Panic was just as prevalent among those in the backstage area of the Route 91 Harvest Festival when Sunday’s (10/1) shooting started as it was for those in the audience, according to a musician performing that night with the Josh Abbott Band.
Saxophone player Carlos Sosa recently described the scene backstage as the tragedy unfolded. “I think the gunshots lasted for 15 or 20 minutes,” he tells Variety. Sosa couldn’t see the audience from his vantage point, but the sounds he heard were chilling. “The scariest part was, there was a large fence between the backstage area and general admission, and [on the other side] we heard thousands of people screaming at the top of their lungs. Just hearing that was pretty nightmarish.”
It took a moment to realize what exactly was happening. “There were probably 80 to 100 of us, between artists and guests,” he says of the backstage area. “We were all together with some guests and friends, and heard some high-pitched pops. Somebody said, ‘Oh, there’s fireworks.’ I turned around to look toward the sky and didn’t see any, so I disregarded it, and everybody went about their business. [Then] somebody said, ‘Oh, it’s an electrical problem.’ But then three of us felt something hit us, like shrapnel — debris of some sort. And there was a rapid succession of pops, the kind where each pop was identical, so I knew it wasn’t fireworks. A security guy started yelling ‘Get down,’ and we all did, just like in a movie. It never occurred to me that someone was shooting from above. I heard it from three different directions, sounding like it was getting closer.”
Once security personnel and law enforcement figured out where the gunfire was coming from, they began evacuating the backstage area. “Probably a hundred people just ran as fast as we could,” Sosa tells Variety. “And there were people on the way that were shot and needed assistance. I helped this one lady get put on a stretcher, and then we kept running and put people on tour buses. There were probably 70 people on one of the buses.”
Barred from returning to his room at Mandalay Bay, Sosa stayed with the buses until the sun came up Monday. Finding his way off the festival grounds was difficult, but he eventually spotted an exit. “I just started walking down the road with all my stuff,” he says. “It still felt like a dream. It still does.”
Naturally, Sosa is still coming to terms with what happened. “It’s a weird feeling, with my friends and family telling me how bad it really is,” he tells Variety. “Hopefully the processing doesn’t go too bad. I’ve definitely had different emotions since I finally left the compound. I thought I was fine until I got to the airport. The American Airlines lady saw me with my saxophone and came out from behind the desk to give me a hug.”
Teddy McDonald is a fun-lovin’ country music fan man living in Nashville, Tennessee.