Ray Waddell of Billboard is reporting that more than a month after a shooting spree at the Alrosa Villa club in Columbus, Ohio, left five people dead, including the assailant and DAMAGEPLAN guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, many questions remain unanswered.
Still, most in the touring industry do not believe hard rock music, rock clubs or metal fans present a heightened security risk.
"I don't think the fact that it was metal music makes any difference in this situation," DAMAGEPLAN manager Paul Bassman says in his first interview since the shooting.
"I'd have to say, the people heavy metal shows are drawing are coming out with a different mind-set about what's fun," says veteran security professional Bart Butler, president of Rock Solid Security. "But when it comes to gun-toting crazies, I wouldn't say metal shows are any different than any other mass gathering."
The Dec. 8 tragedy occurred when an apparently deranged gunman, Nathan Gale, rushed the stage and opened fire on Abbott, killing him instantly.
Bassman says it remains unclear how such a tragedy could occur.
"How this man got onstage without encountering security is the most puzzling question," Bassman says.
The 800-capacity Alrosa Villa, a family-operated venue, has built a reputation as the premier hard-rock room in Columbus, booking name acts since the 1970s.
Sources confirm that the shooter entered the club through the back door.
"If that's the case, security should have been a hell of a lot tighter," says Joel Cook, president of Event Services, a Columbus-based security firm. He says the venue uses primarily in-house security.
Cook says he is unsure whether metal detectors were used at the Alrosa for the DAMAGEPLAN show, but does believe the building has used them in the past.
"It really doesn't matter what you have at the front door if you let people in everywhere else," Cook says. "You have to control the perimeter."
The prevailing opinion in the touring industry is that the Alrosa tragedy was a freak incident that says more about society than hard-rock shows.
"You can run into a wacko in the post office, shopping mall or the old- folks home," says Jay Nedry, owner of Jaxx, a rock club in West Springfield, Va. "That said, you have to maintain control of your premises. You can solve most problems at the door."
The insurance industry seems to take a similar view, and no spike in rates for metal shows is expected in the wake of the incident. "Underwriters in general take into account that the (metal) shows are of a different nature than the plain-vanilla type of show," says Jeff Insler, CEO of entertainment insurance firm Robertson Taylor North America.
"If anything, underwriters' perception is that promoters need to take more steps to make sure people don't get into venues with weapons," Insler adds.
Cook says he would like to see tighter security at all rock shows, particularly at point-of-entry. "As a crowd-management person, I like to be more sure of what comes through the doors," he says. "Oftentimes, it just comes down to a cost issue for promoters."
Butler agrees. "The industry only wants to pay people $7-$8 an hour for a guy on the barricade, and I don't think too many people want to risk their lives for $7-$8 an hour," he says. "Police officers can make $20-$30 an hour in uniform off-duty."
Like the Station club fire in Rhode Island two years ago, the Alrosa incident forces the industry to take stock of its safety and security practices. "When you have an incident like this," Insler says, "it makes people more aware of what they need to do to make things safer for their patrons and themselves."
That seems to be the case. "You would have to be a real dumb-ass to be complacent and not look under rocks," Nedry says. "I just spent $6,000 on a new metal detector, I bought wands, and all my security people are ex-Marines."
Other clubs are also trying to be more aware of potential security issues. The DAMAGEPLAN incident "made us look at how we secure all shows, not just hard rock," says Kevin Morrow, senior VP for House of Blues Entertainment. "This incident was more about a crazy fan getting access to the club with a weapon, not the style of music. We are in the middle of working out new procedures now, to make all shows as safe as possible."
All of this is music to the ears of Bassman, who hopes some good can come from the tragedy. "All clubs should be prepared for whatever presents itself to protect any artist they have contracted to perform on their stage," Bassman says. Read more.