The Life is Beautiful programmer turned his trauma into purpose, keeping the thrill of live music a reality for Las Vegas — and for himself
Craig Nyman is doing great. But it took him an awfully long time to get to that point: four years, one month and six days, as he reveals it. That’s nearly 1,500 days of getting back the everyday joy he’d felt before that tragic night at Route 91, which he attended with a group of friends. The day before his epiphany — November 6, 2021 — he’d gone to the Rolling Stones’ concert at Allegiant Stadium with his brother and parents. It was a full-circle celebration: Nyman’s first-ever concert was a 1989 Stones show, also experienced with his family. The next morning, he woke up and said to himself, “I feel genuinely happy.”
If you know Nyman even casually, the first thing you envision when you hear his name is his perma-smile. Even before 2013, when he landed his dream gig as head of music and programming for Life Is Beautiful — the annual festival in Downtown Las Vegas — his face always suggested his very life was a dream gig. But October 1, 2017, dimmed the light that naturally emanated from him.
Improbably, the road to recovery began exactly one week after the shooting, at the very same resort from which the gunfire rang out. Nyman attended a House of Blues concert headlined by Billy Idol, mostly to reunite with managers associated with both Idol and Tom Petty, the latter having suddenly passed away five days earlier. Grief hung in the air that night, but Nyman miraculously steeled himself and regained his purpose. “That moment, for me, was just like walking right back into things,” he says. “Like, I can’t be fearful of stuff, as much as it may be hurtful, painful stuff like (the shooting). It was just, my path is to move forward collectively to heal people and bring joy and bring happiness.”
Which meant throwing himself into two things: therapy and work. The former came from a professional who specialized in trauma and offered her services at no cost to the festival’s survivors. (“That one gesture saved my life,” Nyman says through tears.) The latter was possible because his Life Is Beautiful colleagues shielded him from any security concerns — which now included added exits and law enforcement, helicopters and police drones — so he could focus on the event offerings. The 2018 edition went off safely and violence-free.
The same can be said for most other entertainment events in Las Vegas since. Venues have been paying closer attention to security, as well as audience capacities. Nyman nowadays stands outside crowds and looks for anything suspicious. Mostly what he sees, though, is a culture and industry that seems ambivalent to violence at public events; even the see-something-say-something warnings have all but disappeared.
“It shouldn’t be something that, when an October 1st anniversary comes, we’re just moving (along), and there’s a plethora of entertainment and concerts in the city,” Nyman says. “And I get that we’re a city that’s open for business … But it’s not something that should be lost or forgotten, especially in the city, let alone in our country.”
If there’s a silver lining for Nyman, it’s that 1 October solidified his resolve to renormalize large gatherings and experience the elation that comes with communal music experiences. “I knew there was no way that night that person was going to take away the joy I have from attending live music and putting on events,” he says, defiance in his voice. “It’s one of the things in this world that I believe connects all of us … And that part doesn’t happen if I give up. There was no chance that I was going to give up.” Φ