The Tragedy in Vegas Will (and Should) Change Festival Culture Forever

It’s a new day for America in the wake of the Las Vegas shootings at the Route 91 Harvest Festival last Sunday. Sadly, it’s a dark one. There’s no way to get our minds wrapped around the impact that an event like this has on an entire country and live music as a whole. And yet there’s no denying that it also feels so excruciatingly personal to the community who felt the ripple effect more than 250 miles away in our little corner of the world.

Orange County, a long time bastion of country music, was directly hit by this shooting and heartbroken by the news of locals who lost their lives. We were crushed to hear about the loss 28 year-old Andrea Castilla, a young country fan from Orange who was fatally shot during the asshole gunman’s violent 10 minute killing spree. In addition to working at Sephora and as a dental hygienist, Castilla was also the sister of Adam Castilla, singer and guitarist of breakout local band The Colourist. In a tearful goodbye on Facebook this week, Adam’s pain was felt by many who knew him and his sister personally.

“Andrea my beloved sister, I can’t even close my eyes without picturing the joy you brought to me and this world,” he wrote. “Never have I had something so precious ripped from my life. I am completely shattered.
You were a light that came into this world on my birthday, you are the greatest gift life has ever given me.”

Another local country musician, Daniel Bonte, was in the crowd during the shootings and experienced the blood and carnage first hand as victims like 29 year-old Sonny Melton died right in front of him.

“An innocent man named Sonny died in my arms….right in front of his wife Heather…,” he wrote on his Facebook wall days after the attack. “Myself and several strangers did what we could to save him, but when we got him to the hospital he was gone. The other man named “Sarge” who was loaded in the truck with us passed as well.. I keep seeing their faces, and I close my eyes and I pray because that’s all I can do…
Take nothing for granted…live and love as big as you can because it could be taken away from you unexpectedly.”

News of the shooting and the list of those killed and injured continued to reveal name after name, one horrifying connection after another for those in OC who either knew someone or had a friend of a friend that did. The victims list of OC country fans totaled 4 including Castilla, Candice Bowers of Garden Grove, Brian Fraser of La Palma and Victor Link of Aliso Viejo according to the Orange County Register.

The sobering days that followed the shooting left us with questions that will likely take weeks and months to answer, not least of which is the question of what compelled the deranged killer Stephen Paddock to take innocent lives. Sadly it’s something we’ll never be able to fully understand. In the search for some kind of answers, pundits and other media have offered waves of Op-Eds and reports questioning everything from gun laws to country music’s relationship with the NRA and security procedures at hotels and festivals that could make this country and our public events safer in the future.

But the ugly truth is that we’ll never be able to legislate or publicly shame ourselves out of another terrorist attack like this. And the likelihood that someone will try this kind of thing again is inevitable. Outside of the killing itself, whether it was last weekend’s massacre, or Pulse Night Club or the Manchester bombing during an Ariana Grande concert, the fact that society has become more and more numb to these kinds of events is the biggest crime of all.

So as lovers of live music, what can we do? In a world where the growth of music festivals is seemingly at an all time high, the fact that a situation like this impacted a massive live music event will no doubt result in some serious changes in the way we approach these types of concerts from the promoters to the security guards to the fans.

The latter of the three is the most vital and also the most vulnerable. Of course festivals and public gatherings like the one in Vegas have always had the same litany of issues that made them potentially hazardous. We were never immune to drug overdoses, violence and sexual assault. But for some reason crowding under the umbrella of a corporation selling us a good time made it easier to believe that were were, until it happened to us or someone we knew. For many of us, this first major incident of live music terrorism in America finally makes us realize that music festivals shouldn’t ever be taken for granted as safe spaces just because they’re expensive, fun and fenced-in.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you should think twice about whether or not to go to Coachella this year. It does mean stopping to think—at least once—about having some emergency contacts on you in case you lose your phone. It means knowing where local area hospitals are in case you need to access them or find a loved one, familiarizing yourself with the layout of the festival ground or having conversations with your group of friends to make sure you have some kind of game plan to keep each other safe over a long weekend. It might sound weird to prepare for the best time of your life and potentially the worst time of your life all at once, but that’s the world we live in now. Most of all, an event like this reminds us that in a terror attack like this our first line of defense will always be ourselves and each other.

As the harrowing stories of bravery from festival goers continue to be reported, one common thread is the selflessness of strangers helping strangers. In order to survive, festivalgoers did everything they could and in some cases gave up their lives to shield others from the bullets. In all of the despair surrounding the last few days and all the questions I’ve personally had as a member of the media who routinely goes to festivals as part of my job, this is the one thing that brings me hope—that when called upon, a community bound together by the power of music and all the good that it creates will always outweigh the evil in the world. It will always heal us in times of despair. Though it’s a theory that’s been tested over and over throughout history, it’s the first time in my lifetime when I and many live music fans in OC have seen its effects hit so hard and close to home.

After this week, there’s no question that the innocence of our festival culture is gone, if it was ever truly there in the first place. And in the coming years the ways in which we’re forced to adapt to terror through the safety precautions of the companies who put on live music events will create an environment where true escapism will be hard or impossible to achieve. But one thing I’m certain of is that a horrific event like this should never kill is a sense of responsibility for one another and helping the person standing next to us in the crowd walk out alive whether we walked in together or not. If anything, it should strengthen that responsibility exponentially. A sincere thank you to all those who sacrificed themselves for someone else in Las Vegas at Route 91. You are the example that I and everyone else who goes to a festival from now on should always measure themselves by.

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