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9 of the worst music festival disasters

Jun 08, 2016

Riots, floods, stage collapses, Hells Angels, and Limp Bizkit sets.

The days are getting warmer, which makes it the perfect time for a music festival. What better way to have a nice vacation than to cram into a small space with thousands of other likeminded music fans and swish up tight to see your favourite bands as well as a bunch you think are only “OK”?

Music festivals are a cool, fun way to pass the time on the weekend, and a great excuse to travel somewhere. Festivals like Coachella and Osheaga are places where you can take in a lot of music over the course of two or three days, without leaving the compound. These events have brought in thousands of people each year, and have become places just to be seen. They can be fun for some, but they succeed by having many safety measures with rules and regulations in place to keep everyone safe, and for the most part, pretty relaxed.

Sadly, there have also been many unfortunate events that have made for uneasy or awful experiences. Here are 9 examples of festivals that turned out poorly or even tragic.

Altamont Free Concert (California, 1969)

This is a classic example of a major festival going awry. The free concert at California’s Altamont Speedway featuring The Flying Burrito Brothers, CSNY, The Grateful Dead (who dropped out at the last minute), and The Rolling Stones headlining the show. Prior to the festival, it was said to be a sort of “Woodstock West”, which wasn’t the case.

The event was originally planned to take place in Golden Gate Park, but those plans had to be scrapped. The Altamont Speedway was a last-minute change, as no other venues could be found. The security for the show was said to be chosen by The Rolling Stones. They hired the Hells Angels for $500 worth of beer. As the show progressed during the day, the crowd and the Hells Angels both became more violent.

Many fights erupted between the crowd and the Angels, including Mick Jagger getting punched in the head by an audience member. A teenager by the name of Meredith Hunter was thrown off the stage by the Angels, returned to the stage with a revolver, and was stabbed and beaten to death by Hells Angel Alan Passaro. The concert is documented in the 1970 film Gimme Shelter.

Chasing Summer Festival (Calgary, 2015)

Calgary’s Chasing Summer festival was held last year at the Max Bell Festival grounds. It was said to be “Western Canada’s Largest Electronic Fest.”

Unfortunately, 17 of the attendees were taken to the hospital, suffering from drug or alcohol overdoses. One woman was in potentially life-threatening condition. In many cases, the substance was MDMA, but GHB, Ketamine, and marijuana were also ingested. Some of the patients were aggressive or uncooperative, while others were unresponsive.

You cannot stop people from taking drugs or drinking, but there needs to be more education on the subject. With more information, drug testing areas, and acceptance of this culture, it can make a lot of people feel safer, and happier doing their own thing.

Ottawa Bluesfest (Ottawa, 2011)

The annual Bluesfest in Ottawa ended abruptly in 2011 when a sudden violent storm rushed in during a performance by Cheap Trick. While the band was performing their hit “I Want You To Want Me”, dark storm clouds approached the festival grounds. Lightning crashed and wild rain followed, while a wind folded the stage up.

During this wild storm, a man was pierced in the abdomen by a piece of the stage. Two more men were rushed to the hospital, one from a head injury and the other with a neck injury. Four other men also suffered injuries but were treated at the site. Thousands of people were running when the storm hit, so it is lucky it wasn’t as chaotic as it could have been.

Cheap Trick later sued the Ottawa Blues Fest for $1 million and cancelled a show after learning its stage would be built by the same crew.

Roskilde Festival (Roskilde, Denmark, 2000)

- DANMARK - ÅRTIET I BILLEDER - Roskilde Festival i 2000 endte i en tragedie. Ni mennesker blev mast ihjel foran Orange Scene under en koncert med Pearl Jam.

With 50,000 fans impatiently waiting for Pearl Jam, the crowd became aggressive and pushed forward as they started their set. In the end, nine young men suffocated to death during the performance. Even before the concert started, people were pushing left and right, with some packed in the crowd so tightly they could not move their arms. People were standing on top of other people, while others were trying to pull them up.

At one point, Eddie Vedder stopped the show, not knowing how incredibly bad it actually was, and told everyone to take three steps back. He then asked the crowd to step back again. The crowd was so out of control that there was something called “the human hole” where you couldn’t see many heads in the crowd. It is unclear how long it took before the band was notified and had to stop the music, but the band knew something was up, asking the crowd to step back more than once.

Pearl Jam’s Song “Love Boat Captain” references the Roskilde tragedy.

Love Parade (Duisburg, Germany, 2010)

The Love Parade was originally a free-access music festival and parade that began in 1989. In 2010, the festival was so popular that Berlin was not able to host it. Up to 1.4 million people were reported to be attending the event, which was moved to Duisburg.

The Love Parade was expecting only 250,000 people, so when over one million showed up, it became a major problem. The only entrance to the festival was a 240-meter tunnel underpass. The tunnel was overstuffed with people, and 21 people died from overcrowding. Police chose not to close down the event, thinking that if they did, it would cause another panic, and result in more fatalities.

Ultra Music Festival (Miami, 2013)

Four people were injured at the Ultra Music festival, before the festival even began. Lighting equipment collapsed near a stage, an LED screen fell on the workers, and two of them were said to be in critical condition. The festival is a massive one, with two weekends and three days each weekend. One of the men involved in the accident ended up suing the music festival, as well as the act Swedish House Mafia.

Glastonbury (Pilton, Somerset, England 2005)

The Glastonbury Music Festival is known for being a muddy, mucky mess. The weather isn’t too kind to festivalgoers during this time, but it still remains one of the most popular festivals in the world. In 2005, the weather was even more unreasonable, as the festival grounds ended up flooding.

Dozens of camping tents were lost under water, and parts of the grounds were completely flooded. There were nine reported injury cases, but fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt. Some of the portable toilets completely sank in the flood.

Festival founder Michael Eavis told BBC News, “Come on down, you will have the time of your life, but bring your wellies.”

Sled Island (Calgary, 2013)

The Sled Island Music Festival had its own problems with water, when Calgary and surrounding areas had a major flood back in June 2013.

After weeks of heavy rain, the Bow and Elbow rivers bursted their banks, forcing the evacuation of many residents in the downtown core, as well as business, including many venues for the event. Many people were stuck in different quadrants of the city, deciding to put on their own shows at homes or venues that were allowed to be open during the flood.

Fans, artists, and organizers banded together, naming this new batch of shows “Flood Island.”

Woodstock ’99 (Rome, New York, 1999)

This was one of the most tragic, messy, disgusting festival disasters of all time. It became the exact opposite of what Woodstock stood for in the first place, and can be seen as a lesson in what NOT to do at a festival. There were other factors that came into play as well that can not be controlled, like the insane heat wave, but these factors should be taken into consideration when having a massive outdoor event.

The event was on a former air strip, devoid of any trees, and with temperatures reaching up to 40 degrees, there were bound to be some people unprepared for this. Food and water was not allowed to be brought in, and prices for water were $4 for a 20oz bottle. Lines for food and water were incredibly long, as were lines for the insufficient amount of clogged, overflowing toilets.

Violence erupted during Limp Bizkit’s set as they played their primate dumpster anthem “Break Stuff.” People actually ripped off parts of the stage and hoisted them in the air. Many sexual assaults were reported after the festival as well.

Despite all of this, the festival continued on the next day, with more violence during the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ set. At one point, an anti-violence group decided to light candles for a vigil during the Peppers song “Under the Bridge”, which just turned into a bunch of massive bonfires. An audio tower ended up lighting on fire.

There was a lot to blame during Woodstock ’99, from the lack of proper security, cost-cutting on important needs like toilets and water, and many, many more issues. The organizers were cheap, and tried to make a quick buck without considering the safety of fans. One month after the riots, fires, and assaults Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys rallied musicians to ensure similar crimes didn’t occur at future events.

Some of these festivals just had bad luck. It can’t be avoided when you get bad weather or some equipment goes haywire. But a lot of it can be avoided. Glastonbury has added a complete section of shows for women only, creating a safe space for female fans without being creeped on by goons. There are festivals that have equipment to test your drugs, to make sure they aren’t laced with anything weird. These are basic security measures that are taken beforehand to make sure people have a fun and safe time, without feeling intimidated or unsafe.

What is really important is that people who go to these festivals look out for each other. If you see something that doesn’t look good, speak up. If someone looks thirsty, offer them some water. If someone is having a negative experience on drugs, bust out some orange slices and try and keep them on the bright side. The power of positivity in numbers can make things a lot better.

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