Live Music After Manchester Bombing at Ariana Grande Show - Rolling Stone
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Live Music After Manchester

In the wake of the horrific Ariana Grande concert bombing, fans and the industry face tough questions

Music's Scary New Reality Manchester Ariana Grande ShowMusic's Scary New Reality Manchester Ariana Grande Show

Read how the Manchester bombing has affected both venue security and parents' views on letting their children attend concerts.


There have been deadlier incidents – at Paris’ Bataclan theater, where three gunmen killed 90 fans at an Eagles of Death Metal concert in 2015, and at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, where a shooter killed 49 last year. But the May 22nd bombing at an Ariana Grande concert at England’s Manchester Arena was a new kind of horror. The attack was shocking both for its apparent targeting of young people, and for the ease with which it was carried out: By detonating his device in a foyer area just outside the venue, the 22-year-old bomber found a way to circumvent security at a major arena. “My first thought is, ‘How do they let this guy in a venue?’ Because everybody has cracked down on security,” says Bob McLynn, manager of Lorde, Sia and Fall Out Boy. “But this is a different thing.”

The attack happened just as the summer concert season was kicking off, presenting a new dilemma for a music industry already struggling with the issue of concert safety. “It will have an impact on sales for certain shows,” says David T. Viecelli, agent for Arcade Fire, St. Vincent and others. “Because parents making decisions will be more frightened for their kids’ safety than other adults would be for their own.”

The Bataclan incident ushered in a new era of event security, making dogs, metal detectors and heavy guard presence a way of life. “Just a few years ago, people objected strenuously to being patted down,” says Steven A. Adelman, vice president of Event Safety Alliance, a trade association focused on awareness of safety and security measures at live events. “People just accept that now.”

Going forward, fans may have to expect almost Orwellian levels of security outside major venues. Chris Robinette, CEO of Prevent Advisors, which serves as a security consultant for 26 arenas, including Madison Square Garden and the L.A. Forum, sees Manchester as a “paradigm shift” in how sites will think about staying safe. “We have to harden the outer core,” he says. This means expanding security far outside of venues, including invisible anti-drone technology, and highly sensitive “Vapor Wake” dogs, which can smell explosives up to 10 minutes after they have left an area. “It’s no longer just the venue,” says Robinette. “Facilities need to start thinking, ‘It’s not just inside my gate and the bowl. It’s the parking lots, it’s the foyers.’ ” (This kind of monitoring was successful at Paris’ Stade de France soccer stadium, where in 2015 heavy perimeter security prevented a bomber from getting close.) Robinette adds that his major venues will also be working closer with the FBI to monitor social media: “There’s intelligence now that came out that four hours prior to the attack, an ISIS-related tweet said, ‘We have more,’ and it was attributed in Manchester. How do we actively look at people who are suggesting becoming bad actors?”

Many smaller venues cannot afford that technology. David Yorio, a managing director at Citadel Security Agency, which has worked New York shows for decades, is advising facilities to collaborate with local police to avoid clusters of people entering or exiting sites at the same time, and to provide more security dogs. “It’s naive to say, ‘Well, they’re 10 feet away from the venue, they’re not my responsibility,’ ” Yorio says. Other industry experts are skeptical about big changes. “The only way to prevent the threat is to make it illegal for humans to be within 100 feet of each other,” says Viecelli. David Schwester, a promoter for outdoor events like Isle of Wight, says music festivals are especially hard to police: “These concertgoers come with camping gear and huge bags. Checking everything is not logistically possible. Festivalgoers will have to concede they are taking a risk and make a decision for themselves.”

After Manchester, artists and fans have struggled with how to move forward. Grande described herself as “broken” and suspended her tour for two weeks. On Twitter, Ed Sheeran fans weighed whether to attend his upcoming concert at London’s O2 Arena. Justin Bieber fans besieged his manager Scooter Braun (who also manages Grande), asking him to cancel Bieber’s European tour. “Not going to happen,” Braun said. “We will never let evil stop us from living our life with joy.”

For many of Grande’s young fans, it was their first concert, and a chance to celebrate an artist they see as an icon of female empowerment. “Ariana’s all about love and joy – that’s why there were so many children and parents there,” says Ellie Clayton, an 18-year-old Manchester attendee. “We went from a room with so much love to …  the mood instantly dropped.” Nick Haywood, a 46-year-old father whose daughter was inside, remains shaken from seeing parents calling children’s names as crowds exited. “I’ll still go to concerts – it’s not going to stop me,” he adds. Others aren’t as certain. “Fair play to the parents saying they want their children to fight back,” says Craig Miller, whose wife and 11-year-old daughter, Elisha, attended the show. “But Elisha will not be going to a concert again. It is not worth the risk. She is far too precious. And Elisha has been in such a state since, I don’t think she’d want to go again herself.”

Additional reporting by Sian Hewitt and John Vilanova


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