After Las Vegas Shooting, Live Music Organizers Look Cautiously Forward

Promoters thought they had security under control following Paris and Manchester. The Route 91 festival proved there's more work to do

After the Las Vegas shooting massacre, live music organizers are considering numerous new options to handle security in the future. Credit: AP/REX Shutterstock

In the weeks since a shooter killed 58 people and wounded more than 500 others at Las Vegas' Route 91 Harvest festival, Kevin Lyman, producer of the long-running Warped Tour, has been thinking a lot about security at his outdoor festival. In recent years, he'd already added police dogs and more barricades, and started contacting Homeland Security for help before shows. "It's at the forefront of my mind: How am I going to keep the kids safe?" he says. "My job hasn't been fun for a while. I used to worry about weather patterns and lightning storms. There's no way that anyone could've thought something like this would've happened."

Deadly attacks over the past two years, from Orlando, Florida, to Manchester, England, have forced concert organizers to drastically heighten their security, adding measures like anti-drone technology and moving crowd checkpoints far outside venue doors. But the Vegas massacre is causing them to grapple with an entirely new kind of attack.

"This one's a real game-changer because you have someone looking down at the very large crowd," says Bob O'Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy, which hosts Chicago's Lollapalooza. "That has to be secured." David Yorio, an owner of Citadel Security Agency, which oversees New York shows and festivals, says the attack will "redefine how we look at large outdoor gatherings." In the future, he says, urban festivals may look like a presidential or papal visit, complete with rooftop snipers. "They're going to have dozens of eyes on every window, every vantage point around the event."

O'Neill was shaken when he heard that Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock likely intended to attack Lollapalooza. Paddock booked two rooms at the nearby Blackstone Hotel for August, directly in view of one of the park's biggest exits (though he never showed up). "When the 
crowd funnels out, it's wall-to-wall people," says O'Neill. "It would've
 been awful." He adds that discussions are already happening 
with police and Lollapalooza, and 
a top priority will be monitoring
 surrounding hotel rooms. 

In the future, festivals may look like a presidential or papal visit.

Other options considered include running background 
checks on guests before they arrive, having police routinely screen 
rooms and putting customers' bags through security machines. Chad Callaghan, security consultant for 
the American Hotel & Lodging Association, is looking at some of 
those options for the major hotels 
he advises, but says he's worried they may turn off customers. "A knee-jerk reaction to any event that causes people's privacy to be interrupted could have severe consequences," he says.

There are other challenges: Lollapalooza is also surrounded by residential buildings. "Some lunatic could rent an Airbnb," says O'Neill. To tackle that problem, security experts are figuring out how to monitor buildings from the outside. Mike Downing, vice president of Prevent Advisors – a firm that advises on security for 28 arenas, including Madison Square Garden – is suggesting his clients have high-intensity lights available that security can shine onto distant buildings, helping them spot and blind an attacker.

Downing also recommends what he calls "overwatch" prep, which entails drivIng around near outdoor concerts before they happen and analyzing possible bullet trajectories from those buildings. "Someone called it the 'trigonometry of terrorism,' " he says. "When we do a protection detail for a diplomat or a president, we look at angles and trajectories from high-ground locations that could possibly target kill zones, and how you mitigate that." Downing recently worked with Iraqi generals on security protocols. "One of them asked me, 'How could such a mature, developed society such as America have this kind of savagery all the time?'"

All of these changes will cost money. Yorio suggests promoters could soon add about $100,000 for security at large events, which amounts up to an extra $2 per ticket. Veteran promoter Randy Phillips says he has recently increased his budget by about 25 percent. "You need police, local SWAT teams … more closed-circuit TV scrutiny," he says.

Artists are spending
 more on security too, including terrorism insurance that covers finances in the wake of an attack or threat. This helped Ariana Grande when she canceled several dates after a terrorist set off a bomb at her Manchester show. Costing more than two percent of an artist's guarantee, this insurance was previously viewed as too expensive outside of high-risk countries, but John Tomlinson of the major insurance firm Lockton Cos. says that "virtually 100 percent of our touring clients elected to secure terrorism insurance post-Manchester. Vegas only served to reaffirm that decision."

Many insiders are skeptical that any security measure could have prevented Route 91. "We can advance ever more quickly toward a security police state," says David T. Viecelli, agent for Arcade Fire and others. "Or we could just do what the rest of the world does and get rid of a lot of the guns."

Days after Route 91, more than 200,000 people gathered in Texas' Zilker Park for the Austin City Limits Music Festival. They experienced an increased police presence and long entrance lines, though only a few people seemed to mind. "When you ramp up security like this, it impacts your ability to feel free," said concertgoer Beau Redfield. Backstage, some artists were on edge. "I've been a wreck all week," said Band of Heathens' Gordy Quist.

Singer Valerie June described feeling anxious on the plane on her way to the show. "It hit me: 'I'm going to play a music festival.'" Those fears dissipated once she stepped onstage and saw people ready to dance. "I looked out and was just super-grateful that people's hearts aren't closing," she said. 

Additional reporting by Jeff Gage