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Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting: Musicians on stage ‘could smell the gunpowder’

TinMan, a rock band at the Gilroy Garlic Festival
Classic-rock band TinMan performing in 2011. The band was performing onstage at the Gilroy Garlic Festival when a shooting erupted Sunday.
(TinMan)

The classic-rock band TinMan was in the middle of Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band” during the final set of the Gilroy Garlic Festival when lead singer Christian Swain heard what sounded like firecrackers.

“Keep playing,” he recalls telling his bandmates. Swain is a bar-band veteran. Fights break out all the time, he says. “You’re always told by management just keep playing, because that’ll calm people down unless it really gets out of hand.”

On Sunday, the festival in Northern California became the latest event to experience a mass shooting when, just as the three-day festival was coming to a close, a gunman opened fire, killing three, including a 6-year-old boy, and injuring at least 12 people. Police killed the gunman, identified as Santino William Legan, after the rampage.

The shooting comes less than two years after a gunman in Las Vegas targeted a country music festival, killing 58 people and wounding more than 400. In November 2018, a shooter killed 13, including himself, at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks.

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While the Gilroy Garlic Festival is known for its food, the annual gathering books a few dozen country, roots and rock bands, including on Sunday successful country acts Caylee Hammack, King Calaway and Waterloo Revival, to offer entertainment. With those sets concluded for the day, TinMan was bidding farewell to the festival’s remaining crowd.

Swain says that the band’s guitarist, Jack van Breen, was the first member to note something amiss. After those first shots, Van Breen stopped playing. Swain says his bandmate “saw the guy start messing with his gun -- his clip or something.” After those first few shots, Swain says, “I’m assuming the gun jammed, because then all of a sudden there was like 20 rounds going off. That was unmistakable.”

From his vantage point onstage, Swain couldn’t see the shooter, but within moments his other senses picked up on what was happening: “All I know is the sound and the smell. We could smell the gunpowder, and that sound was unmistakable.” Stressing that he didn’t see the weapon, Swain said, “it sure sounded like an assault rifle to me. I’ve fired a few [in] my life, and once that second burst came it was like, ‘Oh yeah. It was 20 shots and in a few seconds.”

Perched atop a 5-foot-high stage, the band could see that the gunfire was focused on a big tent in the middle of the area. Fans there were eating and drinking along to a set that had included Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Crossfire” while still having a good view of the music.

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As the situation unfolded, band members raced offstage, got on their hands and knees and crawled underneath it. “Everybody was like, ‘Just lay low. The police will be here,’” Swain said.

As they waited, Swain recalls the “yelling and screaming. I heard, ‘My baby’s been shot!’”

Police were quick to arrive, and after someone alerted them to people hiding under the stage, Swain recalls, “We said, ‘Hey, it’s the band!’” They crawled out. Swain looked out at the field and saw mounted policemen. “They were telling a victim who was helping somebody, saying, ‘Use your belt as a tourniquet.’"

Members of TinMan were escorted off the scene and eventually converged at bass player Bill Weir’s nearby home. The band posted a brief update on social media: “We are safe. We were on stage at the Gilroy Garlic Festival when the shooting occurred.”

The other scheduled performers also reassured fans: “WE ARE OKAY! We left right before all this must’ve happened and we are okay,” wrote rising country star Hammack. “This makes me sick. There was so many smiling faces today, just enjoying the beautiful day together.”

Wrote Waterloo Revival on Instagram, “Thank you to everyone who has called and text, we are all okay and safe from the Garlic Festival shootings. Please pray for the victims and their families.”

TinMan’s Swain says he’s been up all night, and still can’t untangle the events of Sunday. “The Garlic Festival is one of our favorites. We were glad to be back and we were glad to close out the show. We were having fun. It was a good time. And then it was horrific.”


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