ORLANDO—Outside of the venue, balloons wave in the wind as melted candle wax stains the sidewalk. Hand drawn posters for slain singer Christina Grimmie tower over piles of flowers left by mourners.
The Plaza Live, a major Orlando music venue which saw the first of a pair of grisly shootings at popular nightlife spaces in the city last weekend, will open its doors to the public on Thursday for the first time since Grimmie was killed during a meet-and-greet event last week. The 49 deaths the following night at popular gay nightclub Pulse have left a pair of gaping holes in the city's thriving young nightlife scene.
Now, Orlando's entertainers, musicians, and clubgoers aren't sure how the city will move on from the trauma.
"When I'm on stage performing, I don't have any protection," Ralph Francis, a local stand-up comedian and improv actor, told me. "And after these two events, I have to be honest with you, that makes me very nervous to get back on that stage."
Kyle Raker, owner of Norse Korea, a local company that books gigs around town, told me that one artist cancelled a show he booked, partly out of fear of appearing on stage. Others are understandably asking for security assurances before they start setting up for the night.
Akeem Collins, a gay black Orlando resident, echoed that sentiment during a recent gathering in honor of the Pulse victims. "Back to back nights, people getting shot," he said. "I feel like it's gonna affect everything…I'm going to hold off on going out for a while until everything cools down."
Security measures for nightlife hotspots across the nation have been called into question following the tragedies. Locally, the Orlando Police Department is conducting an ongoing review of the security at local clubs and bars. In an article in the Orlando Sentinel, a woman expressed her outrage that water bottles were taken from patrons as they filed into Plaza Live the night of Grimmie's shooting, yet somehow a shooter was able to sneak a pistol in.
“This has to spark some sort of change. It just has to," she said.
In Orlando, a city that has for years been an incubator of talent thanks to its thriving local music scene, the anxiety over the recent tragedies threatens to crush the vibe, especially after a singer in a local band was killed in the Pulse shooting.
In a sense, Orlando will have to learn how to have fun again.
"You can't find solace if you don't have a place to go and feel safe and comfortable and be with people," said David Oliver Willis, a local musician who has already written a moving track about the deaths. "That's the hard part about this, because you don't want it to affect you, but then you turn around and you have to realize that we're all so vulnerable."
"I'm sure that everyone is concerned that things will slow down, that people will stop coming out in the back of their head," said Raker, the owner of Norse Korea. "But it's part of our job to deal with that, to work with the venue to not only ensure safety, but I think peace of mind so that when [people] walk in they feel like they're walking into a safe environment."
In time, many here say, the city's wounds will heal, and the music will resume. But safety is on everyone's mind. In a statement about reopening its doors to the public on Thursday, The Plaza Live said that it is continuing to work with Orlando police, and that officers have been invited to evaluate security practices and protocols.
The first band that will play the venue after its sudden closure is Atlanta-based Yacht Rock Revue, a semi-satirical 70s soft rock cover band. The burden of picking the baton back up for the city is not lost on them.
"Everything that has happened is so much bigger than our little soft rock band," front man Nicholas Niespodziani told me via email.
For Orlando's LGBTQ community, a group whose identity has been shaped, in part, by local nightlife, some say that going back out will be part of the healing process.
"No matter what, we can't let this affect our night out," said Arron Candelaria, a local who goes by both "she" and "he." "Our clubs, our bars in our LGBT community, they have been all we have ever had to go out and be ourselves. No one should ever have to put a hold on being themselves."
Nicholas Niespodziani, the Yacht Rock Revue front man scheduled to play at The Plaza Live on Thursday, sees the challenge in front of him.
"Our job every night is to make people happy and help them escape from their everyday lives for a few hours," he wrote. "Our responsibility is to make that happen Thursday night, and help everyone remember love conquers fear."
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.