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Backstage Gun Debate Ignites

Wednesday, August 9, 2017   (0 Comments)

by Brad Wiessberg |

Venues differ in how they'd handle the Jamey Johnson/House of Blues standoff

Venue managers around the country are grappling with their own back-of-house security protocols after outlaw-country-star Jamey Johnson’s July 23 show at the House of Blues, Myrtle Beach, S.C., was canceled because the artist and the venue clashed when Johnson and his team refused to follow House of Blues standard security procedures.

The cancellation was announced on Facebook by House of Blues, the night of the canceled show, along with this statement: "As always, the safety and security of our guests is our number one priority. Tonight's artist refused to adhere to our safety and security guidelines and would not enter the building."

The nightclub chain, owned by Live Nation, has a strict no-gun policy for both attendees and anyone entering backstage. “Live Nation does not permit weapons in any part of our venues,” said Carrie Davis, Live Nation, who added that the policy extends to the back-of-house. According to Davis, the incident was not about Johnson and guns, but rather that “Johnson did not want to go through our security protocols.”

Johnson allegedly took issue with the policy and refused to go through a magnetometer.

Tony TC Coleman, Johnson’s drummer, said on Facebook, "I stand with (Johnson) on this. House of Blues didn't need to treat us like we were terrorists. They put a (metal) detector between Jamey's busses and the stage entrance and the only people coming in and out of his busses was us. His band and crew and we all have laminated stage identification. We did not come to House of Blues to be treated like we are going to kill the fans. If someone came backstage to harm anybody, you better pray there is a Jamey Johnson-type individual around."

It is unclear if Johnson was carrying a firearm or if he just took issue with the venue’s policy. Calls for clarification from Johnson and his management went unreturned at press time.

The incident has many venues looking at their own backstage security procedures. Many of the facilities Venues Today contacted had no policy in place and when asked what they would do, the responses varied widely.

“I really don’t know what we’d do,” said Eric Grillie, events manager, Golden Nugget, Las Vegas, which is on Johnson’s tour schedule in December. “We are an open-carry state, which makes the question even more difficult to answer.” Grillie did say that most likely they would allow Johnson to enter the building if he had “a legal gun.”

Dale Adams, GM, Gila River Arena, Glendale, Ariz., also an open-carry state, also has no backstage gun policy. “We’d find a way to work it out,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to cancel a concert over an artist carrying a weapon.”

Despite doing business in an open-carry state, both Scott Breckner, GM, Pan Am Center, Las Cruces, N.M., and Shane Caldwell, GM, Santa Ana Star Center, Rio Rancho, N.M, said Johnson would not be permitted backstage with a weapon.

“The university has a strict no-gun policy for the entire campus, which includes our facilities,” said Breckner. “We’d politely ask Johnson and his team to leave their weapons outside. If they refused we would not let them in and would have to cancel the show.”

Caldwell said, “We don’t allow weapons in the venue at all except for trained uniformed police.” Caldwell's soft-touch approach would be to “try to have a conversation and find a solution before we’d just abruptly cancel his show.”

Kristi Reedy, Valley View Casino, San Diego, Calif., an AEG Facilities venue, said, “We have a corporate-wide policy that no firearms are allowed in our venue,” and suggested that would be the policy at all AEG Facilities properties. California is a not an open-carry state.

“Bottom line. Build a good policy, inform people of the policy and enforce the policy,” said Ben Tolle, co-founder of Prevent Advisors, which is a division of Oak View Group.

Tolle responded to the Johnson cancellation this way: “A great policy does little to address disruptions if talent or guests are not aware of the policy or the policy is not enforced.”

Prevent Advisors' other co-founder, Chris Robinette, agreed. “Have a plan; share the plan and execute the plan,” he said. “Venues need to formulate clear, unambiguous policies and communicate those clear policies and then strictly enforce those policies. It is prudent to build and disseminate policies well in advance of scheduled show date.”

Private entities and venues can build policy as they see fit, advised Tolle. “As private facilities, they have no obligation to accommodate individuals carrying firearms. Venues should also speak to issues related to off-duty law enforcement, contracted security, etc.”

Robinette recommended that venues should consult local law enforcement and legal bodies in determining gun policies or taking any position on a gun-ban or open-carry.

He also said, emphatically, “that if an artist or guest is in violation of clearly defined policies or beyond local legality, the venue has every right to enforce the policy.”

“Canceling the event does not have to be the default answer,” said Tolle, “but enforcement should be rigid and consistent.”