Orlando Tragedies Put Security Top of Mind for Country Stars at CMA Fest

Natasha Moustache/CMA
Chris Young and Cassadee Pope perform at Nissan Stadium on June 11, 2016 during CMA Music Festival in Nashville, Tenn.

Luke Bryan summed up a sentiment likely shared by other country artists when he reacted to a pair of weekend tragedies in Orlando, Fla., by saying, “The American spirit is about not living in fear.”

He was speaking to media backstage at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium on June 12, prior to his closing performance at the four-day CMA Music Festival, and just hours after a gunman killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others at an Orlando nightclub in what police are investigating as an act of domestic terrorism. That incident occurred just two days after former The Voice finalist Christina Grimmie was also fatally shot in Orlando while she signed autographs following a show. Police suspect the shooter was a mentally ill fan.

Bryan called the incidents “amazingly tragic on all levels.” And while he said such occurrences surely will have an impact on concert security and artist-fan interactions, he’ll be saddened to see that happen.

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“It’s so frustrating to me because I want to walk onstage and feel so free,” he said. “I want to deviate off the set path and go hug some fans … I’ve got people that look after me, but we’ll start ramping it up, and I don’t want to do that.

“I just hate that it seems like we’re heading down a path where we can’t just walk into a full stadium or a full amphitheater or a football game or baseball game [without added security],” he added. “It does change the game.”

But he stressed that the “American spirit” calls for being “smart about how we live,” while also not letting fear deter people from fully living their lives. “I think it’s important for the American spirit to keep trying to live that type of life,” he said. “The only way I know that we’ll ever combat it is just to keep going right after the problem. We’re all in this thing together.”

Keith Urban noted backstage at the venue on June 12 that the first real wake-up call for artists was the November 2015 terrorist attack during a concert at the Bataclan Theater in Paris that left 90 people dead and many more critically injured. “That’s when we all saw how easily something like that can happen,” he said. “Everybody’s in the same boat. We’re trying to also live our life as well, so we’re as vigilant as we can be. But my heart goes out to all the families down in Orlando today.”

Little Big Town dedicated its performance of new song “Miracle” to the Orlando victims when the act performed it on June 12 at Nissan Stadium with co-writer and producer Pharrell Williams and a local gospel choir. Backstage just before the performance, the group’s Karen Fairchild explained that the song is “about healing and that we’re knee-deep in struggle. There’s so much trouble and we need a helping hand, and we need heaven to send us a miracle.”

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The group had already planned to perform the song before the Orlando tragedies. Fairchild observed, “What divine timing that we would wake up to this horrible news this morning and know that we’re going to sing ‘Miracle’ tonight. Music is the ultimate healer, and we will not let the haters destroy what we love and enjoy. We will not live in fear of this. Tonight is going to be a celebration of life and love and harmony, and we’re going to remember those lives that were lost. We’re going to celebrate them tonight. And we are not going to let the negative tell us what we’re going to do.”

Her comments drew applause from the reporters gathered backstage.

When artists were asked how they would explain the tragedies to their young children, Bryan said, “It’s up to me to pray that I have the right words at the right moment to ease their minds. There’s no handbook for this stuff, which is so frustrating, but I just stand behind [the idea that] we can’t live in fear and trust what our maker has in store for us.” Meanwhile, Urban said simply that he and wife Nicole Kidman will “deal with that the way we have to” with their young daughters.

The previous night, Grimmie was on the minds of some of the artists performing at CMA Music Festival, including Cassadee Pope, who, like Grimmie, rose to fame on NBC’s The Voice. As previously reported, Pope appeared at Nissan Stadium on June 11 to perform her hit duet with Chris Young, “Think of You.” Speaking with media beforehand, she said of Grimmie, “I’m performing on her behalf tonight.”

“My heart goes out to her family and friends,” added Pope. “I met her a few times and, obviously, I’m a fan of what she did and her work, so it’s just a really sad day for everybody.”

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Pope admitted that prior to the shooting, she had never given much thought to her own security. The same night Grimmie was killed, Pope had spent 45 minutes signing autographs for fans after one of her own shows and said, “I had nobody checking bags or anything before they came to meet me.

“Things like [what happed] last night remind me it’s possible it can happen,” she added. “I think there’s a certain level of safely that we need to think about, but it’s impossible to foresee any of that happening.”

Young also addressed Grimmie’s death, saying, “It’s so incredibly sad that something like that happened … It’s just such an unnecessary loss of someone’s life.”

This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.