Route 91 Harvest Festival ‘17: A tragedy that could have been prevented?

Violence and festivals have been linked ever since a fateful evening in California when Meredith Hunter was stabbed at the Altamont Free Concert during the Rolling Stones show (Yusko, 2020). The violence has never stopped since then, but it has taken on other forms and, especially, more victims. Such was the case in Las Vegas in 2017, when a lone gunman decided to open fire on the unsuspecting crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. 

On October 1st, 2017, country star Jason Aldean was slated to play the quite well-known Harvest Route 91 Festival. Aldean had played at the first iteration of the festival back in 2014 as well (Kaufman, 2017), however, little did he know that he would play both the first and the last edition. During Aldean’s set, a lone gunman took aim at the gathered crowd from a window in the hotel opposite the festival, the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino (New York Times, 2017), and he started shooting into the crowd. 59 people were killed and more than 500 were injured in the following aftermath (New York Times, 2017). It was one of the worst mass shootings in modern US history. 

To get a clear idea of the setup of the situation it is important to know who was involved; The shooter was by all accounts unassuming; He held no strong religious or political views and had never experienced any angry outbursts (Real, D. & Bromwich, J, 2017). For the intent of this essay and the author’s disagreement with glorifying perpetrators, we will not discuss further details  in-depth on the shooter but will instead treat him as just that, a shooter. 

The festival had been organised by Live Nation, a music conglomerate that had organized over 29,000 shows in 2017 alone (Statista, 2021). For many events, Live Nation is the venue owner, the promoter, manager, and more. In this instance, the Harvest Route 91 festival was promoted and organised by Live Nation, so effectively they were the promoter for this show (Fadroski, 2017).

The artist performing at that very moment was Jason Aldean, a successful country star with more than 4 billion streams and 18 million albums sold. He had just finished his sixth song when the shooter commenced his reign of terror. Aldean rushed off stage as soon as he caught on to what was happening (Kix Country Music, n.d.). 

The shooter had been staying on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, from where he could get a clear line of sight to the festival. Over the course of seven days, the shooter was able to carry in 21 suitcases filled with guns and ammunition (Yee, 2018). 

After the horrible events had unfolded, all involved parties had to deal with the aftermath. Aldean canceled a week’s worth of performances (Salam, 2017), which, of course, resulted in revenue loss, but at the same time it would have been perhaps more damaging to his brand and image in the long term if he had not canceled the following performances. 

Live Nation on the other hand had more responsibility. Whereas artists are generally never responsible for the crowd’s safety, except due to malintent, the promoter is. Of course, Live Nation cannot comb out the entire city beforehand in search of potential dangers but as discussed in the FEMA rapport (2018), it was clear that Live Nation did not even have adequate medical personnel on the grounds for an incident this size. At the same time, Live Nation had offered refunds to all visitors, which amounted to roughly 22,000 people times $265 dollars (Burns, 2017) resulting in about $6,000,000 in refunds. It seems they were somewhat slow with these refunds as they were sued by several visitors (Burns, 2017). Besides being sued for refunds, they were also sued due to inadequate, and the lack of security measures (Burns, 2017).

Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino was in quite some legal hot waters. They had been sued by several victims and visitors of the festival and in a perhaps unwise PR moment, decided to counter sue (Clark, 2019). In the end, they settled with the claimants to the tune of $800 million dollars. Of that amount, $751 million was paid out by insurance, so the monetary damage, in the end, could have been much worse. Since a settlement had been reached, it would be logical to assume the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino was to some extent liable. Regarding any bad press, it seems the resort was unaffected in the long term since bookings picked up again within a month or two. This is mainly due to conventions, which cannot be moved easily (Prince, T. & Raz. N. 2017). 

To figure out how to prevent catastrophes like this from occurring in the future, it is necessary to look at different solutions. Every solution has its pros and cons, therefore, we will take a brief look at the advantages and disadvantages every involved party would deal with. 

The first solution would be ‘target hardening and attack prevention.’ This is a term commonly used by the police force. It means that festivals should cover all bases and prepare to prevent an attack. This could include metal detectors, screening at the entrance, and high alert security teams (Jukely, 2017). The downside for all parties could be that visitors could feel less safe due to the increase in visible security measures. It could potentially spoil the atmosphere. However, it could also lead to an increase in feelings of safety, and in the end, it should lead to improved safety.

Two other methods that could be employed are ‘Cover’ and ‘Concealment,’ terms often used in the risk assessment industry. Cover entails obstructing any lines of sight into the festival. This way a potential shooter cannot choose a target or shoot into the event. For this method, it is physically impossible to introduce foreign objects into a crowd (Hurley, 2017). The pros are better safety for all visitors. However, this method can also create a ‘closed in’ atmosphere which can detract from the atmosphere. Concealment also obstructs lines of sight but by way of tents, banners, thin fences, etc. this, therefore, provides visual concealment but foreign objects will still be able to enter a crowd (Hurley, 2017). Concealment could potentially be beneficial for the promoter since he can use branded concealment as an extra advertising revenue stream. For the attendees, concealment will often enhance the mood and increase safety, but in the end, a shooter could still potentially shoot into the crowd. The audience members will not be able to see where the shooting is coming from and thus it could create an even more dangerous environment. 

Due to the difficulty of implementation of the above-mentioned measures, a required legal checklist could be set up for festivals and live events. This responsibility lies with all live promoters collectively. However, it can be suggested that a separate independent entity should be responsible for checking and monitoring this. 

Eliminating violence should always be a top priority for promoters and festival organisers, but as history has shown us, even after 50 years, violence is still an all-present factor at mass gatherings. Hopefully, the live industry can rally together and implement standardised security checklists that could have prevented the tragic events at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Certainly, federal gun control also plays into live event safety, however, this discussion is beyond the scope of this paper. All in all, this tragedy had a huge impact on the live music industry, however, it could have been prevented with the right safety measures that are suggested to be implemented at any live event.

References

Barlowe, K (2018). The Day That Changed Las Vegas in 2017: How a Mass Murderer Shook Up Everything We Know About Casino Security. https://www.casino.org/news/how-the-mandalay-bay-shooting-changed-security-measures-in-2017/

Burns, S. (2018). Lawsuit Filed Asking Live Nation to Refund All Route 91 Festival Attendees. https://www.ticketnews.com/2018/02/live-nation-sued-refunds-route-91/

Burns, S. (2018). Promoter, Hotel Targeted in New Las Vegas Massacre Lawsuit. https://www.ticketnews.com/2017/10/promoter-hotel-sued-las-vegas-massacre/

Fadroski, K. (2017). Concert promoter Live Nation responds to the deadly shooting at its Route 91 Harvest festival. https://www.ocregister.com/2017/10/02/concert-promoter-live-nation-responds-to-the-deadly-shooting-at-its-route-91-harvest-festival/

FEMA (August 24th, 2018). 1 October After-Action Report. Page 12. https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=814668

Hurley, L. (2017). 3 Experts, 3 Perspectives on Security for Music Festivals. https://www.specialevents.com/fairsfestivals/3-experts-3-perspectives-security-music-festivals

Jason Aldean Official Website. About Jason. https://www.jasonaldean.com/jasonaldean

Jukely (2017). MUSIC FESTIVALS WORK TO IMPROVE SAFETY IN 3 KEY AREAS https://fouroverfour.jukely.com/culture/safety-at-music-festivals/

Kaufman, G. (2017). Billboard. A Brief History of the Route 91 Harvest Festival. https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/country/7981988/route-91-harvest-festival-history

Kix Country Music, n.d. JASON ALDEAN RUSHES OFF STAGE MID-SONG DURING LAS VEGAS SHOOTING. https://www.kixcountry.com.au/country-confidential/46860-jason-aldean-rushes-off-stage-mid-song-during-las-vegas-shooting

New York Times (2017). Multiple Weapons Found in Las Vegas Gunman’s Hotel Room. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/us/las-vegas-shooting.html

New York Times (2017). A Burst of Gunfire, a Pause, Then Carnage in Las Vegas That Would Not Stop. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/us/las-vegas-shooting-live-updates.html

Oppel, R. (2019). MGM Agrees to Pay Las Vegas Shooting Victims Up to $800 Million.

Prince, T. & Raz. N. (2017). Mandalay Bay struggles to find footing after Las Vegas shooting. https://www.reviewjournal.com/business/casinos-gaming/mandalay-bay-struggles-to-find-footing-after-las-vegas-shooting/

Real, D. & Bromwich, J. (2017). Stephen Paddock, Las Vegas Suspect, Was a Gambler Who Drew Little Attention. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/us/stephen-paddock-vegas-shooter.html?action=click&module=RelatedCoverage&pgtype=Article&region=Footer

Salam, M. (2017). Jason Aldean Cancels Shows to ‘Mourn the Ones We Have Lost’. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/03/arts/music/jason-aldean-vegas-shooting.html

Statista (January 8th, 2021). Number of concerts and festivals promoted by Live Nation from 2008 to 2019. https://www.statista.com/statistics/193725/number-of-concerts-and-festivals-promoted-by-live-nation-since-2008/

Yee, V. (2018). Video Shows Las Vegas Gunman Gambling, Eating Alone and Filling His Suite With Guns. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/22/us/las-vegas-shooting-stephen-paddock.html

Yusko, D. (2020). The short life and tragic death of Meredith Hunter. https://medium.com/@day4343/the-short-life-and-tragic-death-of-meredith-hunter-fb6eee23b5ad

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