Rock concerts have become synonymous with rebellion, teenage angst and a practical way of blowing off steam. Live music are treats, designed to give us a break from our daily lives in a positive and rowdy manner. However, not all shows have gone according to plan as some of the greatest bands of the last 50 years have faced some tragedies while playing live music, including a number of deaths that give rock ‘n roll a bad name. There is no shortage of reasons why a concert could go awry, including dangerous pyrotechnics, out-of-control mosh pits, physical altercations, political turmoil, sexual violence and a shooting.
There is no rhyme or reason fueling these fiascos, which have occurred in the U.S., Canada, South America and Europe. Classic rock bands, heavy metal acts and grunge pioneers have all performed in front of some of the largest crowds live music has ever seen. Some would argue that the frenetic energy that comes with each act is what keeps them sane, but you can’t recreate the music that these bands release on a live stage unless the proper safety requirements are met. Here are 15 of the most dangerous rock concerts the world has ever experienced.
15. Marilyn Manson, Kansas City, 2003
Shock rock juggernaut Marilyn Manson’s 2003 Kansas City concert resulted in unruly behavior from crazed fans. It is no secret that Manson’s anti-religion, anti-establishment style will shake up some people’s ideas of what is right and what is wrong in society. The star has torn up a picture of Jesus at a live concert on Saturday Night Live, as well as a Trump image on a similar situation, but the musician does not advocate violence and it is safe to say that he was not on board with what his fans did that night in Kansas City.
The concert was cut short as fans broke down the barrier that separates fans from the stage not once, but twice. Manson and his musicians left the stage and fans started rioting, throwing bottles towards the stage. Police arrived and fans started attacking police with bottles while the officers restrained concert-goers with irritant sprays. Ambulances were called and several people sustained minor injuries. Thankfully, there were no deaths.
14. Bring Me the Horizon, Australia, 2013
British rockers Bring Me the Horizon rose to prominence in the mid-2000s at the height of the metalcore movement. Over the years, the band has amassed quite the fan base with their 2013 album Sempiternal being awarded Gold in the U.S. However, even the best and most loyal fan bases in the world have a bad egg here and there, and Bring Me the Horizon is no exception.
In February of 2013, the band performed in Australia alongside legendary metal band Metallica at Sydney’s Soundwave concert. A fan set off a flare during the Metallica set, causing a fire that “burned and disfigured a young girl,” according to promoter AJ Maddah. Maddah said he hopes that the person who set off the flare gets his, and offered to shower anyone who can identify him with tickets and backstage passes. It was a massive fire that could have been even deadlier due to how easily a show can be ignited as the foam used for soundproof is very flammable. But more on that later.
13. Monsters of Rock, Russia, 1991
The events that transpired in Russia in 1991 were heard around the world. The Cold War was marked by politically-charged riots in the Soviet Union as its citizens denounced the communist government that ruled them. In 1991, Russia finally became a sovereign nation free from the constraints of president Mikhail Gorbachev. To celebrate the nation’s newfound freedom, the annual Monsters of Rock concert was brought to Moscow where the country enjoyed its first show with musicians outside of the Union in nearly 50 years.
The Black Crowes, Pantera, Metallica and AC/DC performed at the face-melting rock concert that was attended by up to 800,000 people, by some estimations. However, the show soon erupted into chaos as the Russian military attended the show in force, controlling a series of riots from fans that resulted in bloodshed from both ends. The concert proved to be a cathartic, and quite dangerous example of a repressed nation letting loose.
12. Korn, Atlanta, 2006
Korn helped to pioneer the nu-metal movement, although most hardcore fans would argue that the band’s sound has not been recreated by any of the bands that were inspired by Jonathan Davis and co. The mid-90s were good to Korn as several of their albums went platinum, leading to the band launching an annual festival with likeminded artists called The Family Values Tour. It is no secret that heavy metal concerts can be dangerous as there have been numerous situations in which fans have been crushed to death, but what happened in Atlanta in 2006 was a bit different.
Fans Michael Scott Axley and Andrew Richardson got hammered and started going at it. Axley and friends had already gotten into a fight that night but they didn’t stop there. They started harassing Richardson, stealing his cap and taunting him. They proceeded to throw it in his face, and then Axley punched him, knocking him down to the ground. Richardson’s head hit the concrete, inflicting a serious head injury that killed him a few days later.
11. Woodstock, New York, 1999
The message of love and peace that reigned during the original Woodstock was long gone by the time the 30th anniversary of the concert took place in 1999. The festival was moved to an Air Force Base that wasn’t exactly environmentally friendly as the air was toxic, while the temperature rose above 100 degrees. Limp Bizkit and Korn were among the headliners that marked a drastic shift from the jam bands from the 1960s. Although the message was supposed to be a positive one, Limp Bizkit front man Fred Durst said that bullies used his music to justify their actions, causing the band to eventually take a hiatus from performing.
Woodstock ’99 was marked by this aggression as 44 were arrested and at least eight women were raped at the show. Massive riots were to blame for these heinous acts, which bands such as Rage Against the Machine claim were caused by “a couple of idiots.” However, the facts suggest otherwise as upwards of 10,000 people had to seek medical attention after the concert. After Woodstock ’99, the festival would forever close its doors, ending on a grim note that put a damper on its legacy.
10. Limp Bizkit, Australia, 2001
Limp Bizkit concerts in the late 90s and early 2000s were intense as the crowd collectively jumped and pushed each other around in what essentially became a mosh pit of epic proportions. At the Auckland Big Day Out in 2001, the band performed in front of an energetic crowd that resulted in 12 injured people who could have been crushed to death. The band’s lowest point came a few days later as a January show in Sydney led to the death of 16-year-old Jessica Michalik, who was crushed while rocking out to her favorite band.
Durst claimed he did his part by asking crowd members to pick someone up if they fall down. However, the coroner who took care of Michalik’s body threw some shade at the Limp Bizkit singer as he refused to answer questions after the show. The coroner believes that Durst’s vantage point would have given him some idea as to what was going on, and his comments may have helped to answer some questions regarding Michalik’s death. A detective said that the teenager’s death was caused by excessive crowd movement, hot weather and an overly aggressive mosh pit.
9. Damageplan, Columbus, 2004
One of the most tragic deaths in the heavy metal industry has to be the murder of Pantera and Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrell. It had been several years since groove metal band Pantera had separated, but Dimebag’s career had found new life with Damageplan, a band he formed with his brother drummer Vinnie Paul. What happened on Dec. 8, 2004 in Columbus is considered by many of his peers to be the among the lowest points in heavy metal history as one of their own was murdered for reasons that still elude us.
The concert took place on the 24th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon and it was attended by a lively crowd that included former marine Nathan Gale. The military veteran arrived with a Beretta 9mm handgun, which he pulled out as he ran across the stage and aimed at Dimebag. Three shots at the back of Dimebag’s head led to his demise. Crew members reacted by rushing to subdue Gale, but it was too late. Paul’s drum tech John “Kat” Brooks was also shot to death on that night. Officer James Niggemeyer arrived at the scene soon after, shooting Gale dead with a single shotgun round. Niggemeyer suffered from PTSD from the event and had to quit the police force. Some believe that Gale’s anger stemmed from the Pantera separation that left a void in his life.
8. Guns N’ Roses, Montreal, 1992
Metallica and Guns N’ Roses and were on top of the world in 1992 as the bands were touring in support of Metallica’s self-titled album and the dual Use Your Illusion albums by Guns N’ Roses. It was only logical that the two would tour, with Metallica supporting Guns N’ Roses. A Montreal concert in 1992 was chaotic from the get as Metallica lead singer and guitarist James Hetfield suffered deep burns from a stage pyrotechnic that went off on his arm. If he hadn’t held his arm up, the flames would have seared his face.
Hetfield was rushed to the hospital and Guns N’ Roses were up next. The band managed to one-up the heavy metal giants as they incited rioting that cost the band half a million dollars. Fans went ballistic, smashing windows, starting fires, and looting, resulting in a number of arrests. Metallica’s band members said that they learned plenty from Guns N’ Roses’ actions from that show as they learned what not to do in front of a crowd.
7. World Series of Rock, Cleveland, 1979
The World Series of Rock was a music festival that ran for 7 years in the 70s and 80s, showcasing some of the most timeless bands of the 70s. The event was held in Cleveland, the home of the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Most of the attendees would tell you about the electric atmosphere that dominated Municipal Stadium, where the Indians used to play. The rock concert helped to revitalize the arena as the MLB franchise was in the midst of a dry spell that lasted decade.
The 1979 edition of the World Series of Rock was perhaps the most star-studded event since the original Woodstock. The artists included AC/DC, Aerosmith, Journey, Scorpions, Ted Nugent and Thin Lizzy. About 88,000 people attended the event on July 28, 1979. As the stadium filled to capacity, additional concert-goers camped outside the park. The free-flowing rock concert proved to be chaotic as several cases of violence put a damper on the show.
At least five people were shot at the show with one fatality. There was also gang violence, vandalism, robberies and theft with one other person dying after attempting to climb the stadium. It is unclear what exactly caused these senseless crimes, but envy could be the cause as several skulking fans targeted those seated in the best sections of the rock concert.
6. AC/DC, Salt Lake City, 1991
AC/DC made quite the comeback in the early 90s, releasing The Razors Edge in 1990. The album breathed new life into the rock ‘n roll veterans, led by the lightning guitar scales of the Young brothers, as well as a heart-thumping kick drum that sets the mood for the sonic mayhem that breaks free as the band performs. However, a Salt Lake City concert in support of the album broke the hearts of headbangers everywhere.
The night was January 18, 1991 and 13,000 fans attended the brutal show. Fans pushed forward and the people up front were tumbling down, exposing their torsos and heads to the boots of the heavy metal militia. There was no ill intent in the Utah concert, but three teenagers lost their lives and many others were injured midway through AC/DC’s set list.
One such victim was 19-year-old Elizabeth Glausi, who fell along with her friend Brandi Burton. Glausi recalls how loud and imposing the music blaring out of the speakers felt as they fell to the ground, desperately begging for help from fellow fans. 10 minutes later, Glausi told her friend she couldn’t breathe, asking God for mercy as she met her demise. Burton woke up in the hospital and shared the deadly tale with her family and friends. AC/DC singer Brian Johnson was so distraught by the concert’s fatalities that he was unable to sleep for a week.
5. Rolling Stones, Altamont, 1969
Hippie fandom took a dark turn at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival on December 6, 1969 as a biker gang and drug-laced drinks took over the event. An estimated 300,000 attempted the gruesome affair that threatened the lives of many while causing psychological damage to many others.
The concert lineup included Santana, Jefferson Airplane and Rolling Stones on a day where drinks were spiked with LSD, speed or a combination of both. The mixture of the stimulant with the psychedelic substance resulted in a bad trip for the hippies who traveled to Central California for the show. However, the worst moment of the festival occurred when members of Hells Angels arrived with hate and racism in their hearts.
18-year-old Meredith Hunter was a black man who smooched with his white girlfriend while the Stones were rocking. As the British superstars played fan-favorite “Under My Thumb,” Hunter had his head smashed in by a biker. The gruesome scene continued as Hells Angels’ Alan Passaro stuck his knife inside Hunter’s neck.
The teenager died moments later even though he may have had a chance to live had he been rushed to the hospital. The only way to save him would’ve been to fly him to the hospital using Mick Jagger’s helicopter. However, the helicopter would not leave without the authorization of the band, and no one felt comfortable using it without the band’s consent. An ambulance was called and Hunter died before it arrived.
The motorcycle gang may have committed the crime to make a statement regarding the civil rights battle that was ongoing in the country at the time. Three other fans died accidentally, marking one of the lowest points of the counterculture revolution.
4. Pearl Jam, Denmark, 2000
Scandinavia has been a hotbed for rock concerts and festivals, with Denmark’s Roskilde at or near the top of shows worth watching in Northern Europe. The four-day festival is infamously remembered for its devastating 2000 edition that proved to be overcrowded and unprepared.
Grunge giants Pearl Jam performed on June 30 in front of 50,000 strong who pushed forward as much as they could. The soulful twang of Mike McCready’s guitar and the lion’s roar of Eddie Vedder ignited the Danish concert at 10:15 p.m. The weather depicted a classic Scandinavian summer with icy winds and constant rain unnerving the fans.
The young crowd pushed forward and started crushing each other, with some fans desperate to leave the mosh. However, the pit only grew fiercer as one man fell and a woman tried to pull him up. She tried to alarm those surrounding the man, but it was to no avail as he was stomped to death by unsuspecting fans.
Pearl Jam attempted to ameliorate the madness by asking everyone to collectively take three steps back. Most fans complied, but some were stuck in a hole in the ground that injured dozens. The pile of flailing arms and legs was seven feet long, leading to the death of seven more at the concert. A ninth fan died several days later in the hospital.
Band members expressed their condolences over the accident and questions were asked surrounding the way some festivals are run. Roskilde only had a dozen of paid employees, while the rest of the staff consisted of unpaid volunteers who did not have the proper training to deal with an emergency of that magnitude. The Who guitarist Pete Townshend was one of many celebrities to reach out to the band, recalling a similar show his band experience in the 1970s.
3. The Who, Cincinnati, 1979
One of the standout performers of the original Woodstock in 1969 was British mods turned rockers The Who. The band was making waves across the States following the release of Tommy, a rock opera about a deaf, dumb and blind boy who had a heightened sense of awareness for the vibrations of the world. One of the most dramatic moments of the album came in the song “Sally Simpson,” where Tommy’s childhood crush rushes toward the stage to declare her love for him. Tommy turns around and accidentally knocks her off the stage, injuring her badly.
Fiction became reality at a concert that occurred 10 years later as The Who performed in Cincinnati in front of more than 14,000 in an arena that was designed to hold 7,000. The venue was understaffed and overstuffed with fervent fans who paid $10 to witness the band’s theatrical songwriting firsthand. There were numerous reports of drug use at the concert that led to the crowd stampeding several fans to death, while several suffered drug overdoses. Overall, 11 people died, and more than 30 lawsuits were filed over the injuries and casualties caused by the event. All suits were settled out of court by 1984.
2. Great White, West Warwick, 2003
The 1980s glam metal scene was dominated by thin men with big hair, girly makeup, leather pants and phosphorescent shirts. The bands that were formed by these men lived a life of excess as they partied with alcohol, drugs, women and pretty much anything to get the adrenaline going. By 2003, the scene had long-been dead, but bands such as Poison, Motley Crüe and Great White were looking to relive their glory days by introducing their old hits to a new generation. Among these concerts, there is one that stands out above the rest for all the wrong reasons.
A Great White performance in West Warwick, Rhode Island went south during the band’s first song as road manager Daniel Biechele set off the pyrotechnics. The crackling sound of rising flames soon turned into a full-fledged inferno as the flames ignited the foam used for soundproofing the ceiling of the club. Concert-goers were unable to escape the flame wave, which claimed the lives of more than 100, while injuring a further 200 fans. Biechele pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and went to prison for four years. Meanwhile, Great White singer Jack Russell did dozens of interviews addressing the tragedy, but West Warwick is still hurting more than a decade later. The general sentiment in the town is that Russell did not do enough to atone for the catastrophe that struck the city.
1. Callejeros, Argentina, 2004
Argentine band Callejeros were once known as hometown heroes for the people of Buenos Aires. The alternative rock musicians did not have much of a presence outside of Argentina, but their pioneering style of tango, traditional Uruguayan music and rock ensured their place in South American lore for the better part of a decade. One of their preferred venues was República Cromagnon, a nightclub that offered respite from the toil of daily life for workers of all backgrounds. However, Callejeros’ legacy was forever tainted the night of December 30, 2004 as they were doing a concert in Cromagnon.
Much like the accident that occurred in Rhode Island as a New Year’s Eve flare was set off. The Styrofoam and wood from the club’s acoustic panels were ignited, engulfing the concert with fire. Fans were desperately trying to get out, pushing each other out of the way as they made their way to the exits but the smoke that formed within those four walls overtook the atmosphere. At least 175 died from smoke inhalation and burns, while another 619 of the 4,000 attendees suffered injuries.
Several band members and government officials responsible for the design of the club were convicted to lengthy prison sentences for their role in the accident. The Cromagnon fire will forever go down as the most dangerous rock concert of all time.
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