Musicians the world over have expressed their shock and sadness over the bombing at Ariana Grande’s concert in Manchester, England, on Monday, an attack that claimed the lives of 22 people and injured many more. Opinions have been divided on how artists should proceed under the threat of such violence, with some – Grande included – opting to postpone touring obligations for the time being.
Singer-songwriter Brent Cobb, who released Shine on Rainy Day in 2016, is currently touring the United Kingdom and was scheduled to play Manchester’s Deaf Institute on Tuesday, one day later. The tragedy at Grande’s show was clearly on the Georgia native’s mind as the date approached, and he wanted to be thoughtful about how he handled his arrival in town. He addressed his fans in the area via Facebook with a message. “While we do not want to be insensitive to your tragedy, we also refuse to let terrorism win,” he wrote. “Our hearts break for your loss and we will be there with you tonight to mourn and help heal.”
He posted a quick update after that show, accompanied by a photo: “Manchester, we did it. Together,” he wrote.
Rolling Stone Country spoke on the phone with Cobb, who plays a show in Birmingham, England, tonight, and talked about the eerie atmosphere of Manchester, along with the importance of carrying on in the face of tragedy.
Your Manchester show was thankfully free of any kind of incident. Where were you the day before, when news of the bombing was spreading?
The night before we had had an off day in London, and I believe we were just hanging out together, us and Colter Wall, not really up to anything. It got kind of late. We’d just gotten finished eating at a place called Texas Joe’s in London. We hung out there and we hung out at a little juke joint he’s got in the back. It’s all set up just like being back home. We got back to Colter’s AirBNB and again, just hanging out, picking guitars, doing regular band stuff. We got ready to go and my guitarist Mike, he’s the first one to see anything about it. He just said, “Holy shit, man. What is going on?” And he showed me the article about the bombing. It was crazy to be this close, especially in a foreign land. Not that it makes it any better when you’re back home and something crazy happens, but especially when you’re away like that, it made it a little different.
And then you had to roll into Manchester the next day?
We had a show scheduled for the next evening in Manchester. I was a little worried. I wasn’t worried about our safety. I was worried, initially – the first reaction I had was I didn’t want us to play a show and it come across as insensitive. My second reaction was, I also didn’t want to endanger anybody. I didn’t want people to feel, oh, the guy from the States is here and not even on his own home turf and he’s willing to come play. I didn’t want people to feel pressured to come out, either. Those were my first initial emotions. I didn’t want people to think we were insensitive, I didn’t want people to feel like they had to come if we played, but I also didn’t want to not play. You can’t let that terrorism win, which is why I sent that [Facebook] note out.
Part of what musicians of all levels do, is you’re providing entertainment and a place for people to enjoy themselves. It’s almost like giving terrorists what they want if you decide not to do that.
Exactly. Music brings people together, which is exactly what people who terrorize people don’t want to happen. People don’t want people to enjoy themselves with other people enjoying themselves.
What does it say to you that terrorism is entering this space, where you have things happening at shows like Ariana Grande’s and the Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris?
A buddy of mine, [Julian] Dorio, was playing drums for the Eagles when that happened. Man, it’s just a shame. It’s apparent it’s not working in any other way. It just seems like they’re going after … I don’t know. The more it doesn’t work, the harder the blow it seems. Man, I mean, it’s just so sad. It’s a shame. I wish that it didn’t exist.
It’s always a terrible tragedy, with more than 20 people dying in this latest attack, a lot of them kids. How do you even come to grips with that?
Kids! And kids that – they don’t give a fuck. Like, they’re having a blast. Kids that are just getting old enough to enjoy and experience the world for the first time. They don’t know that they have to worry about anything. It’s just terrible.
So what was it like for you, playing in Manchester, one day removed from this?
Well, before we played there we had to arrive there. I was so conscious and aware of the moment, as we pulled in. There were kids hanging out on the sidewalk, just got out of school. There were people on the sidewalks hanging out. It did not seem like a place a terrorist attack had happened the night before. So that was hopeful. It was nice pulling in there and it being that way, life going on. Then the gig came and we got to the venue. To be honest, right when we got there I did scout the whole, how-to-get-off-the-stage area out. And where if something were to happen would I go, and just to try to be aware [laughs]. You feel weird doing that, getting to a venue and thinking about things that way because it takes such a pure moment and it doesn’t feel as pure. I was never really scared, up until the show came. And I wouldn’t say I was scared then, but I was just, my senses were heightened. And everyone in the room, you could tell was that way. We didn’t have as big a crowd as we would have had, but we had a decent little crowd. You could tell we all felt, like, you know, united we stand, as everybody says. It really did feel that way, but you could also sense there was an eeriness in the air. People were just being cautious I think. But after about the first three or four songs, we were all loosened up. It turned into a celebration.
Do you think you helped give them some catharsis, or helped ease the tension and grief?
Maybe I had something to do with it, but I think it was just mainly everybody being able to get out and be in the room together and all together go, “We’re not scared, man. We’re gonna have these pints and we’re gonna enjoy ourselves.” That was really cool to be a part of. After our set my guitarist and I went out to the patio and everybody came out to the patio. We just all hung out, out there and smoked cigarettes and it was awesome. Talked about the night, talked about the day before. Just really, it was like hanging out with your friends and family.
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What measures do you think we can take in the U.S., on a small level, on a city level, to try to prevent these things happening?
It’s really hard to say. And there’s a little bit of division. There’s a little divide between people on the stances of that. I don’t really know what the solution is. I don’t know if there is a solution. The only thing to do is, I think you just have to live.
Anything else you’d like to add about your experience over there and the people you’ve met in the wake of this tragedy?
Everyone has just remained normally living. I know that’s not a beautiful message but really people have just been going about their business. It’s nice to see. Last night in London I made mention about Manchester, and I’m sure there were a lot people either from Manchester that were at the show last night or had family and friends there. I said exactly what you and I have talked about. … It’s just nice that we’re not letting it stop us from living, and the whole place agreed. Everyone’s been that way.