest concert-venue tragedy. “No one wants to give some nut-job terrorist an idea of what they have to get around,” another promoter said. “It’s a symptom of the kind of world we’re living in.”
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