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A Year After Paris Attacks, Tour Managers Reflect On Security

A crew sets up for Icelandic band Kaleo's show at Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Ore.
Jerad Walker
A crew sets up for Icelandic band Kaleo's show at Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Ore.

A year ago today, terrorists attacked six locations in Paris, killing 130 people. Most of them were shot during a rock concert at a venue called the Bataclan. The attacks led to heightened security throughout Europe, and they've also led to some changes in how rock bands tour.

Will Hackney is packing gear into a van on a loading dock in Portland, Ore. He's the bass player and tour manager for the band Flock of Dimes. They've got four amps, a ton of guitars and keyboards — and, Hackney says, "a British guitar player who brings the biggest suitcase I've ever seen."

Over the course of 30 days, the group will travel 8,000 miles and visit 22 cities in the U.S. and Canada. It is Hackney's job to get them there. Tour managers are responsible for virtually every aspect of planning and executing the trip, and almost anything can go wrong. But there are some things Hackney has never worried much about.

"You know, in all my years of touring, security has not really been something I've ever had to think about," Hackney says. "It usually feels like a pretty safe bubble."

For many, that bubble popped after the Paris attacks. Just a few days later, Robin Laananen was on tour in Belgium with the band Refused — and Bataclan was on everyone's mind. During a Refused show, she spotted members of the military inside the showroom behind their sound engineer.

"That's hard to see — people that you love playing music up on stage and knowing that that's a possibility and that could be going through their heads," she says. "And then everyone's worried about everybody in that room. It's really hard."

Among those killed at the Bataclan was Nick Alexander, one of the crew for Eagles of Death Metal, the band playing that night. Jim Runge was friends with Alexander. Runge toured with The Black Keys and worked shows at the Bataclan before last year's tragedy.

He says the attack was the catalyst for some changes to industry practices. It's now more common to use spotters to keep an eye out for anything unusual in the crowd. "There is somebody on stage, whether it be the tour manager, production manager, stage manager — somebody who is in charge of calling the show," Runge says.

But Runge freely admits there's only so much that can be done. "You can check bags to make sure people aren't carrying in bombs or explosives or guns — dangerous things," he says. "But — I hate to even say it — if someone is coming at your door with automatic weapons, other than having armed guys at the door, protecting the door, which none of us want, what can you do?"

That sense of helplessness has had a lasting effect on the psyche of the touring community, says Chris Coyle, calling from the road while on tour with rock band Red Fang in Malmo, Sweden.

"I don't really know how to put it into words about how I felt about [Bataclan]," Coyle says. "It was immediate sorrow. Talking about it now gets me all choked up. We never thought about having to deal with guns or anything at shows."

Although Coyle says he hasn't drastically changed the way he runs tours, he now finds himself in the job of spotter more often. "If I see anything, I will stop the show and I will get the boys out," he says.

Back in Portland, Hackney is done packing the van. True to form, he has already shifted his attention to working out the logistics of his band's next stop. But before driving off, he takes a few moments to reflect on the one-year anniversary of the Bataclan attack.

"The point of that attack was to make people scared to have live music and do things like this," he says. "And everybody that I know is not going to stop for that."

He doesn't have time to stop. He's got 17 cities and 6000 miles to go.

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