We all noted how strange it looked on that day more than two years ago: a gray concrete machine-gun firing range almost directly across the street from the colorful lights and sounds of a music festival.
Rock in Rio USA and the Strip Gun Club were separated by South Las Vegas Boulevard and maybe a few city blocks.
It’s hard to remember when Las Vegas was midstream in an effort to redefine itself as a go-to spot for music — and not of the casino-based, Wayne Newton variety. The Electric Daisy Carnival was bringing hordes of dance fans in each year. Rock in Rio USA might do that for pop and, well, rock.
Easier to recall is how concertgoers making their way to the outdoor festival were bathed in the glow of that sign across the street. It advertised the thrill of blowing things apart with automatic weapons.
A communal experience on one side of the street — hearing music you love, or at least like to sing along to, with thousands of other people (some of whom were parents with their children) — and something very different on the other. I can only assume it required shutting out all sound with protective headphones.
It was a chilling juxtaposition, especially in the wake of the recent mass shooting at the historic black church in Charleston, S.C. People were worshipping there too and then killed in the process.
But certainly we couldn’t have imagined the bleeding of one into another, how a music venue could become a machine-gun gallery. .
The sniper who opened fire on the crowd at Las Vegas’ Route 91 Harvest country music festival Sunday did so from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, killing at least 59 people and injuring hundreds more.
His was an assault on freedom, joy and the thing that makes musical festivals such a singular experience for music fans: a sense of community, people who know the music you know, share the same pop culture aesthetic, crave a similar experience. Essentially, your tribe outside of the tribe you were born into — strangers you can speak with in cultural shorthand.
No need to explain who O.D.B is at Rock the Bells, or what BPM means at Electric Daisy Carnival. Your tribe knows.
Whether it was the dust and cowboy boots of the Stagecoach Festival or the pierced everything of Van’s Warped tour or the fringe vests and face paint of Woodstock, the goal at music festivals since Jimi Hendrix first burned his guitar has been to converge in one spot and revel in the scene, together.
You could argue that film or TV or the performing arts also brings people together, and they do, but not in quite the same way. Music is internal, guttural, visceral and maybe none of those things because ultimately it’s up to the listener to decide what to do with it.
Pop, rap, country and especially EDM don’t come with a built-in narrative like a movie or play, not at least since music videos stopped being a thing. It’s up for interpretation, and often that interpretation means it’s tapped into what you were thinking before you even knew you were thinking it.
That’s why for music fans, attacks in Orlando, Paris’ Bataclan Theater, the Manchester Arena and now Las Vegas feel personal.
There’s always the question after one of these attacks — so sad that we now talk of them in multiples — about how it will change the way we do things. Will people still want to attend nightclubs/concerts/large music events in a crowded public space?
No doubt, security at concerts, the awareness of law enforcement and the way in which venues look at crowd safety and evacuation procedure will see some seismic shifts. Drugs and drinking are no longer the most dangerous problems on the festival circuit, and promoters and venues are more aware of that than ever.
As for gun control measures on a larger scale? It’s more likely Kanye will come out with an easy rock album before anything changes on that front.
The attack in Vegas, like all the others, will not stop music fans from doing what they have always done — finding joy in music, together.
Ali is a former pop music editor at The Times.
‘Blade Runner 2049’ premiere nixes red carpet in light of Las Vegas shooting tragedy
Country music’s Caleb Keeter after Vegas shooting: ‘We need gun control RIGHT. NOW.’
Site of Las Vegas mass shooting is key venue in effort to make the city a live-music destination