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Support to keep Las Vegas’ Route 91 festival remains strong

Updated December 13, 2018 - 6:59 pm

The Route 91 Harvest festival might be returning to Las Vegas.

But how will it be received?

There are no easy answers to that question following news that the fest could return in 2019, at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds instead of the Las Vegas Village, where it originally took place.

Within the Las Vegas country music scene, support for Route 91 remains strong.

“I think that it being back here is great for the local country-western community because it was a cool event,” says Chris Lowden, founder of Stoney’s Rockin’ Country. “We’re Americans, and a lot of people have died for us to be able to live our lives the way we want to live. So I think it’s a good thing ultimately.”

Of course, there’s also concern about what Route 91’s reemergence might mean to those affected by the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting in which 58 festivalgoers were killed.

“My first reaction on this is to say ‘no’ out of respect for all of the victims lost and seriously hurt by the events,” says Bobby Kingston, who owns the north valley honky-tonk the SNS Saloon and fronts the Bobby Kingston Band. “However, sometimes as a community, we must band together and move forward to show our strength and resilience.”

Another question is whether the festival would bear the same name.

Sarah Summers, a Route 91 survivor along with her daughter, supports the return of the multiday country music festival.

“I think that that is extremely important,” she says, “because we can’t let one person take something away from such a big group of people that was so important.”

But she feels it should be called something different and have a new theme.

“There’s this piece of every one of us that feels an obligation to hold that memory of the 58,” Summers says. “I don’t know that I would want to return to the festival with that name. I hate to say that it’s stained. I really don’t want that to be the case.”

But if the festival is to carry on, Lowden says, so should its name.

“Why not call it Route 91?” he says. “You’re not going to kill my spirit. We’re going to move on, and we’re going to be better and stronger.”

Route 91 survivor Joseph Ostunio, 29, says he would attend next year’s fest, as long has his law school schedule permits.

“I think it’s really important that it does come back, because it’s part of the healing process,” he says.

Sue Ann Cornwell, 53, went to the last two Route 91 Harvest festivals. During the aftermath of the attack, the retired Clark County school bus driver and her sister, Billie Jo LaCount, took a dying Denise Burditus to the hospital in Cornwell’s blue 1994 Ford Ranger.

She said she would attend if the festival came back.

“It’s always been a good music weekend, and the price is reasonable,” she says. “We have to keep living and doing what we like; otherwise evil wins.”

Cornwell would like Route 91 to return to its original location, however.

“Part of me wants it back where it was, just to symbolize unity,” she says. “Because we did survive, and out of respect for those who didn’t, we need to walk on that property to honor them.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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