On Manchester, security, and the future of live music

Words cannot express the pain we feel in our chests following the news coming out of Manchester earlier this week. Countless people have tried to summarize the enormity of this tragedy, many with a gift for words far greater than our own, and we feel everything they – and you – do as well. Terrorism is horrific in any form it takes, but where children are involved it’s particularly devastating. This is only further emphasized that the incident occurred at a concert, a place where most of us find safety in numbers and community. The people there were present to escape the troubles of the world around them, but the horror found them, and now it seems life will never be the same again.

Details on the moments immediately before the explosion at Manchester Arena are still pouring in, but authorities believe the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber carry a backpack with a homemade device inside it. It is unclear if the individual in question attended the concert or ran up on the gate in the moments immediately following the show. We do no know for certain that they acted alone, but on May 23 the Islamic State group did claim responsibility. The known terrorist organization claimed “a soldier of the caliphate planted bombs in the middle of Crusaders gatherings.”

When the Bataclan concert venue was attack by terrorists in 2015 Bono, frontman of U2, was quoted in the press as claiming the event was “the first direct hit on music.” Whether or not that statement is based in hard facts it is undeniable that most never considered concerts or the venues that host them to be anything less than safe. Hundreds, if not thousands, of live events happen all over the world every single day without incident. Concerts are a place where people can go to feel a part of something bigger than themselves and, for a brief amount of time, escape the troubles of their lives. In an increasingly chaotic world, concerts remain a fairly accessible oasis for most people.

Speaking with The New York Times around the same time as Bono, Pollstar editor Gary Bongiovanni recognized a dark truth. “It’s only logical for major venues worldwide to have heightened security,” said Bongiovanni. “But the truth is that there is only so much anyone can do to stop a wave of suicidal attackers.”

We talk about this a lot for numerous reasons, but incidents like this further exemplify the simple fact that people cannot control the world around them. The only thing a person can really do is choose how they respond when tragedy occurs. Do a person pull back from the world because they fear the next place they go or event they attend will be the next to be attacked? Are people supposed to simply accept the old adage that it’s dangerous business walking out their front door and therefore not be so shocked to see horrors unfolding in the world around? Should people break down and cry for those lost while searching for a way to move forward and, to whatever extent is possible, influence positive change in the world around them?

It’s not our place to answer these questions, but anyone reading this should know we are asking the same things of ourselves and one another. Summer is festival season, and many people we know are planning to attend large scale, sometimes multi-day, music event with thousands of strangers in places that often outsource security work to the most affordable company. It is important in times like this to remember the risk being taken when you attend concerts now is the same risk that has always existed. The chance that something horrible may happen is always a possibility in nearly every situation you find yourself in day to day. There is no way around it, and if we allow the fear we feel now that such realizations are brought to mind then those who wish to destroy our way of life through such horrific actions win. They feed on our fear. They want us to abandon our way of life because of they made us feel weak, defenseless, and afraid.

There will no doubt be much discussion about security and live events in the days ahead. It is likely we will even see some changes made, especially at arena events. Follow closely and watch how the industry responds. Be cautious of trusting anyone who promises this will never happen again. That kind of guarantee is no achievable in today’s world. As with all things in life, people will ultimately need to rely on – and turn to – one another to create spaces where we can feel safe once more. We need one another, and right now there are dozens in Manchester who need our support more than most. Lift them up.

James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also the host of the Inside Music Podcast. You should follow him on Twitter.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.