Musicians talk about playing live, keeping fans safe following Las Vegas shootings

BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene

What happened Sunday night – 58 dead, nearly 500 injured – at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on a fenced-in lot in Las Vegas would be sickening regardless of the setting.

But the fact that bloodshed and terror swept through another music event, the third in as many years – the Eagles of Death Metal show in Paris in 2015, Ariana Grande’s Manchester concert in May – is especially devastating.

It’s a question that increasingly, and disturbingly, haunts the thinking for musicians and their fans: What are the risks of simply making or loving live music?

“Music is never supposed to be a thing that could hurt anyone, whether they’re playing it or listening to it,” said Kristian Bush, who, as half of Atlanta’s Sugarland and with his own thriving solo career, has played venues ranging from 200-seat clubs to 55,000-plus capacity stadiums.

After hearing the news of the Vegas tragedy, Bush’s reaction was “deep dread,” a sentiment similar to many of his performer peers who expressed their sadness, anger and disbelief on social media.

“It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone who was just coming out to enjoy what should have been a fun night,” Jason Aldean wrote on Instagram, a few hours after a crazed gunman interrupted his performance with an onslaught of gunfire.

For Bush, thinking about the trauma that fans experienced at the country music festival, is weighty.

A plane takes off from McCarran International Airport near the site of the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

“I think the most difficult thought for me is imagining that somehow the act of coming together to listen to music could be putting people in danger,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I would never, ever, ever want a fan of mine or anyone else to be in danger. Ever. That is the part that leaves me the most twisted.”

For more than 30 years, Butch Walker has traveled the world as a guitar-slinging rocker and an ace producer for acts ranging from Taylor Swift to Keith Urban to Weezer. The Cartersville-bred musician said that he feels “absolutely awful for the families of these victims and for the trauma Jason Aldean and his crew have had to endure from this.”

While his resolve as a performer is strong, he worries about the “youth of America” and that they might have reservations about attending a festival or major gathering for fear of a violent attack.

Walker is also passionate and steadfast in his belief that something has to change in the aftermath of the Vegas heartbreak.

“I don’t really care what people say…this IS the time to talk about gun control. I know people get bent on ‘artists’ weighing in on things like this, but I’m a taxpayer, an American and probably one of the few Progressives that’s a gun enthusiast,” he said, noting that he grew up with guns in Georgia, shoots them regularly and owns them legally for protection. “I will be one of the many – including a lot of my military family – that agree that there needs to be changes made to the gun laws. It’s (expletive) stupid at this point and the argument is invalid and outdated. No ‘border wall’ or ‘travel ban’ will solve this…This is obviously a touchy subject for most people, but it’s not about politicizing it. It’s about making our country safe for the future. I hope that this will be talked about rationally and resolve will come.”

In the meantime, there are tours to complete and shows to perform. Music can be halted, but not silenced.

Bush was circumspect, but undaunted when thinking about the realities of his career.

“It scares me for sure,” he said. “But I didn’t stop when things scared me before, and I won’t stop now.”

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