Crowds. Drugs. Frenzied energy; all the elements of a great rock concert. Unfortunately, it can also be a recipe for disaster.
But, as many reported violent and disastrous incidents reflect, rock concerts can turn into utter chaos – and fast.
While the last thing a person thinks about is getting hurt or dying when attending a rock concert, there have been several reports through the years of gigs getting seriously out of hand, leading to severe injuries, and even deaths. From full on fist fights, to pyrotechnics gone wrong, to a scandalous lack of crowd control – all of these rogue elements have contributed to tragic disasters at rock shows.
It’s not just rock; last year saw an unprecedented number of country shows marred with alcohol abuse and violence. At a Keith Urban concert last July, 55 people were arrested and 22 hospitalized, with an 18-year-old man also accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl at the same show. Police pointed to extreme alcohol abuse in all of the evening’s incidents. Just weeks before, a 22-year old man attending a Jason Aldean show was found dead in a landfill, after drinking to excess.
All of this happened in the wake of Pittsburgh changing its tailgating policy – the habit of concertgoers drinking at their parked car, sometimes hours before a show. The change followed an incident before a Luke Bryan concert, in which throngs of fans, intoxicated once again, trashed the city; the same thing reportedly happened in the city the year before at a Kenny Chesney/Tim McGraw tour, that also resulted in violent fights and several arrests.
Typically placid country fans were left scratching their heads over the spate of violence and tragedy at recent shows, with some pointing to an increase in lyrics celebrating alcohol abuse and hard partying, as well as an increasing demographic of young and restless male listeners of the genre. Unsurprisingly, alcohol and drugs are almost always at the root of rock shows gone wrong as well.
Whatever the genre, when a musical concert ends in violence or tragedy, it can have the same impact on the collective conscience as disasters resulting from football hooliganism or crowd control problems that have been frequently reported in the UK. Something that is supposed to be a good time in the name of entertainment somehow goes inexplicably wrong, making the tragedy seem all the more senseless.
While no good can ever really come from such tragedies, at least positive changes have typically been initiated by concert and festival organizers, or venue owners, in order to avert such incidents in the future.
These are ten horrifying cases of rock concerts throughout history that went, for various reasons, seriously and even fatally wrong.
10. The Who in Cincinnati, 11 trampled to death
On December 3, 1979, thousands of eager fans piled up at the doors of the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio; they were desperate to get into the venue to see rock legends, The Who, performing that night– and they all wanted the best seats.
The venue had already earned a reputation for fans getting out of control due to a general admission policy. While the concept worked well elsewhere, Coliseum spectators seemed to have developed a psyche, becoming wildly out of control and violent in the rush to grab the best seats possible; in 1960, a crazed mob of fans rushed the locked entrance of the venue before Led Zeppelin was to play that night, ending in several injuries and 60 arrests.
It got much worse the night The Who showed up to play.
Once again, thousands of frenetic fans wanting the best seats piled up in front of the locked doors. When just 5 of the 134 doors were finally opened, a crush situation occurred, as fans desperately pushed and squeezed their way inside the venue. In the ensuing chaos, 11 fans were trampled or crushed to death, and 23 more were injured.
Unaware of the tragedy unfolding outside, The Who started playing their set, as emergency crews attended to the victims. The band was reportedly shocked and horrified at the news, and dedicated their next show in Buffalo to the victims.
Band member Pete Townshend was haunted by the event, telling reporters: “If it had happened inside, I would never have played again.”
The tragedy sparked a ban on general admission seating in Cincinnati and several other venues.
9. Metallica/Guns n’ Roses in Montreal, mob riot
When Metallica and Guns n’ Roses announced they would be touring together in 1992, fans went ballistic. At the time, these were two of the biggest possible headlining acts in the metal/heavy rock world; for the two bands to be playing in one show was like a dream come true for metal-heads. Eager concert-goers paid unprecedented amounts of money to get tickets for what felt to them like the biggest show on earth.
When Metallica hit the Montreal Olympic Stadium stage on August 8th, the excited crowd went insane; but just 25 minutes into the set, lead singer James Hetfield was badly injured when a pyrotechnic effect went horrifically wrong, leaving him with second and third degree burns on his hands, arms, face, and back.
As the band was forced to cut their act short, fans waited an agonizing 2 hours and 15 minutes before notorious prima-donna Axl Rose and his crew finally graced the stage. Just a few songs in, a visibly irritated Rose inexplicably threw his mic into the air, after saying something along the lines of, “You’ll be refunded at the doors. We’re out of here.” Rose later cited throat problems; but to fans it looked a lot like unexplained diva behaviour.
With no explanation on the night, and no promised refund at the doors, fans feeling short-changed went a little bananas.
The angry mobs proceeded to trash the stadium, and everything around it, setting fires to cars and piles of their Guns n’ Roses t-shirts, uprooting a street lamp, overturning a police cruiser, and looting nearby stores. All told, damage caused by the disgruntled Montrealers totalled nearly $500,000.
Guns n’ Roses were strapped with a lifelong ban from performing at the Montreal Olympic Stadium.
8. Rolling Stones in Altamont, stabbing death
When concert organizers offered the Hells Angels $500 worth of beer to provide security during the Rolling Stones’ free concert off California’s Altamont freeway in December of 1969, they clearly deluded themselves into thinking they’d made a plum deal.
It turned out to be anything but, at the concert event that was intended to be the “Woodstock West.”
The notoriously violent gang were cracking skulls, quite literally, from the show’s start to finish, beating up fans and band members alike. Upon arrival at the venue, Mick Jagger was reportedly punched in the face seconds after stepping off his helicopter by an already inflamed fan, and Jefferson Airplane lead singer Marty Balin was beaten unconscious by one of the gang members mid-set.
To keep the crowd back from the unusually low stage, the Hells Angels used motorcycle chains and sawn-off pool cues, also chucking full cans of beer at spectators. As a result, unsurprisingly, a number of fights broke out between increasingly intoxicated fans and the equally intoxicated Angels.
But the worst of it came with one of the Angels stabbing concertgoer Meredith Hunter, who had pulled out a gun after reported disputes he’d had with the gang security. The incident is actually caught on film in a documentary titled “Gimme Shelter” – also the song the Stones were playing when Hunter was attacked and killed.
7. “Dimebag” of Pantera/Damageplan murdered on stage
On December 8, 2004 former Pantera guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Lance Abbott had just started performing the first song of his set with new metal band Damageplan in Columbus, Ohio, when all hell broke loose.
Midway through the song, a former marine and deranged fan reportedly stepped onto the stage holding a revolver in an outstretched arm, opening fire directly onto the guitarist.
Abbott was shot several times by the gunman, and died of his injuries. The crowd of more than 200 spectators didn’t even know what was happening by the time the obsessed fan had shot and killed the guitarist, along with another fan, a member of security, and a club employee.
Police arrived on the scene just as the gunman was wrestling with a hostage; as he re-loaded his gun, a police officer managed to gun the man down without injuring the hostage. Including the gunman, five were dead by night’s end. The 25-year-old gunman was reportedly incensed over the breakup of Pantera, possibly blaming Abbott for the band’s demise.
The shooting happened on the 24th anniversary of John Lennon‘s murder. After this horrific tragedy, security levels rose substantially at a number of venues.
6. Woodstock ’99, sexual assaults and riot violence
It was supposed to be a modern day answer to the 1969 peace and love fest of the same name; but Woodstock ’99 had violence and rage as its legacy.
During Limp Bizkit‘s notoriously raucous song, “Break Stuff,” some of the crowd responded in primal fashion with lead singer Fred Durst reportedly inciting them. Spectators aggressively destroyed anything they could get their hands on, with reports of a gang sexual attack also occurring during the band’s set. In fact, several sexual assaults were reported to have occurred during the festival, along with other acts of violence and general mayhem.
Several issues are reported to have contributed to the ugly behaviour exhibited by concertgoers; overpriced tickets and brutal heat cooking the audience on a hot tarmac viewing surface, combined with a water and shade shortage, pushed spectator to the point of agitation, and finally rage.
It didn’t help when women started going topless to the degrading, ubiquitous chants of “Show your tits!” The semi-nudity was probably intended as a nod to the free-love hippy behaviour of 30 years before, but it merely fanned the flames of a decidedly less peaceful crowd.
With the increasingly bad vibe swelling through the crowd as the festival drew to a close, it shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise that spectators decided to light bonfires all over the place as the Red Hot Chili Peppers sang a rendition of Jimi Hendrix‘s Fire, as a tribute to the artist’s performance of 30 years before. The aggressive Woodstock 1999 crowd responded by literally burning the place down, setting fire to ticket vending booths and tents, and upturning vehicles in a riot that needed to be suppressed by law enforcement.
If Woodstock ’69 was heaven, the 1999 version was surely as close to hell as it could get.
5. Metallica in Jakarta, Indonesia, violent riot
By the time metal band Metallica hit Jakarta, Indonesia for a show in April 1993, the city had already developed a reputation for riots breaking out for the smallest of reasons.
So the city’s military police were kind of asking for it when they started turning fans away at the door the night of the concert, pointing to “no more space” in the venue. With ticket prices costing many of the impoverished young fans over a month’s earnings (with some going to such lengths as selling their parents shoes to afford the price), the rejected spectators went into an absolute rage.
Some reports have the riot starting as Metallica’s tour bus arrived at the venue with the band inside, causing manic fans waiting to get into the venue to mob the bus, concerning band organizers. When security were asked to cramp down on the overly zealous crowd, they did just that, with the fans responding by throwing rocks and increasing the violent episodes.
Of the ensuing destruction and chaos, one witness said, “The scene looked like ‘Escape From New York.'” (the Kurt Russell, post-apocalyptic film). In the end, the angry mob managed to burn out over 60 cars, lighting fires left and right, with the swells of the rising flames becoming visible from inside the open air stadium, as seen in video footage of Metallica playing that night.
Dozens were injured in the riot, with 1000 armed troops finally deployed to end the violence, making 9o arrests.
The troops were said to be so overwhelmed with the rioting that they eventually opened the stadium doors for any and all rioters to freely enter, tickets or no tickets, in the hopes that this would quell the madness – which it did. Legend has it the stadium was packed with 100,000 spectators that night.
4. Pearl Jam in Denmark, 9 crushed to death
Seattle grunge band Pearl Jam were midway through their set on the stage of the famous annual Roskilde rock festival in Denmark, when lead singer Eddie Vedder saw things going terribly wrong in the audience.
Vedder reportedly stopped his show, noticing the 50,000 strong crowd getting uncontrollably rowdy. Amid reported sound problems, the crowd pushed and shoved aggressively in attempts to muscle their way closer to the stage to hear better. Reports have Vedder telling the crowd over and over, “Take two steps back, please.”
Unfortunately, his pleas were in vain, as the crowd persisted to push forward en masse, with several spectators slipping on the muddy ground, left crushed by the maddened throngs above. Nine people were killed in the tragedy.
Police blamed alcohol, overcrowding, poor security, bad weather, and speaker problems for the disastrous concert. Shocked by the tragedy, Pearl Jam canceled the remainder of their European tour.
Not long after, Vedder wrote two songs to remember the victims, including Love Boat Captain containing the line: “It’s an art to live with pain,… mix the light into grey,..Lost nine friends we’ll never know,.. two years ago today… And if our lives became too long, would it add to our regret? ”
Pearl Jam have admitted they nearly broke up over the traumatic event, when they were initially singled out by Danish investigators and concert organizers as “morally responsible” for the incident. Pearl Jam responded by calling for a thorough investigation; in the end no formal charges were laid against the band or anyone else.
In performances since the tragedy, the band remembers the victims with Love Boat Captain, replacing the song’s original “two years ago today” line with the actual number of years that have passed since the incident.
3. Korn in Atlanta, concertgoer beaten to death in mosh-pit
When you jump into a mosh pit, you know you might get really, really, hurt by the primal, aggressive form of dancing. So just exactly what a heavily pregnant woman was doing anywhere near the frenzied mosh-pit of a thrash-metal Korn concert in July of 2006 is left to the imagination.
But near the mosh-pit she was, as opening act Deftones took to the Atlanta, Georgia stage, when all of the nearby flying elbows, knees, and head-banging began to concern her boyfriend, who reportedly also brought along his mentally disabled child.
Proceeding to ask some particularly rowdy spectators to be more careful around his family, 30-year-old Andy Richardson was reportedly punched in the head, causing him to collapse headlong to the concrete floor below. Rushed to hospital, Richardson was declared brain dead on arrival, subsequently dying of his injuries.
A 25-year-old man was charged with murder over the incident, with Korn issuing public, heartfelt sympathies to Richardson’s family.
2. The Love Parade in Duisberg, Germany, several people crushed
Berlin’s famous Love Parade started in 1989 as an impromptu street party that turned into an annual techno fest featuring live music and world famous DJ’s on several continuous floats. As the years went on, the festival grew legendary in its popularity, attracting young party seekers from all over Europe each year, all eager to join the festival that focussed so famously on fun, love, sex, and hedonism.
With time, Berlin had had enough of the festival, that caused so much damage and chaos annually within the city; Germany’s capital happily handed over the “keys to the party” to other cities, with the festival landing in the lap of the western city of Duisburg in 2010.
But neither the city of Duisburg nor festival organizers were prepared for the popularity of the techno-party that July, when the number of attendees reportedly doubled unexpectedly.
The vast numbers of spectators led to an overcrowding situation under an overpass, as the hundreds of thousands of festival-goers made their way to the mass-rave, packed together sardine-can style through the only access route to the party grounds.
As the throngs tried to push their way through the narrow tunnel passage, a literal bottle neck situation occurred, with the masses trapped between the structure’s walls, and squeezed against them– and under one another’s feet.
The crowd was reportedly packed so tightly together that frantic witnesses couldn’t even manoeuvre enough to assist victims literally dying at their feet.
A scandal broke amid reports of an ineffective police and security team, who seemed to act apathetically as the overcrowding situation began stretching quite obviously out of control. By the time the police caught onto the dangers, it was too late to control the crowds or get to the victims, as the horrific events unfolded.
In the end, 21 people lost their lives that day in the stampede, with a further 500 receiving injuries due to the bad planning and poor crowd management.
Ten people were accused of and charged with negligent manslaughter and causing bodily harm, including four of the festival’s organizers, and six Druisburg city officials.
1. Great White in Rhode Island, mass death due to blaze
Possibly the worst tragedy to be attached to a live rock concert in history happened in February of 2003, during a Great White performance in West Warwick, Rhode Island.
As the band played, a fire reportedly broke out due to the misuse of pyrotechnics, with the flames quickly sweeping the entire venue, causing utter devastation. The problem was made far worse by the foam-insulation in the building, leading to highly toxic and hazardous fumes to be readily inhaled by spectators.
Spectators were not able to easily escape the flames, with two of the fire escapes chained shut and security forbidding spectators to exit backstage, through which the band members had escaped. The bottleneck that resulted at the one available exit caused panicking spectators either to be trampled to death or overcome by the fumes and flames.
By night’s end, 100 people died in the inferno, including Great White guitarist Ty Longley who, having at first escaped the fire, reportedly returned to the burning building to retrieve his guitar. An additional 230 spectators were injured in the horrific blaze.
Later, the club’s owners, along with the foam-insulation manufacturer, and the town of Warwick, would settle for $176 million to be distributed to the families of the victims, as well as the survivors of the tragedy.
thejakartaglobe, historyrat, bbc
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