Route 91 Harvest: What It Means For The Concert Industry

The massacre at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival has left a massive hole in our collective industry’s heart. It was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, surpassing an ugly statistic set just over a year ago at yet another public gathering at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla. 

As traumatic as these tragedies are and no matter how deeply we all bear these scars, the industry will do what it always has done in these horrible situations: adjust accordingly and do everything to improve and ensure the safety of the audiences, artists and staffs.

The Station
– The Station

A few examples would include one of the most legendary in modern rock history: the crowd crush that killed 11 before a Who concert in Cincinnati that eliminated GA seating nationwide. Also, nine dead at a crowd crush at Roskilde 17 years ago during Pearl Jam’s set that inspired a new design in barriers. The Love Parade festival stampede in Germany killed 21 and injured 500. The Indiana Fair stage collapse killed seven and harmed 58, which ushered increased awareness to inclement weather and evacuations. Twenty-two were killed in a terror attack near the Manchester Arena in England. And, of course, 100 died in a fire at a Great White show at The Station in West Warwick, R.I. 

And then there was Bataclan.

Here, now, in Las Vegas, we have at least 59 dead, more than 500 injured.

So why is this unique, what does it mean to the industry today, and what will it mean tomorrow?

Las Vegas Shooting Mandalay Bay
AP Photo/John Locher
– Las Vegas Shooting Mandalay Bay

First, unlike Manchester, where a protected Live Nation event kept people inside the venue safe, Route 91 Harvest was a protected event that had no roof and no concrete concourses. No matter how protected the perimeter, and no matter how many security meetings take place, it showed that an outdoor event is still vulnerable to terror if it is launched from three football fields away.

That, alone, can shift thought processes about staging an outdoor event. It certainly inspired Austin City Limits Festival, at Zilker Park with skyscrapers behind it, to offer refunds.

Second, unlike other events and, with sensitivity to those lost and harmed, this is the first event that threatened those who put it on. Normally a promoter or a venue owner grieves over injury or death to one of their patrons; this time they were in the same situation. Miraculously, at press time, Pollstar heard of only one injury out of the many industry personnel there, or of their guests, or of their clients. 

And those industry personnel were there. In the middle of it. It may have been the last hour of the last night of an exhausting event, but that’s when staffers either go to their hotel rooms or they start to mill around in the crowd, hang out, get that congratulatory beer, act like a fan. We can guarantee this happened because it happens 100 percent of the time.

There were few that felt like talking at press time. This was likely for many reasons. Obviously because they were victims and in mourning. Who wants to talk to the press when the priorities are handling trauma and wanting to contact their family and friends? Meanwhile, they needed to let everybody know, on phone or social media, that they were OK (which they did). And in the concert industry, there are a lot of people to say that to. Think of the agents, artist managers, venue managers and publicists who knew someone there that night: in fact, some people in the industry are best friends while others date or are even married. Even someone here at Pollstar knew at least seven people at the event. They were there in the crowd who are thankfully now home safe.

Moving forward, that’s a tough one. Festivals will, in the long run, continue to thrive but in the short term there will certainly be changes – like offered refunds, apparently. Festival grounds will probably be more popular if they’re out in a Kansas cornfield.

A former FBI agent / DHS consultant told Pollstar he predicts there will be more NFL-like security, with police snipers and FBI agents lining the event (full interview next week). That may be extreme but one thing’s probable: those who thought it was funny that a guy buried a bottle of vodka on Randall’s Island in New York so he could retrieve it at Governors Ball are less likely to cheer it now. Instead, they’ll be at the next event wondering what’s under their feet. Will there be more mine sweeps and bomb-sniffing dogs? Who knows but the industry will get through it; it’s just going to adjust. Once again.

– Cincinatti