The summer festival season is winding down, but even as that stops, the fall festival season begins. The weather will be getting nicer, and it will actually be pleasant to be outside, so we're looking forward to it, especially with Austin City Limits, our own BestFest and Fun Fun Fun Fest all coming up in the next couple of months. However, there have been a few unfortunate incidences this summer, most notably in Quebec City, Tulsa, Ottawa, last weekend's fatal tragedy in Indianapolis and, just hours ago, the Pukkelpop Festival in Belgium, where bad weather and/or hostile crowd conditions caused stage collapses, crushing deaths, and all sorts of horrible injuries.
Sometimes luck/fate/the Universe/God/Karma is just determined to destroy you, and won't be satisfied until everything you ever were is ground into meat putty, but there's a chance that if you're ever in an outdoor concert disaster situation and can keep a clear head and remember these tips, maybe, just maybe, you can spit in God's face and escape free of injury.
1. Stay hydrated and sated. You don't want to be in a situation where you have to make split-second decisions which may involve running, jumping, shoving or fighting on an empty stomach while dehydrated. Plus, dehydration and heatstroke are the most common reasons for medical intervention at outdoor concerts, so you need to be careful to stay hydrated, stay cool, and keep at least a little bit of food in yourself.
This will mean bringing cash, as many food booths won't take debit cards and the concert ATMs will most likely try to gouge the living shit out of you with processing fees and other nonsense. Also: The hotter it is, the less fashionable you are allowed to be. Your leather jacket might look awesome, but leave it in your car because it will feel like a heat-soaking murder blanket all day.
You may have spent hours getting your hairdo just right, but in 110-degree weather, dumping a bottle of water on your head is a lot better than passing out in the mud and getting trampled to death. There is no common sense in fashion, but there's plenty in survival. Unless you're one of the unlucky people who actually buys into that "live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse" stuff, then go nuts, you gorgeous idiot.
2. Don't get packed in too tight. We know it's tempting to get right up in front of the stage just in case indie heartthrob Jeff Tweedy tosses out a pair of his boxer briefs or something, but not all concerts are safe for this kind of thing. Look around you. Are there an adequate number of barriers and security personnel?
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Sure, usually security personnel are just there to make sure you don't bring in any food from outside the venue, but in the rare case when you get knocked down on the ground or get in a fight, they'll be the ones intervening to keep people from getting too hurt, so unless you're one of those jackasses who plans on rushing the stage, try to have one or two nearby. Keep a barrier close by, as well, so that if the crush of people gets too intense, you can hop over it and scurry to safety.
Suffocation/trampling is one of the uglier ways to die, so try to keep a level of awareness on how crammed in you're getting, and always try to have a quick way out. Failing that, stand in the midst of very good-looking people, so that if you are squeezed to death, your last few moments on earth will at least be kind of sexy.
3. Bring or meet up with friends. It's simple: not only are festivals more fun with friends, but they're safer, too. It's nice to have folks around who will come to your aid if there are problems. Just don't bring your friends who are always getting drunk and starting trouble. Festivals are really, really not the place for that crap. Drop 'em off at a frat party and enjoy the show.
4. Charge your cell phone. Nothing sucks more than needing help and not being able to call for it. Make sure your phone is fully charged and in good working order before heading out to the festival, in case there's some kind of emergency like a tornado, a fire, or if a band plays a cover song and you can't quite remember who originally did it and it's driving you crazy.
5. Find shelter, but not the wrong kind of shelter. If bad weather is coming your way but it's going to blow over relatively quickly, find some shelter and wait it out. Every Houstonian knows how much it sucks to be on the road during a storm, when many of the city's roads turn into raging rivers and later blissful, car-strewn lagoons.
Not just any shelter will do, however. Hopefully everybody knows not to hang out under a tree in a lightning storm, but not everyone knows not to get inside a tent during a windstorm. Don't head to that VIP tent when the wind picks up, or else they'll find your body days later crushed beneath what was a whirling dervish of complementary ginger beer cans and promotional lanyards.
Find something with real concrete walls and an actual roof to huddle in, if you can. If you can't find anywhere like that, find a low point like a ditch or a pit. Try to handcuff yourself to a water pipe with Helen Hunt if you can; this guarantees survival in any scenario. Unfortunately, the dialogue will be terrible.
6. Wear good, comfortable, protective shoes. At any outdoor concert, especially festivals, you can rest assured that, at the very least, the ground around the stage will be quickly churned into swampy goo by the stamping feet of the festivalgoers. Even if there's no moisture in the air or on the ground, it will turn into muck, simply because some filthy bastards would rather stand in one place all day and pee down their legs than go to the port-a-potties and risk losing their choice spot. Disgusting, but true.
Plus, if the wind picks up and debris starts blowing around, you don't want the only thing between your foot and a ballistic chunk of paneling to be a thin string of flip-flop rubber. Wear shoes that cover your entire foot, preferably with socks. Full-on steel-toed boots probably won't be necessary, but couldn't hurt, and can be bought on the cheap from any second-hand store.
Basically, if you're going to an outdoor concert, dress your feet as if whatever's covering them may either save them or get ruined forever.
7. Don't be a douchebag. Honestly, the secret to avoiding trouble at an outdoor concert, or any other public place, is often simply to not act like a raging dickbucket. This means do not start a mosh pit when it's inappropriate, and learn how to mosh. It's an actual dance, you know, you're not just walking around shoving people.
Don't get so drunk you become loud, aggressive, or otherwise obnoxious. Don't talk to your stupid friends so loudly that it interferes with other peoples' enjoyment of the music. By simply not being a jerk, you could avoid sticky situations altogether, and if something bad does happen, who do you think a good Samaritan will dig out of the rubble first: someone who was nice, fun, and helpful, or someone who screamed "FREEBIRD!" at every band and pounded 24-oz. Bud Lights until he puked all over his shoes?
Yeah... enjoy the view from under those pylons, broseph, and best of luck to ya.
8. Don't be part of the mob. You're an individualist, right? You're not one to go blindly along with the crowd, you've got your own thoughts, desires, and opinions and you're not afraid to... oh, wait, you like chillwave? Okay, never mind. Let's just pretend that individualism is important to you.
When the crowd surges forward as one and carries you along with it, do you go along? The correct answer is no. Doing something just because the rest of the crowd around you is doing it is a great way to get crushed, trampled or involved in one of those crazy Limp Bizkit-style rape riots. When the crowd turns ugly or stampedes like frightened cattle, break away from them as soon as possible.
It won't be easy, but it's worth doing. One person, by themselves, is usually decent enough. But when lots and lots of people get together, their aggression shoots up and their morality and intelligence plummet. Do your own thing, man. Don't be a follower.
9. Find the high ground. Even if you want to be down in the pit getting your face kicked in while kids mosh to the hardcore stylings of a Joanna Newsom or a Bonnie Prince Billy, at least take a moment to find where the nearest high ground is. Most outdoor festivals will be set up to create a natural ampitheater, which basically means that you and the stage are in a giant bowl, where sound can bounce off the sides of the bowl and achieve maximum rocking.
Find the nearest hillside and have that in the back of your mind just in case the crowd turns ugly. Of course, if a tornado or thunderstorm comes your way, the high ground may be a bad place to be, so use your brain. Don't get confused and go running up that hill and make a deal with God to be the first stricken down by His spiteful electrical assault.
10. If it gets too sketchy, go the hell home. You're familiar with common sense, right? We mean, at least as a concept. It's like Spidey-sense, except everyone can use it. If you see menacing clouds a few miles away turning a funny color and lighting up like the Fourth of July, or if you see a sizable clutch of people rioting and the cops have started to show up, or if you're standing near the stage and you hear ominous creaking followed by the stage lights swinging wildly back and forth and Bjork stopping mid-song to say "What the fuck was that?!"... just get the hell out of there.
Don't be curious, don't think of it as your chance to have a first-hand view of an awesome disaster. You can't tell people "I was there!" if you're dead. Once you feel your common sense tingling, it's time to start seriously considering cutting your losses and taking off for somewhere safe.
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It's better to risk missing Soundgarden closing out the festival than it is to stick around and wind up getting sucked up into a cyclone with them. "Oh my God, are you Chris Cornell? Funny meeting you up here! Say, do you think we'll be splattered in the same field? 'Cause that would be pretty awesome."
It kind of would, but still, if danger threatens, just get out of there. Live to rock another day.