Country Strong -
I was not at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Vegas this year.
But my people were.
One of the neat things about my childhood is that I grew up across several cities and several states, and I joke that my party trick is finding out where someone else is from, and then I'll choose where I've lived that's closest to make a connection. I can't really call any one place my "home town," but I lived in a small town in Gardnerville, Nevada, longer than any other city. (A whole five years!) Nevada will always hold a place in my heart, but Vegas especially.
The photo here is me about nine years ago on my first stay in Las Vegas. It was taken in the middle area of a suite in the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino, much like the suite where the man this past weekend stayed. Who knows, it might have even been the same one.
I fell in love with Vegas on that trip. There was a period during film school where I went at least once a month. Vegas is bigger than life, surreal, fun, beautiful in its own way. Vegas is welcoming to all kinds. Mandalay Bay with their shark aquarium and the best smelling hotel lotion I've ever seen has remained my favorite of the hotels. I always make a point of going even if I'm staying somewhere else.
Five days ago, it faced tragedy. 22,000 country music fans faced tragedy and trauma. I wasn't there, but I know people who were. Friends of friends who were shot. A friend of a friend who was one of the 58 victims. I won't share their stories here, as those aren't my stories to tell, but as a country music fan myself, that was my community. Those were my friends, my family. My heart is broken and I've been so wrapped up in this that I have been thinking about it almost non-stop. As confirmations of names and memorials are released, my heart breaks more. I feel like I can't stop crying. I can't stop aching for what all of them went through. The night might be over for them, but the horrors are not. They have a long road ahead of them that they should have never been forced to walk.
I have wanted to write something since 2 AM Monday, when I woke up to a text from a friend letting me know that someone we both knew was safe. Rattled, but safe. I haven't had the words, and even now, my thoughts are jumbled. I've poured over what I could do. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, the families, and everyone who endured that night, but thoughts and prayers aren't enough any more. I donated to the GoFundMe. I bought a T-shirt that is going to donate proceeds (I'll include all links here). I've written notes to the Clark County police and fire stations thanking them for their quick action. I've considered my own talents- I can write, and I can take photos.
If words could take the pain away and bring the victims back, I'd write every damned one.
Every mass shooting has devastated me, but there's a different feeling when it's so close to home. It's not even the thought of "that could have been me" because I haven't actually considered that once. As a country music fan and as a Nevadan, this was my family involved. There's a unique kind of pain that comes with that.
I've spent the last few days listening to stories, looking at the huge outpouring of support, watching as people posted looking for friends who haven't responded since the attack, looking for the people who helped them during it. I have shared in joy as total strangers connected and were able to thank each other for their brave actions, and deep grief as a couple of the missing persons were confirmed as victims.
I'm numb at best. But mostly I just ache.
For those who just wanted to raise a glass, for the cowboys, for the wild ones, for the fans- music still has the power to heal- I am so, so sorry. Country music embodies love and patriotism and faith and hard work and a good time, and there's no amount of evil that can take that away from us. I hope to see some of you at the Driftwood Festival in November, at Stagecoach in April, at Route 91 next year, even. But if you're not there, I'll raise a glass and sing along at the top of my lungs for you. In the immortal words of Old Dominion, cry when it hurts and laugh when it's funny.
If you want to help, here are several ways. And please remember that the victims and families will need help six months from now, too, when the news is on the next big story and most of the country has forgotten.
Find your local Red Cross and donate blood.
Donate to the Las Vegas Victims Fund. (It's raised over 9 million dollars in four days. NINE. MILLION).
Pick up a Tribute Tee from City Roots in Boots. (Proceeds go to the victims.)
Get a Route 91 Ribbon Shirt. (This is the one I purchased. Proceeds go to the victims).
Get a #CountryStrong trucker hat from Whine n Sparkle. Proceeds donated to the Las Vegas Victims Fund.
Show Support with Vegas Strong gear.
Write to your congressmen and women. Make your voice heard.
Lastly, love each other. The world needs more love right now.