Top Eight Notorious Concert Disasters
[this photo has been removed -- ed.]
Recently, indie-rock juggernauts Arcade Fire were prevented from playing a gig in Portugal by NATO, which is having a summit on the same date. Arcade Fire offered to play a day ahead of time, but NATO decided the risk to the Canadian/Houstonian gaggle was simply too great and told them no.
The situation leads us to imagine what possible threat could have been looming to justify such a cancellation? What disaster is being narrowly averted by postponing the biggest indie concert Portugal would have seen this fall?
We can only imagine. Would it have been worse than the following?
8. Woodstock '99: Nu-Metal Fans Surprise Many By Turning Unruly
Every single Woodstock concert festival has been a disaster. The original was rain-soaked, plagued with sound problems, woefully inadequate on the bathroom facilities, had people taking bad drugs, and one guy even got run over by a tractor. It succeeded because the attitude of the day caused the hardships to bring the audience closer together and fostered a sense of unity.
A similar vibe infused Woodstock '94, when once again the rain turned everything in the area to a soupy, shitty mess. Not so for Woodstock '99.
A lot of people like to blame the acts present for what happened, and sure, they're definitely of a different caliber than the earlier Woodstock acts. It's just about believable that watching Korn, Limp Bizkit and Insane Clown Posse could put one into a significantly different state of mind than you'd achieve watching adjacent sets from Janis Joplin and Country Joe and the Fish.
But "Break Stuff" doesn't normally cause Limp Bizkit fans to erupt into violence. Nor did it that night, actually; despite common reports to the contrary, the riots didn't start until the Red Hot Chili Peppers played. The truth is, those acts play together all the time with nary an incident.
The main instigator of the violence appears to be the crass price-gouging on the part of the concert's vendors. Charging $12 for a single-serving pizza, $4 for a single bottle of water, and then providing only limited free water fountains and toilet facilities is an example of the twisted sense of commercialism held by the vendors, who couldn't have been more anti-Woodstock if they'd actually held up protest signs. Nothing says "Fuck you, kid" like taking his water away from him at the entrance to the park and then charging him four bucks when he gets dehydrated in the 100 degree heat.
So when the kids started kicking over porta-potties, burning vendor stands, and breaking water pipes, we were fully sympathetic to them... right up until the raping started.
Unfortunately, some Neanderthal assholes turned a good old-fashioned "damn the Man" riot into an excuse to give in to their baser natures. Multiple sexual assaults were reported, and the concert promoters were eventually sued for their poor planning and price-gouging. How about this: We leave Woodstock where it belongs, in the annals of history, and have fun at our own goddamn concert festivals, can we do that?
Attempting to recreate the experience seems to be pretty well a cursed proposition.
The Altamont Speedway lacked proper barriers, security personnel, and many other things that would have been required to contain the fervent crowd who would be showing up to see the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead play later that evening, so what was done to fix the situation? Why, the Hell's Angels were hired on to work security, that's what. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, for starters, the Hell's Angels are not a police force. Not only does that mean they have no authority, but it also means they don't have the training or equipment to properly respond to violence when it erupts in the crowd. And thanks to the generous proliferation of LSD and methamphetamines among the concertgoers, it did. Many, many times.
Whereas a police officer would be able to restrain, arrest, and detain any of the several audience members who tried to rush the stage, the Hell's Angels' only option was to hit them until they stopped. This worked for a little while, but soon the concert-goers began approaching the stage with weapons, which caused the Hell's Angels to reach for weapons.
Things eventually escalated to the point where Hell's Angel Alan Passaro was forced to stab audience member Meredith Hunter, who rushed the stage and drew a revolver. Hunter died of his injuries, panic ensued, and in the stampede that followed, two people were killed in a hit-and-run accident and one person drowned in an irrigation ditch. A homicide, two manslaughters, and a drowning? That's pretty impressive for a concert that preceded punk rock.
Still, one good thing did come out of all the violence: The Grateful Dead opted not to play. Oh calm down, hippies.
6. The Who In Cincinnati: Full Court Press
On December 3, 1979, The Who were playing at the Cincinnati Riverfront Coliseum. Only 25 police officers were dispatched as security for the show, which turned out to be a woefully inadequate amount. 80 percent of the concert's tickets had been sold as "stadium seating," which meant the earlier one arrived, the more likely one's chances of getting good seats were.
Unfortunately, around 7,000 people arrived early.
With police struggling to keep order, The Who began their sound check at about 7:30 p.m. Mistaking it for the beginning of the concert, the crowd stampeded like panicked cattle for the stadium doors. How popular were The Who in 1979? So popular that, when their fellow audience members fell to the ground, the rest of the herd chose to walk right over them rather than stop to help them up or, you know, just quit being such panicky dicks.
Eleven people were suffocated to death beneath their fellow Who fans' heels, and the real kicker? No one told The Who that people had died until after their set. Well, you can't have something as trivial as the deaths of nearly a dozen people keep you from hearing that bitchin' fiddle solo at the end of "Baba O'Reilly." This embarrassing example of mass hysteria was the sole reason for various regulations imposed on concerts for years to come.
5. Love Parade: 21 Die From Panic, Irony
Only a few months ago, on July 25, several people perished at the ill-fated "Love Parade" festival in Germany. Why ill-fated? Well, Love Parade had grown so large that even Germany's largest city, Berlin, refused to host it. How was the problem solved? The parade was moved to the smaller city of Duisburg. Sure, good idea. That's sort of like deciding that the Free Press Summer Fest has grown too big for Eleanor Tinsley Park, so let's go ahead and move it to Walter's.
In a staggeringly stupid move, the organizers decided to use a nearby tunnel as the sole entrance to the festival. We don't know if Germany has renamed the tunnel "The Love Parade Memorial Kill Chute," but why not? It's no less distasteful than squeezing herds of festival-goers into a tightly enclosed underground space as their only means of entrance. History has shown time and time again: Never, ever let Germans pack you into a tiny space with a whole bunch of other people.
Needless to say, when someone eventually panicked and started the stampede, several people were crushed. Others tried to scale the tunnel walls to escape the river of bodies and instead fell to their deaths. To make matters worse, the end of the tunnel was closed off and people were told to turn around and go back out.
Those who tried found themselves sandwiched between the sealed tunnel exit and the crush of people coming in. In the end, 21 people were killed and dozens more were injured. All for the want of attending the "world's largest techno festival."
Let this be a lesson, kids: Techno kills.
The last four concert disasters we'll discuss all get lumped together because virtually the same thing happened at all four of them: Something caught fire, and people died. Lots and lots of people. It doesn't seem fair to leave any of them out or single out any one incident.
Ever feel put out when a beloved institution gets shut down for fire code violations? You're about to find out why that shit is necessary.
On January 1, 2009, people celebrating the new year in Thailand's Santika Nightclub were surprised to find the club they were standing in aflame. No one knows how the fire got started, whether it was fireworks inside or outside the venue or pyrotechnics set off by the band onstage who were called - hh, Jesus, seriously? - Burn.
It doesn't really matter. What matters is the place had never been inspected for fire code violations, with officials having been bribed to give it a passing grade. This was because many of the club's doors were welded shut to prevent people skipping out on their bar tabs. This meant that when the Santika caught on fire, it pretty much turned into a big brick oven with no way out. 100 people died, some burned so thoroughly that identification was only possible through DNA testing.
The exact same number of people perished six years earlier in the fire at Rhode Island club The Station, when the band's tour manager set some pyrotechnics alight that wound up catching the club's insulation on fire. By the time the audience and band realized that the growing flames weren't part of the show, the fire had become a substantial conflagration and a panicked rush for the doors began that killed most of the victims.
Others died of smoke inhalation, and several simply burned alive. Among the dead were Great White lead guitarist Ty Longley and the show's emcee, local deejay Mike "The Doctor" Gonsalves. The band manager who started the blaze was charged with 200 counts of misdemeanor manslaughter (two different charges for each death) and pled guilty.
He served four years, was released in 2008 and is now an accountant. It was later discovered that the company that sold the foam sound-dampening insulation which caught fire had intentionally hidden the insulation's flammable nature from its customers. That company, the American Foam Corporation, was never put on trial nor even sued in civil court. AMERICA!
Similar circumstances killed 165 people at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Kentucky in 1977. Easily the worst-named venue we've ever heard of, the Supper Club was hosting several events including banquets, receptions, and a John Davidson concert when a fire broke out. No one knows how it started or how long it had been burning before two waitresses discovered it, but by the time anyone knew to flee, the fire was already severe.
Two comedians were warming up for Davidson in the Cabaret room, which was meant to hold 600 people but packed to nearly twice that capacity. The Supper Club's narrow entrance and exit corridors prevented people from leaving with any kind of expedience, and caused bottlenecks at every point of egress. Firefighter Bruce Rath describes his experience thusly:
"When I got to the inside doors, which is about 30 feet inside the building, I seen this big double doors (sic), and the people were stacked like cordwood. They were clear up to the top, the people. They just kept diving on each other trying to get out. I looked back over this pile of - it wasn't dead people, there were dead and alive in that pile - and I went in and I started just grabbing two at a time and pulling them off the stack, and dragging them out, giving them to the busboys."
Overcrowding also led to the record number of deaths at Argentina club República Cromañón, which was packed to almost three times its capacity with 3,000 fans of the band Callajeros. The most likely cause of the fire was an audience member setting off a Roman candle, despite Callajeros' lead singer's advice to the contrary.
This was in South America, so of course any kind of fire inspection had been replaced by a series of bribes, so when some netting above the stage caught fire and spread, it was no real surprise. People actually managed to keep panic to a minimum, with very few deaths reported from crushing or trampling. Instead, most of the victims died from inhaling the toxic fumes and smoke from the blaze. 194 perished in all, making it the deadliest concert disaster of all time.
Several people in connection with the club's negligence and corruption were arrested, but keep in mind this is South America, so assuming they were arrested shortly after the disaster occurred in 2004, they've almost certainly bought their way out of jail by now and are running other death traps even as you read this.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.