When a crowd surge killed 10 attendees and injured hundreds of others at the Astroworld Festival in Houston, Texas, questions arose about what could have been done to prevent the tragedy. Like many others before it, Astroworld presents an opportunity for the music industry to learn from the mistakes that led to the deadly crowd crush.
Astroworld is far from the first festival to turn deadly. Since 1969, several concerts and music festivals have had significant safety issues stemming from bad planning. Among the most famous is Woodstock ’99, which was a far cry from the original Woodstock thirty years earlier. Billed as “3 Days of Peace & Music,” the first Woodstock attracted more than 400,000 attendees and was remarkably peaceful considering the conditions. Woodstock ’99, on the other hand, was wrought with sexual assault allegations and cleanliness concerns connected to poor planning.
Woodstock 50 Canceled Due to Poor Planning
The 50th anniversary of Woodstock was meant to be celebrated in 2019, organized by the partnership of Live Nation and INVNT. The event hoped to recapture the “history and essence of what Woodstock was,” according to Michael Lang, one of the producers of the original festival in 1969. However, after months of denying a cancellation, the plug was pulled on the event due to organizational issues and controversies—likely related to the fact that Woodstock ’99 was still fresh in everyone’s minds.
Canceling the festival was an unfortunate, yet necessary, response to the lack of preparation.
After 9 Deaths, Roskilde Festival Steps Up Security to Address Overcrowding
The deaths of 10 young people at the Astroworld Festival bring to mind the tragedy at the Roskilde Festival in June 2000. The exact cause of the deadly crush at the Danish music festival that left nine attendees dead has still not been explained to this day. However, just like at Astroworld, security and medical personnel were overwhelmed by the crowd, vastly unprepared for the imminent danger.
In response to the tragedy, the Roskilde Festival has improved its crowd management strategies.
“I was impressed with how they stepped up security in the pit,” says Carlos Chirinos, a music and global health professor at NYU who studies music-related crowds and behaviors. “I had an opportunity to be close with security and saw how close they worked with stage management. They tried to achieve total control.
“And they haven’t had any incidents since then.”
Similarly, the Glastonbury Festival in England has operated since the 1970s with little incident due to their focus on safety. “The regulations are very strict; there’s a strong connection between the stage managers and security and police,” Chirinos noted. “There’s little negotiation…It’s a public safety requirement that has to do with policy. But you have to be willing to implement policies.”
If the music industry is to learn anything from the tragedy at Astroworld, let alone the several issues previous festivals have faced, it’s that organization and planning are the foundation for a successful and safe event.
What Can Be Done to Manage Crowds at Festivals & Concerts?
“You have to create sub-sections within the pit,” says Paul Wertheimer, the founder of Crowd Management Strategies. “It feels crowded, but no one is crunched. That’s what you want in a space.”
There are several key pillars that make up a well-thought-out preparedness plan for festivals and concerts. These pillars include:
- Well-trained medical personnel
- Professional security
- Crowd management to prevent crowd surge
- Preparing for a mosh pit
- Thoughtful venue setup
- Following the laws and mandates enacted by local and state officials
As festival promoters and venues decide how to organize and plan their event, they must follow these rules. When someone buys tickets for a concert or festival, they have every right to look forward to the event rather than be worried about their safety. Regardless of the style of music or number of attendees, it’s the responsibility of the event organizers, promoters, and performers to plan a venue layout with safety in mind and manage the crowd effectively. When they fail to prepare, fans pay the price.
Our concert injury lawyers will continue to fight on behalf of the victims of crowd crush until those responsible make the changes necessary to prevent these tragedies.