On Monday night at Manchester Arena, as crowds were filing out after an Ariana Grande concert, a 22-year-old man detonated a bomb in a foyer attached to the venue. The story broke in the early evening in the U.S., and became more horrifying and sad as the night wore on as the death toll and number of injured rose sharply. Heartbreaking stories of missing fans went viral on social media, as people tried desperately to find any news about their friends and loved ones.
The bombing was particularly cruel and vile because of who it targeted. Although Grande’s fanbase is a diverse group spanning the entire age, sexuality, and gender continuum, her loyalists especially include girls, young women, and gay men. No doubt this was the first concert for many kids and teens in attendance, who were excited to see Grande in person. Many traveled long distances to see their idol, and were at the show with friends, taking steps toward independence. Others were dropped off by their parents, or attended the show with family; some of these adults also went missing after the bombing.
That so many parents and daughters were at the show together was particularly significant, because of what it represented: different generations bonding over favorite music, and sharing an experience they could cherish for years to come. First concerts, whether in venues big or small, often help budding musicians get the performance bug, and inspire them to explore other artists and avenues for their own expression—vocal classes, perhaps, or guitar and bass lessons. Concerts like this are supposed to be opportunities for growth and exploration, not marred by death and violence.
Even if you’re not a fan of Grande’s music, or arena gigs in general, it’s easy to put yourself in the shoes of those who were at last night’s concert. Going to shows as a kid and teenager is a particular rush. It’s still such a new experience of sensory overload and sonic overstimulation in all the best ways. Guitars are crisper, louder and more overpowering; bass lines reverberate throughout your entire body. Plus, there’s nothing quite like the excitement of seeing your favorite band live. Listening to records is one thing; queuing up all day and then using the last bit of your energy to sing your favorite songs at the top of your lungs, along with thousands of other equally devoted fans, is an entirely different, dizzying experience.
Tribute to Manchester attack victims (Paul Ward / PA wire)
Unfortunately, however, terrorist attacks in or near venues have happened over the years; for example, there was an assault outside a Tel Aviv club full of teenagers in 2011. But there have been several high-profile, deadly terrorist attacks at noted concert venues and clubs in recent times. In November 2015, Eagles of Death Metal’s show at the Bataclan in Paris was interrupted by gunfire, as part of a city-wide terrorist attack. A few months later, on a busy weekend night in June 2016, a mass shooting took place at Orlando’s popular gay nightclub Pulse. An attack also happened at a Turkish nightclub (which was recently demolished) on New Year’s Eve 2016.
Venues and clubs are singled out for violence because they are known places where large groups of people congregate, which means assaults can inflict a greater amount of damage in a short amount of time and attract more attention. But these establishments are targeted more precisely because they’re viewed as sanctuaries—protected spaces where people can let their guard down, forget the anxieties of the real world for a while and become immersed in music.
Seeing or experiencing music in public should be a joyful experience, akin to an emotional cleanse or catharsis, that lingers after the last note has faded away. People don’t expect anything bad or violent to happen at a concert, or when they’re out for a night of dancing with friends, or even when they’re leaving the show. These terrorist attacks are meant to ruin this safe haven, incite fear, and affect people in profound ways.
The timing of the Grande bombing—after the show, when people are streaming out of an exit—is also sobering. Think of a time you’ve left an arena show early to beat the crowds, or used a landmark such as a ticketing window to meet up with friends after stopping to buy merch or hitting the bathroom.
That sense of familiarity is part of what made the Eagles of Death Metal terrorist attack, and now the Grande violence, so emotionally wrenching. Show attendees weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary, or putting themselves into a dangerous situation; they were simply enjoying an entertaining night out on the town. It’s something we’ve all done hundreds of times before, peacefully and without incident. There was no reason to think that last night would be any different.
But clubs and music venues deserve to be sacred places where music fans of all ages can gather without fear, where those who feel unsafe in the outside world can find solace and a sense of belonging. Exclusionary behaviors have no place in music, an art form whose ability to create life-saving community, both virtually and in public spaces, is unparalleled.
That’s why it’s especially vital to support inclusive music spaces, which allow these kinds of safe communities to flourish and grow. But, in general, it’s also important to keep going to shows, and not let worries over what might happen prevent you from seeing bands you love. Showing up and making your presence felt—and your voice heard—is the best first step to keep hatred at bay.