Sound and safety: Musicians and local fans react to the Vegas music-festival shooting

And why we'll never stop seeing concerts.

click to enlarge Fan, Boy: Legend Billington, 8, attends a Band of Horses concert at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on October 6, 2017. - c/o Lauren Billington
c/o Lauren Billington
Fan, Boy: Legend Billington, 8, attends a Band of Horses concert at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida on October 6, 2017.

It’s been three weeks since bleary-eyed Floridians woke up to news that a gunman had killed several people at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. As the hours rolled on, and the internet did what it does, videos bounced off social networks like Snapchat and Twitter and onto mainstream news channels, warning viewers about the graphic images they were about to see. A click transported you to the moment shots began to ring out from a 32nd-story balcony hundreds of yard from the stage.

UPDATE: 59 dead, more than 500 injured after shooting at Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas

Details unfolded, and we learned that the shooter — a 64-year-old, millionaire retired real estate investor named Stephen Paddock — stocked a massive arsenal of guns in the Mandalay Bay Hotel room from which he would fire upon the 22,000 people gathered to see country star Jason Aldean. What initially sounded like fireworks were actually bullets, fired from guns outfitted with bump-stocks (which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire more like automatic ones). As victims in the massive crowd were treated for wounds suffered on festival grounds, images of fallen festival attendees, lost Stetsons and crying cowboys made their way to the eyes of a watching world. Eventually, we learned that 59 people died in the terrorist attack media outlets have dubbed “the worst mass shooting in modern American history.”

Aldean — who was just in Tampa for a boozy summertime performance at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre — took to Instagram to say that the events he witnessed were “beyond horrific.” He sent thoughts and prayers to everyone involved, along with just about everybody else with a Facebook account. Nonprofit pro-gun lobby The National Rifle Association mostly remained silent, though, and pols reminded us that it just wasn’t the right time to talk about gun control.

Review: In Tampa, Jason Aldean gets boozy and leads fans through the ultimate happy hour (w/photos)

Still, at the center of it all was the truly horrific reminder of the reality that even concerts — where the world goes to be moved by the simple sound of a song — were never truly sacred spaces safe from the twisted fantasies of some asshole with a gun.

“I don’t know what to make of it, really. Like most people, I am in shock and a little bit of denial,” yacht-rock singer Michael McDonald told CL in an interview days after the shooting. McDonald, 65, is scheduled to play the Clearwater Jazz Holiday on October 21, and noted that he hunted and collected guns in his younger days. “I was fascinated by guns, but for some reason this NRA lobby prohibits us from even bringing up the subject of why we’re making it easier for mentally impaired people to buy firearms.”

Against Me! guitarist James Bowman — who brings his punk band to play two nights of Big Pre-Fest in Ybor City at the end of this month — shelters his 5-year-old son from the news and said events like Vegas do stick in the back of his mind.

“You don’t necessarily try to forget about it, but it’s such a hard thing that does hit close to home because of the business we’re in. We all know what happened, and it’s the furthest thing you want to happen on any day,” Bowman, 37, said. “It doesn’t come up in everyday conversation because it is so scary.”

But Bowman’s tour rolls on, and so did Bay area concertgoers.

Two days after the attack, 15,000 Jack Johnson fans piled into the amphitheatre on the Florida State Fairgrounds. Kelsey and Joe Mitchals, both 27, sat on the lawn and brought their 2-year-old son Rylan and his 8-week-old brother Jackson. There was a little apprehension, but overall the vibe of the show by Johnson — a laid-back pro surfer turned songwriter — was what their family needed. At a Sunday concert by rising R&B star SZA, a sold-out Orpheum crowd was triumphant in the way it sang back every word. Down the street at Crowbar’s Ol’ Dirty Sundays, it was business as usual with a packed concert crowd from a show by electro producer Com Truise mixing in with the B-boys and girls gathered for the late-night hip-hop party.

Review: Band of Horses unleashed a bright, smiling set of folk-rock gems at St. Pete’s Jannus Live (w/photos +setlist)

And at Friday’s Band of Horses show at Jannus Live, a most enduring symbol of a collective scene’s unbreakable spirit manifested itself in 8-year-old Legend Billington, who attended the concert with his mom Lauren. She admitted to being nervous about the plethora of dark windows that sit above and around the famed courtyard venue, but made a conscious decision to watch the show from the outer edge of the crowd.

“We paid attention to the exits, and I made sure Legend knew all his emergency numbers and his address,” Lauren, 43, told CL, adding that discussing a tragedy like Vegas is a fine line for a kid his age. “I have not had to explain it to him — instead we talk about good, critical thinking in the case of an emergency.”

But why would she bring an 8-year-old to a rock show?

“For one, he loves the band,” she said, adding that every memory she has is related to a song, lyric band or venue. Billington won’t let anyone take that away from her or her family, and wants her kids to experience as much of the world as possible without being ruled by fear. “There are many risks we take daily. I’m more anxious about taking them to national monuments, Disney World, and sports events than I am about bringing them to smaller local concerts.

“I tell my sons all the time that ‘we only get each day once,’” she added before inadvertently explaining Bay area music fans’ resilience in the face of horror:

 “They are encouraged to be positive risk-takers and to do the things that they love with the people they love.”

Taking risks for the love of live music. That’s the simple answer for why we go to concerts, and it’s the simple reason why we’ll never let anything take those experiences away from us

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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