Country fans regroup at fundraiser show for Vegas victims

Las Vegas (AFP) –


Country music is what brought together the huge crowd targeted in the Las Vegas massacre and what brought hundreds of them back together again in a show of strength and solidarity.

With memory of the carnage still fresh in their minds, music fans got together late Wednesday at a nightclub not far from the Las Vegas Strip to raise funds for the victims of Sunday's slaughter.

Several hundred people attended the event -- a night of live music and line dancing at Stoney's Rockin' Country which was quickly organized in the wake of the tragedy.

Three days earlier, many of them had been in the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest country festival when a retired accountant opened fire from the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel, killing 58 people and injuring nearly 500 others.

It was the worst mass shooting in modern US history.

Club founder Chris Lowden told AFP the fundraiser had been pulled together in the space of a day.

"I had a bunch of artists who already contacted me, asking what's going on," he said. "In 24 hours, we sort of put things together."

As he talked about the carnage, Lowden's voice cracked.

"So many families were out at the concert. I know personally three people that are dead, dozens (who were) injured -- friends, children. That's an awful thing," he told AFP.

"I know people think it's too soon. For us it was just right to start healing and make one big giant group hug.

"Time for us to get together and start the healing process."

- Leaving politics at the door -

Although the carnage has revived debate about gun control in America, Lowden said politics was left at the club's doors, even though some of his clientele wore T-shirts backing the Second Amendment -- the right to bear arms.

"We all have our political views but for the most part in here, those all go away: it's about the music, it's about love, family," he said.

Around a dozen musicians took part in the event, including a handful who flew in specially to perform.

"So many artists wanted to help. We have guys (who came) in this afternoon, they're singing, they're flying right back tonight because they just want to be a part of it," said Lowden who sports a long salt-and-pepper beard.

One of them was Dylan Schneider, a 17-year-old singer-songwriter who had been on the stage at the Route 91 Harvest festival several hours before the bloodshed.

Another was Tony Jackson, a former marine turned country-and-western star who was in his hotel room overlooking the festival when the gunfire erupted.

- 'Getting back on our feet' -

For Jackson, coming together was what would help them get over the trauma.

"We all rally around. It's like a show of force," he told AFP, saying it was encouraging to see how many people had turned up to the event.

"It's good to see so many people tonight. For country music, it represents who we really are: we are unified people," he said.

"We will mourn but we are going to rally and get back on our feet really pretty quick."

For this evening, at least, "they are in a safe place and it's ok for them to express how they feel, try their best to have a good time."