After Mass Shooting, Will the Route 91 Harvest Festival Ever Return to Las Vegas?
Two years since the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass shooting, a revival has yet to be organized as the country music business grapples with tough questions about what it would take to make it happen.
In late 2018, one year after 58 people were killed and hundreds wounded at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017 — the deadliest mass shooting in modern history — Billboard reported that organizers were exploring rebooting the event.
“Route 91 Harvest is one of my kids,” said Julie Matway, COO of Country Nation, the festival division led by Live Nation president of country touring Brian O’Connell, at the XLive conference in Vegas in December 2018.
“I am looking forward to how and when we are going to bring that back. We are working hard on that. Hopefully we will get it online for 2019,” said Matway, while O’Connell told Billboard that efforts were underway for the festival’s return, including plans to honor those who died or were injured in the shooting.
But two years since the mass shooting, a revival has yet to be organized as the country music business grapples with tough questions about what it would take to make it happen.
On Oct. 3, 2019, days after the second anniversary of the shooting, MGM Resorts International settled a lawsuit with nearly 2,500 victims of the Route 91 Harvest festival tragedy. MGM agreed to pay $735 million to $800 million to those who were injured or suffered trauma after a gunman opened fire on the 20,000-plus attendees of the country music festival during Jason Aldean’s set. The final settlement amount will depend on how many victims of the shooting participate and is expected to take another year to process as MGM’s insurer distributes the funds.
The deal resolved hundreds of lawsuits — which eventually were combined — against MGM, which owns both the Mandalay Bay resort, where the gunman had committed the shooting, and the Festival Village, where concertgoers were taking in the final night of Route 91’s fourth year on the Las Vegas Strip. Afterward, the area was fenced off and has remained vacant for nearly two years. But MGM recently announced that part of the Festival Village site will temporarily be used as a parking lot for Allegiant Stadium when it opens later this year as the home of the newly arrived Raiders NFL team. Eventually the north end of the property will be redeveloped as a community and athletic center.
The settlement also could technically pave the way for Route 91 to be resurrected, albeit at another location, but over the past year, sources familiar with the situation say that talks of a revival have faded.
Both MGM and Live Nation declined to comment on the prospect of reviving Route 91, but one leading country music manager says that resurrecting the festival would be complicated. “It’s a sensitive subject with the country consumer, I’m sure,” says the manager. “And then just from a logistical standpoint, [there’s] finding the property, insuring the property. And by the way, we all play Vegas all the time, so you have to be able to lock down your talent far enough in advance that everybody stays clear of the market for awhile.”
Since the first Route 91 festival, Las Vegas has become a market open to and eager for country artists. George Strait’s Strait to Vegas residency at T-Mobile Arena has grossed nearly $60 million since 2017, and Reba McEntire, with Brooks & Dunn, and Shania Twain have anchored residencies at Caesars Palace and brought in $25 million and $44 million, respectively.
Even Aldean, who was onstage when the shooting began at Route 91, secured a mini-Vegas residency at MGM’s Park Theater. His three-night stint in December suggests that a resurrected Route 91 would be competing in an increasingly saturated market for country music.
In addition, during the past few years there has been an uptick in the number of festivals in Las Vegas. New Sin City staples such as Life Is Beautiful and Electric Daisy Carnival continue to produce major music events on and off the Strip, while in 2019, Goldenvoice and Amazon debuted Day N Vegas and Intersect Fest, respectively.
Optimists remain. Another manager of A-list country talent agrees that bringing back Route 91 would be complicated but says there is a desire in the country market for it to return. The manager holds out hope that the festival, or some form of a reboot, could happen in “a couple of years or so.”
On the encouraging side, despite the massive MGM payout, the number of flourishing festivals in Vegas bodes well in terms of securing insurance for Route 91 or another country festival entering the market.
“Prices haven’t increased because of Route 91 at all,” says a festival insurance specialist. “It was a massive loss, but it was a one-time thing.”
According to the specialist, promoters are footing the increased cost of additional security measures that have been put in place not only in Vegas but also at festivals nationwide.
“Underwriters are definitely a little bit more cautious,” says the specialist. “They want to see security plans … safety plans prior to underwriting, at least for the larger festivals.”
Says the first country music manager: “If they brought a country festival back to Vegas in a different location, called it a different name, it would be a little bit more complicated, but doable.”