From Woodstock 99 to Astroworld, six music festivals that went horribly wrong

Expert management and training are needed to run safe and successful events

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Netflix's documentary on the ill-fated 1999 Woodstock Festival is not only harrowing, but serves as a much-needed wake-up call to a live events industry returning after the lull caused by the pandemic.

Trainwreck: Woodstock 99 details the litany of failures by organisers that ultimately contributed to the death of three people, more than 200 injured and numerous cases of sexual assaults.

As the summer music festival circuit is currently in full swing, the documentary shows the painstaking behind-the-scenes efforts needed to keep such events safe at all times.

Below are five more examples of festival disasters born out of poor management and negligence.

Altamont Free Concert (US, 1969)

Mick Jagger in Gimme Shelter, 1970
CREDIT: Maysles Films

The free festival headlined by The Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead was meant to rival the mammoth Woodstock festival held four months prior.

While an impressive 300,000 people were in attendance, the event earned its place in infamy due to an increasingly rowdy atmosphere and spectacular mismanagement.

With notorious biker gang the Hell's Angels in charge of security, a member stabbed to death a deranged concert-goer as he attempted to climb on stage with a gun during The Rolling Stones’ performance.

Not knowing the severity of the situation, the band halted the show temporarily before completing their set.

The concert went on to be eulogised by rock historians and songwriters as the violent end of the “hippie era” and has been referenced in songs by Grateful Dead and Don McLean's American Pie.

Love Parade (Germany, 2010)

German police officers lift up a woman from the crowd of revellers outside a tunnel at the Love Parade in 2010. Reuters

Beginning in West Berlin in 1989 before moving on to other German cities, Love Parade was originally conceived as an electronic music festival promoting peace and reconciliation.

In addition to sets by pioneering dance music acts, the festival grew to welcome up to 1.6 million people at the 2008 edition, held in Dortmund.

That momentum was tragically halted two years later when 21 people were killed and 600 injured in a crowd stampede.

The incident occurred when a tunnel funnelling people into the festival site became fatally overcrowded.

The ensuing rush caused victims to be crushed and severely injured.

A preliminary investigation by the authorities placed the blame on festival organisers, and the event was permanently scrapped.

Roskilde (Denmark, 2000)

Running since 1972, the annual Danish rock music festival built a reputation as one of the best of its kind, with performances by artists ranging from Bob Marley and Bob Dylan to U2 and Nirvana.

The festival's future was in severe doubt in 2000, however, when nine people died and 26 were injured after segments of the 50,000-strong audience tried to get closer to the stage during a performance by Pearl Jam.

With people falling over themselves and suffocating, the band temporarily halted the performance and called for calm.

While an investigation by the police and public prosecutor resulted in no criminal charges, organisers implemented a raft of new safety measures, including more emergency exits front of stage and more stringent crowd control measures.

Pearl Jam referenced the tragedy in their 2003 single Love Boat Captain with the line: “lost nine friends we'll never know two years ago today.”

Fyre Festival (Bahamas, 2017)

Fyre. Courtesy Netflix

An event so ineptly organised it could be viewed as a joke if it wasn't for the millions of dollars squandered.

Promising a luxurious experience with top-tier artists, Fyre Festival was due to take place over two weekends on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma.

With tickets ranging from $500 to $12,000, the festival sank during the inaugural weekend after issues relating to poor security, accommodation, food and medical services.

On top of that, festival headliners, such as pop-punk band Blink 182, cancelled their appearances, citing mismanagement.

Unsurprisingly, it all ended up in a series of lawsuits, and festival founder Billy McFarland was sentenced to six years in prison in 2018 for fraud.

The festival went on to inspire two documentaries: Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened and Fyre Fraud, on Netflix and Hulu respectively.

Astroworld Festival (US, 2021)

What was supposed to be an event cementing Travis Scott's position as a superstar nearly turned him into a pariah.

The rapper headlined and founded the Astroworld festival in which 10 people were crushed to death and more than 300 were injured.

A subsequent investigation identified poor safety operating procedures and a lack of trained staff on site.

More than 275 lawsuits, representing more than 1,250 people, were levelled at concerned parties, including Scott and the festival organiser Live Nation.

Scott returned to major live performances this month, performing two sold-out concerts in London.

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Updated: August 11, 2022, 3:58 AM
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