In the wake of last October’s mass shooting during Las Vegas’s Route 91 Harvest country music festival, security has taken on an increased level of intensity at live music events. So when a bomb threat was made at a Rascal Flatts show in Indianapolis on Aug. 9, police and venue security acted quickly to clear fans out of the building and move the trio out of harm’s way.
In an interview with Billboard this week backstage at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney spoke together for the first time about those chaotic moments and what the experience — a first in their 18 years of touring — looked like from their point of view.
The threat came to light as the band was about to take the stage for its encore at the Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center show two months into its Back To Us tour. According to reports and a fan video captured at the time, the trio’s keyboard player had just started a song when the house lights came up and an announcement was made to the audience saying the show was over with no explanation given.
The band members first heard about the show’s abrupt end via an announcement in their in-ear monitors moments before security approached and started walking them out, according to LeVox, who says it was all “kind of a shock,” and admits, “I immediately thought of Vegas.” LeVox says that as the band was being taken by golf cart to its bus, the members saw police and bomb-sniffing dogs coming into the amphitheater.
Their thoughts quickly shifted to the safety of their fans. “You worry for everyone there,” says DeMarcus. Unaware of what was going on front of house, LeVox recalls, “We kept saying, ‘Hey, you guys have to tell people. Let them know what’s going on.’”
While the band members praise building security with preventing panic — “Security in Indy did an amazing job, because they didn’t say ‘there’s a bomb threat,’… they [just] got everybody out of that venue,” Rooney says — the amphitheater came under some criticism for the lack of information it gave patrons. The Indianapolis Star published an Aug. 17 article quoting two crowd-safety experts who questioned the level of emergency communication provided to fans that night. Representatives for the venue, owner Live Nation and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office all declined to comment for the Indy Star article.
Once on their busses, the band members still weren’t completely sure about their safety. “They had to run the bomb dogs around our busses before we could leave,” says LeVox. “And then watching everybody leave I just kept picturing Vegas.”
“That was the first time we felt like that before,” says Rooney of the experience. Adds DeMarcus, “It was very unsettling.”
The bomb scare “makes you realize that this world is crazy,” says LeVox. “It’s unpredictable,” agrees DeMarcus.
The world “just doesn’t seem to be getting any better, [so] you have to take every threat seriously, and [this one] was serious enough for them to … get us out of there and tell everybody,” says LeVox.
While the band explained the situation in a pair of social media posts at the time, some fans were still upset that they didn’t get an encore, which would have consisted of the No. 1 hit “Bless the Broken Road” and the band’s popular cover of Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway.” But DeMarcus notes it simply wasn’t up to them. “Just for the record,” he says, “we would never do most of our show and decide not to do the encore. We would never leave our fans hanging if there wasn’t a very valid reason to do so.”
No arrests have been made in the incident, which is still under investigation. And while police have been tight-lipped during the investigation, LeVox told ET Canada in an interview that ran Aug. 20 that the person responsible made multiple calls to the venue citing a specific time the bomb was set to go off, including one chilling call at the designated time simply saying “It’s 10:44,” before hanging up. No bomb was detonated that night.