New Year’s Resolutions for Safe(r) Spaces

TW: violence, death, guns.

Every January 1st, we get the chance to look back on the previous year and say stuff like, “Wow, 2017 was a trash fire,” or, “2016 is the worst timeline,” or, in the words of Twitter user @neuports, “[P]eople said the world ending in 2012 was fake but has anyone felt alive since then[?]” In a lot of ways, these sentiments are all true. Every New Year we set ourselves up for change, for promises of better selves, but most of us just end up sticking to our comfortable, old routines. Sure, “New Year, New Me,” has a nice ring to it, but what changes should we really be making as we move into 2018?


Conversations surrounding concert safety, musical dance, and safe(r) spaces have been on the tips of our tongues for a few years now, with many artists and bands becoming more vocal about these topics. Joyce Manor, The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die , Kississippi, Prince Daddy & the Hyena, Adult Mom, and Harmony Woods are all acts that I’ve seen speak up about concert safety recently. These voices and many others are standing up against senseless concert violence, against abusers in our spaces, and against unnecessary harm at shows. These voices add up. These voices matter. These voices are spreading and will continue to spread. These conversations about concert safety are what we need to bring with us into 2018.


Regrettably, 2017 was one of the deadliest years on record in terms of concert violence. The two most calamitous attacks were in May and October of last year: As 14,200 people were leaving an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in Manchester, UK, a shrapnel bomb went off, killing 23 people and injuring over 500; less than five months later, a gunman opened fire into a crowd of 22,000 people at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, NV, killing 58 people and injuring 546. My junior high math teacher and his wife were there. They survived. What does the New Year mean to him?


And, what does the New Year have for the rest of us? How can we honor the lives of those lost from concert violence? How can we learn from these tragedies and make sure these mistakes never happen again? How can we work towards making ourselves and our spaces safe(r)? Don’t worry, I’m listening. I’m ready for the “New Me.” I’m ready for the version of myself that isn’t afraid to work in venues, or for my partner to go back on tour, or for my friends and family to attend shows alone.


Thankfully, concert violence is no longer going unnoticed by major players in the live music industry. Companies like Live Nation have begun to crack down on their safety policies, including bans on seemingly innocent items like selfie sticks, oversized bags, hacky sacks, glow sticks, and laser pointers. These new policies also prohibit firearms of any kind inside their venues, including those that belong to touring musicians and staff. This new rule caused a rift with country musician Jamey Johnson, whose show at the House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach was cancelled hours before doors in July 2017 after his team refused to disarm. In September 2017, Lil Wayne’s performance at an event called Fall Ball was cancelled after he refused to pass through an event security check at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, SC. Promoters for the Fall Ball are now suing the venue to stop them from issuing refunds.


In late December 2017, Billboard reported that “a number of promoters say that security expenses increased as much as 20 percent following Grande’s concert and that costs are rising another 10 to 15 percent in 2018.” Depending on the artist event, this can mean thousands, or possibly millions, of additional dollars being funneled into event security.


Compared to 1969’s Altamont Speedway Free Festival, an event best known for its considerable violence, these measures are a significant improvement. This counterculture rock concert was conceived as “Woodstock West,” but a series of poor management decisions led to a bike gang called Hells Angels being hired to protect the stage in exchange for “$500 worth of beer.” This faux security staff inevitably became drunk and belligerent, and fought with the crowd-- ultimately stabbing and beating a man to death after he drew a gun near the stage. 20% more money towards “$500 worth of beer” probably wouldn’t have helped protect that crowd of approximately 300,000 people, but maybe 20% more money toward modern security expenses and staff can make a difference at shows in 2018.


This year, we should expect the process of getting into legal venues to be stricter than ever before. There will be more pat downs, wanding, and metal detectors between fans and the stage. We will be asked to remove everything from our pockets; our vigilante methods of protecting ourselves, such as pepper spray, knives, and cat keychains, will not be allowed. Prescription medication will need to be in their original containers, and will be checked by security. Some venues will have licensed pharmacists on standby to make sure what’s in the bottle matches what’s on the label, and that the prescription belongs to the person who is carrying it. Concert staff will be more extensively trained in emergency protocol, and there will be more medical professionals on-site. This 10-15% increase in security expenses will also pave the way for a heightened police presence at bigger events, including drug dogs, anti-terror tools, and snipers.


Here is where I admit my author’s bias: I hate guns, and I hate them for many deep-rooted, personal reasons. Eight days after the Las Vegas shooting, Jonathan Gilliam gave an interview to Pollstar to make a case for why the concert industry should utilize armed security guards and snipers. With a background in law enforcement and military Special Forces, Gilliam’s resume is extensive, but I’m unsure if the concert industry should follow his advice. While he makes some good points in this interview, like pushing for promoters to hire qualified security staff, I disagree that a preferable security staff member is “Special Forces and a cop.” Yes, qualified security staff should be able to de-escalate tense situations, handle high pressure environments, think on their feet, and know all the exits in their venue. Qualified security staff should also be people who know how to help someone down from a panic attack, how to care for patrons who are under the influence, and how to properly accommodate guests with ADA requests. “It would be better to eliminate two security guards and pay someone who has real experience,” says Gilliam, but his definition of experience comes from a focus on assault training and a life-long cop mentality. There are many skills more important than knowing your way around a gun, and while there may be a short-term solution in armed security and snipers, the long-term goals should be gun reform, non-violent forms of counter-terrorism, and a comprehensive view of what causes concert violence so that we may address all roots of the problem.


This year, we should continue having conversations about concert safety. This year, we need to find a way to adapt the improvements made by legal venues, so that we can bring them into DIY spaces in an accessible and affordable way. This year, we must value the bodily integrity of those around us at shows. This year, we must try to reduce harm. This year, we must continue to stand for all victims of abuse. This year, we must unpack our own violent behavior. If we can try to tackle these things, either one at a time or all at once, maybe this year is the year we finally change for the better.

-Sarah Cowell

Sarah Cowell editorials