Musicians Add 'Counterterrorism Briefing' to Pre-Grammy Schedule

Pink, Little Big Town, Chris Stapleton, Run the Jewels and Young Thug will attend briefing on concert security

For the first time, US State Department and EU officials will give a pre-Grammy security briefing to high-profile artists such as Pink and Young Thug. Credit: Anthony DelMundo/NY Daily News/Getty Images

In light of the recent attacks on concerts in Manchester, Las Vegas and Paris, this year's Grammy weekend will feature a new component: a counterterrorism briefing for musicians with State Department and European Union officials.

The all-day training, held in a Times Square hotel suite on Saturday, will include briefings to a number of high-profile Grammy attendees, including Pink, Little Big Town, Chris Stapleton, Run the Jewels and Young Thug, among others. While venues typically provide standard security briefings ahead of each event, and the Recording Academy provides some guidance to its members, this off-site briefing is the first to provide non-event-specific best practices from US State Department and European Union officials directly to the musicians themselves.

An official from the State Department's Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) who asked to remain anonymous says that advice given to musicians and their teams on Saturday will include creating situational awareness, identifying vulnerable points and times of increased risk, avoiding time and place predictability and crafting a contingency plan. Two former State Department officials are among the group of experts that will address the group.

"Behind arms, music and entertainment are the largest Western exports, and musicians and entertainers serve as ambassadors around the world. Attacks against them generate a lot of coverage, and send a powerful message. It makes sense that they would be targeted," Dr. Amir Bagherpour, an ISIS expert who served as the first Director of Analytics in the U.S. State Department under President Obama, tells Rolling Stone. Bagherpour is affiliated with Progress Humanity, the Washington, D.C., non-profit organization hosting the pre-Grammy briefing, and will be one of the briefing's expert trainers.

"Since 9/11, there have been only three major attacks on concerts, one of which wasn't ISIS or so-called 'Muslim terrorism' but a lone wolf shooter," Bagherpour said. "But it only takes one 9/11 to change how people respond to each other."

Scott Ialacci, better known as DJ Skribble, is an actor and DJ who will be performing at the pre-Grammy briefing. He says he isn't particularly engaged with his security protocols now, but recent events have made him want to learn more about how to protect himself. 

Ialacci will be attending the briefing to get insight that he can implement when he tours later in the spring. "I have been touring for over 30 years all over the world, so I have watched the evolution of security needs from being much more casual to now, needing to take concerns like terrorists at concerts into consideration," Ialacci says. "I'm coming to the briefing, DJ'ing there and inviting other touring artists I know to join because I feel we should all keep up-to-date with safety opportunities for the sake of ourselves, our crews and our fans."

"We have great security teams who do their best," he adds. "But if we can get extra information, why not take it?"

Marcel Altenburg, one of the world's leading crowd scientists and a former captain in the German military, tells Rolling Stone that it's not enough to simply look at a venue's immediate vicinity when preparing security protocols. Altenburg has consulted on dozens of arenas, sporting events, concerts and airports around the world, most famously in Washington, D.C., during the 2017 presidential inauguration. He preaches that the potential targets for a venue begin at attendees' front doors and follows them until they've gone to the event and returned home.

"We always ask, where does it begin to become apparent that this group of people is going to your event?" Altenburg says from his office at Manchester Metropolitan University. "Is it on the subway or a bus an hour away? Is it in an overflow parking lot? You have to think it all the way through. At what point will they be visible as a crowd and identified as connected to you?"

It's a concern shared by James Barbour, spokesperson for the European Union delegation in the United States, who will be briefing musicians on steps the EU is taking to protect them and their performances. This type of briefing is new to Barbour, but he says it's similar to ones he might give any group concerned about their security in Europe. "Terrorism doesn't discriminate," he says. "It doesn't care if you're a musician or a group of doctors at a conference, or students, or circus clowns."

During the pre-Grammy briefing, experts are expected to urge performers be cautious, but not allow fear to change the way they engage with their music, and their fans.

"You're more likely to be hit by lightning - twice - than you are to be attacked at a concert," Bagherpour says. "It's not something in which the general public should be in constant fear of. But this is how terrorism works, by instilling hypervigilance."