While festivals and concerts normally only make you think of music, dancing and fun, some festivals have experienced unimaginable tragedies. These days, you also see more and more news reports in the media of deaths at festivals. Yet this is not something of recent years, but unfortunately there have been many festival tragedies in the past.
In this blog, we provide a historical overview of the most famous and biggest festival disasters known to the world and what caused them.
Top 10 Deadliest Festival in History
Woodstock ’99 is often remembered as a chaotic and disastrous event. In Netflix’s documentary ‘Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99,’ we witnessed the 30th-anniversary celebration of the iconic event turn into a chaotic and destructive riot, tarnishing the festival’s reputation. However, while it may have been notorious, Woodstock ‘99 wasn’t the deadliest festival in history. Below, we’ll explore the ten festivals or concerts that tragically claimed even more lives.
Every year, about 32 million people attend music festivals in the United States. Over ten years, nearly 70,000 people were seriously hurt, and 232 lost their lives at around 300 outdoor music concerts.Source: Billboard
1. Altamont Speedway Free Festival – 1969
Location: Altamont Speedway, Tracy, California, U.S.
The Altamont Speedway Free Festival, held on December 6, 1969, outside Tracy, California, was anticipated to be a “Woodstock West,” drawing approximately 300,000 attendees. Unlike its peaceful predecessor, this event is infamous for its violence, including the fatal stabbing of Meredith Hunter and three accidental deaths, including one caused by an LSD-induced drowning in an irrigation canal and two from a hit-and-run car accident.
Property damage was extensive, and scores of individuals sustained injuries. Notably, Hells Angels were employed as security. The concert featured renowned acts like Santana, Jefferson Airplane, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, with the Rolling Stones as the final act. The Grateful Dead, originally scheduled to perform, opted out due to escalating violence, marking a disastrous day in rock and roll history. The event was captured in the 1970 documentary film “Gimme Shelter” by Albert and David Maysles.
2. Roskilde Festival – 2000
Location: Roskilde, Denmark
In 2000, a tragic incident occurred at a Pearl Jam concert, resulting in the loss of nine lives. This incident took place during the band’s performance at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. The unfortunate cause of these fatalities was a rush of concertgoers toward the stage, which led to a collapse of the crowd barrier at the front. As a result, several individuals fell, and the surging crowd created a dangerous situation that led to suffocation and ultimately the deaths of nine concert attendees.
The band was informed of the situation and promptly asked the audience to move back, but unfortunately, these efforts came too late to prevent the tragedy. Pearl Jam later memorialized this heartbreaking event in their song “Love Boat Captain” with the poignant lyric “Lost nine friends we’ll never know.”
3. Astroworld – 2021
Location: Houston, Texas, U.S.
The 2021 Astroworld Festival witnessed a devastating tragedy as ten lives were lost, making it one of the deadliest concerts in U.S. history. An investigation by The Washington Post unveiled the grim details: a crowd surge during Travis Scott’s performance trapped at least seven of the victims within a small, enclosed area surrounded by metal barriers. This pocket of concertgoers in the festival’s south quadrant suffered the brunt of the chaos, with witnesses describing people collapsing under the intense crowd pressure.
Shockingly, three attendees were unconscious just 16 minutes into the show, while the concert continued for nearly an hour. Analysis showed areas with as little as 1.85 square feet per person, posing a high risk of dangerous crowd collapse, highlighting the urgent need for improved safety measures and crowd management at such events.
4. The Who Concert – 1979
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Attendance: 18,348 (tickets sold)
The tragic events at The Who’s 1979 concert at Cincinnati Riverfront Stadium serve as a grim reminder of the importance of crowd control and safety measures at large events. With over 18,000 tickets sold and only 25 police officers assigned to manage the crowd, a recipe for disaster emerged. The concert was scheduled to start at 8 PM, but as late as 7:45 PM, the venue’s doors remained closed. An anxious crowd, mistaking The Who’s warm-up for the opening act, surged towards the entrances.
Notably, 80 percent of the tickets were for general admission, which fueled the rush for entry as fans sought prime viewing spots. Tragically, this led to a devastating stampede. In the aftermath, new regulations were implemented to ensure order and safety at large concerts, measures that continue to be practiced today, underscoring the lasting impact of this unfortunate incident.
5. Mawazine Festival – 2009
Location: Rabat, Morocco
The Mawazine Festival, spanning nine days, aimed to showcase Morocco as a modern nation and featured international stars like Stevie Wonder, Kylie Minogue, and Ennio Morricone. Tragically, on the festival’s closing night, following a performance by Moroccan singer Abdelaziz Stati, 11 people lost their lives in a crush. Attendees pointed fingers at the police, alleging that they had closed some exits, funneling the crowd through others that were ill-suited for such purposes.
The official explanation suggested that overeager fans attempted to leave by climbing fences, leading to one person collapsing and triggering the unfortunate deaths of 11 individuals. This incident marred what was intended to be a celebration of music and culture, raising important questions about crowd management and safety at large-scale events.
6. Love Parade – 2010
Location: Duisburg, Germany
Attendance: between 200,000 and 1.4 million
The 2010 Love Parade in Duisburg, Germany, ended in a devastating tragedy when 21 people lost their lives and 652 were injured in a crowd disaster. The electronic dance music festival took place in a closed-off area, a departure from its traditional format. An underpass leading to the festival grounds became congested as people entered despite restrictions, causing panic and suffocation, leading to 19 immediate deaths and two more in the hospital.
The Love Parade, known for its music, DJs, and floats, was originally a free-access EDM festival and technoparade that had been held since 1989. The Duisburg edition saw a reported attendance of up to 1.4 million people, with 3,200 police officers present. Tragically, this incident led to the permanent cancellation of the Love Parade, with criminal charges brought against event organizers and city employees, though some were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence.
7. Monsters in Moscow – 1991
Location: Moscow, Russia
Attendance: 1.6 million
The “Monsters of Moscow” concert held on September 28, 1991, in Moscow, Russia, was one of the biggest music festivals ever held. An estimated 1.6 million people gathered at Tushino Airfield, hoping to witness a memorable performance by Metallica. Tragically, the event resulted in a devastating loss of 51 lives during Metallica’s set.
The huge crowd, along with poor security and crowd management, caused a deadly crush that took these lives. It’s a sad part of music festival history, especially for hard rock and metal fans.
8. Great White at Station Nightclub – 2003
Location: West Warwick, Rhode Island, U.S.
The Station Nightclub Fire, a tragic incident, occurred when the venue was packed beyond its fire safety limits. During a performance by the band Great White, the band’s tour manager ignited pyrotechnics that accidentally set fire to the insulation. Initially, many in the audience didn’t realize the flames were not part of the show.
When the realization hit, a chaotic mass evacuation ensued. Sadly, most patrons attempted to exit through the entrance, leading to a stampede that resulted in numerous casualties. People perished due to suffocation, smoke inhalation, and the fire itself, including Great White’s lead guitarist, Ty Longley.
In January 2010, various parties, including the club’s owners, foam manufacturers responsible for the hazardous insulation, Anheuser-Busch, Clear Channel Broadcasting, and the town of West Warwick, settled for $176 million. This compensation aimed to assist survivors and the families of those who lost their lives in this devastating tragedy.
9. Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire – 1977
Location: Kentucky, U.S.
The Beverly Hills Supper Club disaster in Southgate, Kentucky, on May 28, 1977, was one of the deadliest nightclub fires in the United States. During Memorial Day weekend, a terrible fire broke out, resulting in the loss of 165 lives and injuring 200 people. The club, located just outside Cincinnati, was a renowned venue known for hosting famous entertainers and attracting a well-off crowd.
The tragedy occurred in a complex building with various additions, creating a confusing layout. Surprisingly, despite its supposedly fire-resistant structure, the club used a lot of flammable materials like wood for decoration. What’s more, there were no essential safety features such as sprinkler systems, alarms, or proper escape routes. This heartbreaking event highlighted the urgent need for stricter safety measures in public places.
10. Cromañón Fire – 2004
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
The tragic Cromañón nightclub fire on December 30, 2004, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, left an indelible mark, claiming the lives of 194 people and injuring over 1,492. The nightclub, República Cromañón hosted a concert by the band Callejeros that night.
The venue was ill-prepared for safety, with locked doors, blocked exits, and a lack of fire suppression equipment. The use of pyrotechnics ignited flammable materials, including foam and plastic netting, causing a catastrophic blaze. Shockingly, four of the six doors, some of which were fire exits, were chained shut. The concentration of cyanide in the air, due to the building’s materials, reached lethal levels. Tragically, victims included young adults and even children, highlighting the catastrophic consequences of poor safety measures at public venues.
Other Concert and Festival Disasters
Of course, there have been many other historical festival or concert dramas, such as the Santika Nightclub Fire, Pukkelpop Festival, Indiana State Fair, Ghost Ship Fire, the Damageplan concert and many more.
Festival Safety Today
Festival safety today has greatly evolved, prioritizing attendee well-being. This includes increased security presence, advanced crowd control techniques, and comprehensive emergency response plans. Stricter policies on alcohol and drugs aim to minimize substance-related incidents. Fire safety measures, weather preparedness, and enhanced communication systems ensure quick response to various situations.
Organizers focus on awareness campaigns for hydration, recognizing health issues, and eco-friendly practices. Medical support and community assistance are readily available. Festival organizers continuously learn from past incidents to further improve safety measures.
My personal tips for you:
- Be mindful of alcohol and drug use.
- If someone needs help, lend a hand, don’t film!
- Follow the safety rules, they are there for a reason.
Remember, it’s up to you to have a great time while staying safe. Look after yourself and your friends, and have an awesome festival experience!
Los Angeles Times
Dayton Daily News
Government of South Australia
The San Diego Union-Tribune
The Causes and Prevention of Serious Crowd Injury and Fatalities at Outdoor Music Festivals, 2004, DOI:10.13140/2.1.3036.0005