As the huddled throngs of Instagram models, wannabe tech bros, and washed-up rappers finally leave Fyre Festival’s pitiful effort at a luxury music festival in the Bahamas, many of the event’s dissatisfied participants have taken to social media to depict the event as a festival catastrophe. The subsequent viral phenomenon, driven by schadenfreude, would imply that this Caribbean disaster is as awful as it gets for a festival. That is not correct. Some mix of irresponsible planning, inclement weather, odd accident, and human violence has resulted in a continuous series of terrible occurrences at music festivals in the 60 years that they have been a key component in western youth culture. They vary from amusing annoyances to horrifying disasters, and a glance back serves as a timely warning of how awful things can go when the pursuit of pleasure devolves into calamity.
Glastonbury, United Kingdom, 2005
The British are no strangers to a rainy festival experience, but a rainstorm at Glastonbury in its 35th year challenged even the most hardy British attendees. A strong torrential downpour pummeled Worthy Farm, drowning the campsites, festival site, and parking lots in up to four feet of water, according to residents. Lightning struck two stages, destroying campers, trapping vehicles, and toppling toilets. That afternoon, the clouds parted, and the 130,000 or so spectators put on their wellies and waded on with the rest of the event, which is now fondly known as “Farmageddon.” Despite the fact that nine individuals were injured and losses totaled millions of dollars, there were no deaths.
Fyre festival, Exuma islands, 2017
Erie Canal Soda Pop festival, Indiana, 1972
The mega-event was billed as “bigger than Woodstock” and had a heavyweight lineup that included Black Sabbath, the Allman Brothers, and the Eagles. When the mayor of Evansville, Indiana, abruptly banned the event, organizers hurried to relocate it to Bull Island, a spit of wild swampland. When 200,000 people flooded into tiny Carmi, Illinois, more than quadrupling the predicted number, peace and love were quickly abandoned as hell broke free. Rain transformed the grounds into a muddy sludge, dozens of artist cancellations resulted in extended periods of quiet on stage, merchants rapidly ran out of food, and the sewage system was totally swamped. The imprisoned participants escalated the event into a full-fledged riot in a drug-fueled haze of wrath and bewilderment. Cars were flipped, individuals were mugged, and the stage was set on fire towards the conclusion of the weekend.
Altamont Free Music festival, California, 1969
With the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead playing to a throng of 300,000 in sunny northern California in 1969, Altamont was billed as “Woodstock West,” taking place barely four months after the “peace and love” generation’s defining event. The trouble started when the Hells Angels, a prominent motorcycle gang, was recruited to manage security for the stage, which was barely 3ft high at the foot of an incline – a duty for which the organization was supposedly paid in beer. As the baying audience began to stream down the hill and onto the stage, the Angels, armed with sawed-off pool cues and chains, pummeled numerous adolescents. Multiple clashes resulted in cruel treatment and injuries to both men and women, but the event turned fatal at the start of the Rolling Stones’ concert. Meredith Hunter, a teenager dressed in a lime green outfit and high on LSD and methamphetamine, stormed the stage with a revolver and was stabbed twice before dying. After Hunter collapsed, motorcyclists trample on his body, according to video evidence shown in the documentary Gimme Shelter. The event is seen as a tragic and symbolic conclusion to the 1960s.
Time Warp, Argentina, 2016
Time Warp, a German event, started its third Argentinian festival in 2016 with a great reputation for delivering world-class underground dance music to all corners of the globe, but by the end of the weekend, its history was in ruins. Even though the Costa Salguero site was packed and under-ventilated, officials were taken aback when revelers started fainting in mass with convulsions and cardiac arrhythmia. Six individuals died before emergency personnel arrived and the concert was canceled, all of whom had indications of hyperthermia and drug overdose. The reason was traced back to a significantly tainted batch of ecstasy tablets with the Superman insignia. Following the incident, two event organizers were imprisoned, and electronic music events were outlawed in Argentina.
BPM festival, Mexico, 2017
Mexico has emerged as a favorite destination for destination music events, thanks to its sun, beach, and cheap tequila. Much of the country’s thriving tourist business exists in the unsettling shadow of drug cartels, and territorial conflicts may quickly escalate into bloodshed. The BPM Festival, a significant node on the global dance festival circuit, was brought to a stop in 2017 when several gunmen stormed the Blue Parrot nightclub in Playa del Carmen and started fire on the street, shooting bullets into the club and into the incoming audience. They murdered five individuals and wounded fifteen more. In the days that followed, the renowned Zeta cartel claimed responsibility for the assault, which was most likely carried out in retaliation for festival organizers’ refusal to pay the payoff required. The BPM Festival will not return to Mexico, and electronic music events in Playa del Carmen have been outlawed.
Roskilde, Denmark, 2000
A muddy mosh circle at the front of the Roskilde festival in Denmark transformed into a death pit as people piled over each other in a frantic frenzy when Pearl Jam played to a large audience. Pearl Jam’s lead vocalist, Eddie Vedder, asked the audience to back up as people flooded over the barriers in terror for their lives, before the band cut their show short seconds later. The heaving mass subsided, and nine people were discovered crushed to death in the muck, the majority in one spot. Another 26 people were hurt. The disaster prompted important safety revisions at festivals throughout Europe, yet Roskilde remains one of the world’s largest music festivals. Pearl Jam recalled the catastrophe in their song Love Boat Captain, and a memorial stone etched with the inscription “… How fragile we are” has been installed on the grounds of Roskilde.
Indiana state fair, Indiana, 2011
As threatening thunderstorms raced across Indianapolis, local police and festival organizers pondered canceling the Indiana state fair, which included Sara Bareilles and Sugarland. The order to cancel was made at 9 p.m., as Sugarland was about to take the stage, but it was too late. A blast of wind overturned the stage, causing it to crash squarely on top of the audience, killing seven people and injuring 58 more. The occurrence is suspected to have been triggered by a “gustnado,” a rare meteorological phenomena that mimics a tornado and has winds of more than 120 miles per hour. Multiple lawsuits were filed against the event, Sugarland, and the stage riggers, with damages totaling more than $50 million.
Wings festival, Russia, 2003
Two ladies were stopped by security as they tried to enter the Tushino airport just outside of Moscow, where a 20,000-person rock festival was in full swing. When the explosives were exposed, they detonated them, killing themselves and 16 others and wounding over 100 more. According to Russian police investigations, the ladies, 20-year-old Zulikhan Elikhadzhiyeva and 26-year-old Zinaida Aliyeva, were Chechen terrorists who intended to wreak even more harm when they entered the festival grounds. It was only one of several terrorist assaults during Russia’s rule of Chechnya, but it is a unique example of geopolitical tension expressing itself in bloodshed at a music festival.
Love Parade, Bochum, Germany, 2010
Germany’s Love Parade started in 1989, a completely free cavalcade of floats and dance parties that attracted hundreds of thousands each year and served as a hub of global rave culture, with numbers of spin-offs throughout the world. By 2010, the German version had been relocated from Berlin to Bochum, where a logistical blunder had disastrous effects. Estimates of attendance range from 400,000 to 1.4 million, however each visitor was funneled via a single tunnel that opened out to a broad stairway. The multitudes were pushed forward into the tunnel by a mob rush, sending people sliding down the steps, trampled beneath feet, and crushed against the walls. The pile-up resulted in 21 fatalities, the majority of which were caused by asphyxia, and 500 injuries. Rainier Schiller, the Love Parade’s organizer, abruptly called off the event.