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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 6, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 40
A cheerful, talent-packed music festival in Las Vegas ends in tragedy
Arts & Entertainment
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A cheerful, talent-packed music festival in Las Vegas ends in tragedy

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

'At the end of the day we arent Democrats or Republicans, Whites or Blacks, Men or Women. We are all humans and we are all Americans and its time to start acting like it and stand together as ONE!' - Jason Aldean

This is the third time in less than two years that I'm writing about a mass murder at a music event, something I hope doesn't become the norm. The attack at the Bataclan in Paris, the bombing at Manchester and the shooting at last weekend's Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas were all acts of terrorism. All were senseless. Though not directly music-related, the Pulse nightclub tragedy in Orlando is a fourth mass murder also falling into this time frame.

Country music fans from all over the world had convened at a 15-acre makeshift live performance venue called MGM Resorts Village at The Lot, across from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, on September 29 through October 1. The Route 91 Harvest Festival lineup featured a stellar list of mostly Nashville-based acts, including Maren Morris, Jake Owen, Lee Brice, Brothers Osborne, Big & Rich and its three headliners, Jason Aldean, Eric Church and Sam Hunt. An estimated 22,000 people were in attendance for the three-day event, which had quickly established itself as one of the nation's premiere country music festivals in just four short years.

It was during Aldean's closing set on the final evening, Sunday night, of the festival that a sniper perched on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel opened fire on the large crowd gathered about 400 yards from the resort. Within minutes, the shooter took the lives of over 50 innocent people (the latest death toll was 59) and hundreds more were injured.

Aldean, who won back-to-back ACM Awards for Entertainer of the Year in 2016 and 2017, interviewed ten years ago with Seattle Gay News, right about the time he began the climb to superstar fame. Yep, this hunky, broad-shouldered, cowboy hat-wearing, Georgia-born, Southern daddy spoke with me by phone in early 2007. And he was very sweet, even inviting me backstage to a show at the Tacoma Dome when he was booked as an opener (I wasn't able to make it); now, he can fill arenas from coast to coast as one of country's biggest touring acts.

Everybody's been to a concert before, some more recent than others. The last show I attended was Janet Jackson at Key Arena, two weeks ago. The last open-air performance I went to, similar to the Route 91 event, was when I saw Death Cab for Cutie at Bumbershoot in 2016. I never used to think anything like this would ever happen at a live show, that is until it started happening.

The Las Vegas victims, like those in Paris and Manchester, were a random assortment of people - nurses, teachers, librarians, city government employees, military veterans, small business owners, single moms, beloved grandfathers. They were just enjoying music on a warm fall evening with friends, family and colleagues; just having a good time. Many were from out of town, who were probably staying overnight in Las Vegas, perhaps venturing out to a casino floor, hotel bar, or casual restaurant after the concert, then sleeping the long afternoon and night off in their rooms. But they never made it back. They never left the concert grounds.

Among those injured were members of the Josh Abbott Band, who received shrapnel wounds during the attack. Guitarist Caleb Keeter wrote a living will and goodbye messages to his partner and family in fear that he wouldn't survive the deadly assault.

Owen, who was on stage with Aldean when the shooting began, described the incident vividly on social media by saying, 'This shooting was going on for at least 10 minutes. It was nonstop.'

Bob Rich, half of the duo Big & Rich, recalled the experience by stating 'It's like watching your family out there going through this. It's unbelievable and it makes you want to bawl your eyes out, to be honest with you.'

Aldean posted two statements on social media after the attack, the second was an emotional plea for unity. 'At the end of the day we arent Democrats or Republicans,' he said on Instagram. 'Whites or Blacks, Men or Women. We are all humans and we are all Americans and its time to start acting like it and stand together as ONE!'

Although pop acts Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and Celine Dion regularly perform in Las Vegas, as part of exclusive casino residencies, neither had a scheduled concert on Sunday night.

The Las Vegas attack is the deadliest mass murder on American soil in modern US history. Please keep the victims and their loved ones in your thoughts.

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