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The Country Music Festival That Attracted Thousands To Las Vegas


The Route 91 Harvest festival, the target of last night's shooting, is one of country music's biggest events. It's nicknamed the neon sleepover. The three-day event attracts big-name artists and more than 20,000 fans. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has more.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: It's called Route 91 Harvest as an homage to the original name of Las Vegas Boulevard. The open-air site is a vast space with a clear view of the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay resorts. Among the artists who've performed at the festival since it debuted in 2013 are Toby Keith, Brad Paisley and Jake Owen.


JAKE OWEN: (Singing) Never going to grow up, never going to slow down. We were shining like lighters in the dark in the middle of a rock show. We were doing it right.

BLAIR: Jake Owen's manager, Keith Gale, was at this year's festival.

KEITH GALE: It's just a great event. The people that put it on do a great job. My heart aches for them.

BLAIR: The shooting began around 10 p.m. local time. Country star Jason Aldean was onstage.


JASON ALDEAN: (Singing) Yeah, I'm chilling on a dirt road, laid back, swerving like I'm George Jones, smoke rolling...

BLAIR: Manager Keith Gale spoke with us from the Las Vegas Airport. He was near the stage with his wife when the shooting began.

GALE: You kind of didn't know where it was coming from. You knew it was gunfire, and you knew it was intense. And it was around us because there were bullets exploding into the concrete around you. And then there was a slight break in the action, and I grabbed her, my wife, by the hand. And I said, we are not sitting still. And we got up and ran across the back of the stage and down the other side and made our way out of the venue.

BLAIR: The annual Route 91 Harvest event is organized by Live Nation, a company with years of experience producing major concerts and festivals around the country, including Bonnaroo. Michael Rapino, the CEO of Live Nation, tweeted, our hearts are with the victims in Las Vegas, their families and loved ones who are grieving. Keith Gale says he doesn't think there was much producers could have done to prevent the tragedy.

GALE: There is no way to prepare for a madman who sneaks into a hotel room 32 floors up and fires pointblank into a crowd. You know, I hate to be a person that tosses cliches around. But all there is to do is be vigilant and look after one another.

BLAIR: Gale says throughout the chaos, he saw many people helping each other. The tragedy has led to calls from a few musicians for greater gun control. Carlos Santana, a Las Vegas resident, issued a statement saying, our heart is in shock; our minds are filled with questions. Why? Why allow weapons of mass destruction to be sold to civilians? Guitarist Caleb Keeter, who performed at the Route 91 festival, also issued a statement. He writes, quote, "I've been a proponent of the Second Amendment my entire life until the events of last night," end quote. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.