As mass shootings in movie theaters and churches have shocked the world in recent years, many music business insiders quietly wondered how long it would be before concert halls would suffer a similar tragedy. On Nov. 13, those concerns became a horrifying reality, as terrorists made an Eagles of Death Metal concert at Paris’ storied Le Bataclan theater the centerpiece of a citywide assault, killing 89 people at the venue.
In the United States, most arenas and stadiums heightened their security measures in the wake of 9/11, and fans have become accustomed to metal detectors, pat-downs and/or wands at large venues. But the relatively small size of the 1,500-capacity venue and the niche popularity of the headlining band made the Paris attacks “the first direct hit on music that we’ve had in this so-called war on terror,” as U2’s Bono called it — and have made the entire concert industry wonder just what kind of protective measures smaller halls will need to take.
Venues and promoters across America were quick to release statements saying they were beefing up security. Live Nation, the country’s largest live-entertainment company (which operates the House of Blues chain of theaters similar in size to Le Bataclan), announced, “Due to the recent events in Paris and in an abundance of caution, we have implemented heightened security procedures globally. However, because of the sensitive nature of these protocols, we cannot elaborate further on the specific details.”
“Unfortunately, the concert world has become a bit complacent after 9/11,” says entertainment attorney and crisis manager Ed McPherson, who has supervised the aftermath of many concert emergencies, including the 2003 fire that killed 100 people at a Great White show in Rhode Island. “Magnetometers were placed at many concert venues in Los Angeles and elsewhere after 9/11, but were later discontinued at most venues. Certainly, these and other security measures will have to be employed.”
“Clubs are about having fun, and other than an ID check and [bouncers], they wouldn’t have any type of security that you see at a major event,” says Russ Simons of Venue Solutions Group. “Venue owners and promoters will have to rethink things, which will affect costs down the road.”
Several venue owners say they are working with police to review their security measures in the wake of the attacks. “We are in constant communication with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, along with intelligence authorities and other consultants, to ensure our security is continually taking proactive measures,” Staples Center president Lee Zeidman, who also runs the Microsoft Theater and L.A. Live, said in a statement. A New York Police Department representative confirmed there will be increased security in venues across the city, but declined to provide specifics.
Michael J. Rodriguez, a former supervisor in the FBI/NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force, goes so far as to suggest venues need to “designate personnel to be stationed outside the venue to conduct counter-surveillance, looking for individuals that appear suspicious or are approaching with a prohibited item or backpack” — a statement that, given the appearance of many concertgoers, reflects the enormity of the task.
Still, how effective can a few guards and metal detectors be against determined, heavily armed assailants? Existing security targets a type of individual seen in America far more often than terrorists: unaffiliated, psychologically disturbed “lone gunmen” like Nathan Gale, who killed Pantera co-founder “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott and three others at an Ohio nightclub in 2004. And combating attacks like those in Paris is more the work of government agencies than “soft targets” like concert venues. “The number of people who get together in a packed room is in the millions every day,” says security technologist Bruce Schneier. “You can’t possibly defend against all plots.”
Peter Shapiro of Dayglo Ventures, who operates Brooklyn Bowl venues in New York (600 capacity) and Las Vegas (3,000) and the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, N.Y. (1,800), sums up the proactive but realistic attitudes of many live-music professionals in the wake of the Paris tragedies. “Everyone’s got to do what they feel is right to ensure a safe environment, whether that’s a bag check, a bag feel, a detector, a wand — I’m sure everyone’s looking at that, and we are,” he says. “I went to a movie Saturday night and they did a bag feel; I’d never had that, but no one was complaining.”
Three nights after the Paris attacks, security at several midsize venues in New York and Los Angeles seemed heightened, but not dramatically so – at least, not visibly. At Grimes’ sold-out show at New York’s 3,000-capacity Terminal 5, each person passing through the main entrance was patted down — including the owner of the headliner’s label — and a few more security guards than usual were present both outside and inside the venue.
Indeed, Shapiro says, “We were surprised on Friday night — we thought a lot of people would stay home. But Brooklyn Bowl in New York had the biggest Friday night we’ve ever had since we opened in 2009. People have been through so much, and they want to show that they’re not going to hide. They’re still going to go out and enjoy their lives.”
That sentiment was echoed by a 19-year-old Grimes fan named Angie on Nov. 16. “Sure, I’m a little worried,” she said. “But I love music and going to shows, and I’m not going to let terrorists stop me.”
With reporting by Ray Waddell.