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I am so tired of people dying at concerts.

that's it.

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Caryn Rose

Nov 08 2021

10 mins read

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Disclaimer: this is not a news story. This is a heartbroken rant.

I am so tired of people dying at concerts. I am so tired of looking for the exits when I get into a place or not going to venues because I legit don’t feel safe there (not naming names). I am tired of walking into a stadium and devising my best exit plan in case of a stampede. I am sad I have had to have a discussion about how I feel reasonably safe at a Springsteen show because tour manager George Travis got his start as a rigger so at least there I don’t have to worry about the stage falling down. In case of a stampede, the plan was always to run to the front because I was usually close to the front and could get over the barrier and under the stage or at least out in that direction. My worry about that plan was that security would definitely try to stop me from doing that because that is what it seems like they are hired to do, as opposed to safety or crowd control.

Festivals are bad but we've convinced ourselves that this is a good way to experience music. They are a way for artists to make money and be able to continue being artists, because they can’t make money on just making music or merchandise, touring is no longer the cash cow it once was because gas is expensive and cities are losing venues to developers who want to put up another luxury apartment building with chain stores at street level.

People keep talking about a lack of empathy, which is part of it, but the larger part is a complete and total disregard for the fact that you are a member of an audience. The people who go to a concert because it’s the thing to do that night in town are not people who understand or care that this is a communal event and your behavior doesn’t happen in a bubble. And that can become fatal when it’s dark and packed and loud and someone starts pushing you from behind or the crowd in front of you starts rushing forward.

I don’t blame the performers, because they hire people to make the physical arrangements for them, and because performers are experts at performing, not at crowd control. But this is the landscape we have given them because we have deprived them of other ways of making a living from their art. We don’t value art, we value spectacle, this is why Jeff Koons’ balloon dogs are everywhere and why Cardi B is a fucken genius. We don’t treat concert goers with respect; we treat them as suspects first and customers second and human beings somewhere down around the 50’s. This is why people show up for concerts completely unprepared to be part of an audience; they thought they were going to watch some music as background to drink or talk.

It feels like every element of a festival is organized around making as much money as possible while completely disregarding the people who are paying money to attend. Security focuses on making sure you don't have a granola bar in your pocket or that you don't bring in a bottle of water (and secondarily, you don't have any drugs). Once the event is underway, they’re still looking for obvious things like drunk people fighting or someone taking a picture when they shouldn’t (this is before we all had cameras in our pockets) and not making sure everyone is safe.

The news media in Dallas is dutifully reporting how many police and security were on site. However, no one has interrogated whether the numbers were sufficient for the crowd.

Have you ever seen the metal barriers at a concert? There are different kinds, and the ones that are more comfortable for someone to be leaning against cost more money. Have you been to shows where the top of the rail was lined with padding? That only happened because the band asked for that to happen and agreed to pay for it. Why the hell is that not a standard thing that has to happen? Who decided it was okay for human beings to have to rest up against a square metal bar for three to five to ten hours? It sure feels like festivals spend more time and effort making sure underaged people can’t buy beer than they do on lighting around the audience spaces or egress or comfort. They're both important.


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Dying in a stampede at a concert is one of my biggest fears. I remember the night in 1979 the news reported on the kids who were killed at the Who’s concert in Cincinnati; it didn’t happen during the concert. There were problems with the conditions for entrance. The concert went on anyway. The Who were told afterwards. It was a "public safety" decision to do all of this but I was never sure the public they were concerned about were the kids attending the concert. They didn’t want a riot because the show was cancelled (not because kids died trying to get into a venue) which means they didn’t want property damage. Kids died. It wasn’t the fault of the kids or the band. It was about general admission and no crowd control. Stuff as many people on the floor as you can, don’t manage how that happens, route people into a concrete cattle pen off the river in December and then make them wait for hours in the cold wind.

In 2000, I was running a website that chronicled Pearl Jam’s live history and performances. We knew many people who were in Europe following Pearl Jam around and they would call and email us with updates. So it followed that on June 30th, I started to get phone calls from people who had gone to Denmark to see the band at the Roskilde Festival. Something had happened at the show, and people had lost the friends they were traveling with, and given that no one had cell phones I became a point of contact. We found out what happened the next day. 

I didn’t know anyone who had died, but that absolutely did not matter. There are survivor interviews out there; I just can’t go read them again right now. But the same things that you hear about what happened at Astroworld are there; it was dark, it was loud, no one could hear, there was a crowd surge, the ground was wet and slippery, people lost their balance, no one could get the attention of security to stop the show or control the crowd; by the time they did people had died. 

I have been in crowds where all of a sudden there’s a rush and you lose your footing or you find you are no longer touching the ground and you are carried with the crowd. This happened to me at Lollapalooza in 1996 at Randall’s Island during the Beastie Boys. I was trying to get closer to a spot I’d had earlier in the day during Nick Cave’s set. The Beasties came on while I was still navigating and all of a sudden I was in a whirlpool of jumping, surging dudes. There were two women who were with one of those dudes and they saw me lose my balance and the three of us grabbed onto each other and one of them was holding on to their dude and the combined mass somehow meant that we had enough weight to not get swept up in the surge and eventually it stopped and I got my bearings and somehow pushed my way through to the edge and then headed to the back of the field. 

I thought, "Bad decision." I thought, "Didn't know how bad a Beasties GA crowd could be." I didn't think, "Randall's Island is a fucking shitty place to have a concert," or "Why was it so hard to get out of that giant field."



SIDEBAR

Now we will talk about “moshing.”

First of all, it’s 2021. Second of all, there are actually rules about the mosh pit. There are commonly understood and agreed-upon ways you conduct yourself. If you do not know this you do not belong in the pit. But the concept of a mosh pit at a festival is ridiculous and it’s just become an expression of toxic masculinity and not at all an energetic response to the music happening onstage. It’s an excuse to hit people and shove people and grab at women. That is all that it is. It is dumb. It has nothing to do with the music because I have watched a mosh pit break out during “Black Hole Sun” or "Here's Lookin At You Kid" by the Gaslight Anthem.


People are dead. People are hurt. Nothing about this will change because capitalism rules. My heart is broken for the people who lost loved ones, the people who had to go through what happened and survived, the people who were hurt, the people who died, people who had to witness it. Honestly, I don’t blame the artists onstage; I agree that everyone involved in putting on a concert is responsible for the safety of the concert, and while I'd like it if performers didn't have to be watching their audiences for trouble (because that is not their job), e I don’t blame the audience. I blame the people whose job it is to put on concerts safely and who have the money and the experience to know how to do it and decide instead to not do it, because it’s inconvenient or it takes time and resources and it means that some CEO is going to make a few million less. 


P.S. This also does not address situations like what happened at the Bataclan or in Las Vegas, which is a whole other horrible reality.



This is jukeboxgraduate, the home for Caryn Rose's unplaceable pitches or other offbeat projects. At least once a month, I'll be sending out an original essay that you can only find here on Letterdrop.

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