Music, or any art form for that matter, has always incited an emotional response from the listener. When it comes to music It could manifest this emotion through tears of joy or sadness, maybe cause one to move and shake uncontrollably, or maybe, if aided by enough alcohol, prejudice, youthful angst, or just simply being so blown away by the sound, listeners develop a hive-mind mentality and become a violent, angry mob.
Now, I don’t consider myself a too esteemed or experienced concert go-er – I’m partial to small clubs and shows (ie. paying $20 for a ticket for before they play the stadium down the street for $150 a ticket, simple economics). That being said, it seems crazy to me that the tragic and seemingly thoughtless acts of a few in a large crowd still have an impact on someone who simply wanted to see some live music. I understand the difficulty of the logistics in regards to crowd control, but after looking at a few of these historical examples Google ‘concert riot’ and see the last one that happened in your area – you’ll be surprised at how frequently it happens.
All that aside, here are some of the most infamous (and not so famous) concert riots in history – sometimes funny, sometimes tragic:
The ‘Rocket Queen’ Riot – July 2nd, 1991 – Gun’s N’ Roses
I’ll premise this one with the truism that Axl Rose is a jerk and nobody likes him, including most Gun’s N’ Roses fans, and there are many examples of him getting into fights with security, fans, band members, etc. One of the best examples of this is when, In St. Louis, during the bands performance of “Rocket Queen” Axl Rose pointed out a fan who was taking a picture of the show. When security failed to deal with the person, Rose decided to confiscate the camera himself and jumped into the audience and tackled the person. After punching out a few fans, and members of his security team, Rose was dragged back on stage by members of the crew, he then grabbed his microphone and said “Well, thanks to the lame-ass security, I’m going home!”.
When Rose slammed his mic down, apparently it sounded a lot like a gun-shot in the cheap seats and people started freaking out. 40 people were injured, and next year Rose was charged with 4 misdemeanors and eventually got 2 years probation for the incident.
The ‘Montreal Metallica/Gun’s N’ Roses’ Riot – August 8th, 1992
Literally the same tour!!!
This video speaks for itself.
‘Four Organs’ Riot – January 18th, 1973 – Steve Reich and the Boston Symphony Orchestra
This wasn’t even the first time that the Boston Symphony programmed this piece, it wasn’t the premiere; but it certainly vaulted Steve Reich and his piece into infamy.
Apparently, and I don’t actually know this first hand, New York symphony concert go-ers are a ‘demure’ bunch, and are know for usually sitting quietly until the piece has been presented, applauding politely, and removing themselves from the hall before really giving their opinion. Well, according to the headline the day after this performance, ‘A Concert Fuss: Piece by Reich Draws a Vocal Reaction’, this certainly was not the case on this night.
When Four Organs, a minimalist piece designed to harmonically expound a dominant eleventh chord and dissecting the chord by playing parts of it sequentially while the chord slowly increases in duration from a single 1/8th note at the beginning to 200 beats at the end, was generally well received when it premiered at the Guggenheim, and was even praised during it’s first tour of the United States and Europe. However, once the piece was brought to Carnegie Hall “yells for the music to stop, mixed with applause to hasten the end of the piece”, combined with a woman walking down the aisle and repeatedly banging her head on the front of the stage, wailing “Stop, stop, I confess”.
It’s my personal opinion that, possibly, this was the exact reaction that Reich was looking for.
The Cincinnati ‘General Admission’ Riot – 1979 – The Who
So infamous that the syndicated television show WKRP in Cincinnati did a whole episode without a whole lot of laughs to show the seriousness of the incident. The Who’s glory days were far behind them, Keith Moon had already died, but they were still one of the biggest and most popular bands on the planet as they toured Who Are You. In December, they had sold out Cincinnati Riverfront Coliseum – unfortunately, the entire floor, close to 10,000 tickets, were general admission. This is the report from the crowd management company, CrowdSafe:
“When the main entrance doors finally opened close to the time The Who were to take the stage, many eyewitnesses claimed that only one or two main entrance doors, from among a broad bank of doors, were opened to handle the massive crowd. Fans near the front, watched in horror as these doors were opened, then shut, then opened, then shut yet again, and so on. When the doors did open, ticket holders pressed forward. When the doors were shut, people were smashed against each other and the building by the thousands of fans behind them who did not know the main entrance was closed. Deadly crowd surges and rippling human waves of pressure knocked people down and rendered them helplessly trapped and fighting for breath and escape.”
The ‘Alice Cooper’ Riots – August 19th, 1980 – Toronto, Ontario
This was a pretty bad summer for Toronto musical acts – this was the third riot of the summer, two others had happened in May and June of that year at Ontario Place. This one, however, looked real ugly. For some reason that I can’t really understand, Toronto has a love affair with Alice Cooper, and Alice Cooper loves the city right back. He’s recorded some of his best work at the now defunct Nimbus 9 studios and he’s always made sure to save his biggest shows for the patrons in Hogtown. However, on this night in 1980 Cooper had an asthma attack before going on and couldn’t possibly do the show. After an hour or so of waiting (and drinking) the young crowd erupted at the open-air CNE Grandstand. Mounted cops were called in, and thanks to the CBC there is some amazing footage from the evening.
Altamont Speedway Free Concert – December 6th, 1969 – The Rolling Stones
Probably the most well documented and infamous concert riots of all time was the was the result of a really poorly planned festival.
Conceived as a sort of Woodstock-west by members of Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, the venue itself, Altamont Speedway, was chosen out of necessity partly because cops and city officials wanted too much money for Golden Gate Park and other more appropriate venues. Paul Kantner, of Jefferson Airplane, described the situation as having “no supervision or order”. So, with no support from local police services security was a major issue and with arguably the biggest band on earth, The Rolling Stones, headlining the festival, management for the band wanted to make sure the band would be protected from the 300,000 expected attendees. By most accounts the local chapter of the Hells Angels were hired on the recommendation of the Grateful Dead for $500 worth of beer ($3216 after inflation). There are many varied accounts of this (possibly due to people trying to save face in regards to the incident) but generally this is the accepted theory as to why the local 81 chapter was there.
So fill a lot of bikers full of beer, give them permission to beat up a couple hippies, give those hippies a lot of booze and drugs themselves, and guess what happens? Well, the outcome wasn’t pretty.
Following many, many scuffles during the Stones first few songs, which included Mick Jagger getting punched in the head at one point, the band was starting and stopping their set so the Angel’s could try and get a hold of the crowd. During “Under My Thumb” 18 year-old Meridith Hunter rushed the stage repeatedly, and was reportedly “so high he could barely walk”. After his girlfriend begged him to cool off the Angel’s had finally had enough and stabbed and beat Hunter to death.
This moment, in contrast to the Woodstock festival that took place less that 4 months beforehand and represented “peace and love”, came to be viewed as the end of the hippie era and the de facto conclusion of late-1960’s counterculture.
In 1972, rock music critic Rober Christgau wrote, “Writers focus on Altamont not because it brought on the end of an era but because it provided such a complex metaphor for the way an era ended”.
Remember that episode of WKRP where they go to the “big concert”? I found it…