Music festivals that ended in disasters

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The first recorded music festival was held at the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi in the late sixth century. Known as The Pythian Games, it was a celebration of all things beautiful and a tribute to Apollo, the patron god of music. The festival featured various forms of artistic expression and included a dedicated day for musical competitions. Suffice to say, music festivals have come a long way. While most of them still uphold this tradition in one way or another, some festivals, well, don’t end up being a celebration at all, but rather frenetic gatherings remembered by chaos, calamity and in some really unfortunate cases tragedies.

From Woodstock ’99, where flames consumed the spirit of peace and love, to Fyre Festival, a luxury mirage that left people stranded in a dystopian nightmare, here are 10 music festivals that ended in total disasters.

Bloc Festival (2012)

London, England

The beloved U.K. Bloc Festival brought together an impressive lineup of renowned hip-hop artists like Snoop Dogg and DOOM, alongside acclaimed DJs and producers including Flying Lotus and Ricardo Villalobos. With high expectations and excitement, attendees eagerly anticipated a memorable music experience. Alas, the two-day event fell victim to overbooking, and overcrowding at the venue, resulting in compromised sound quality, and bars running out of drinks by 10:30 pm. Day one—which was described by revelers as  “the middle of a car crash”—shut down early. Day two: Snoop Dogg, the anticipated headline act, never took the stage, leaving disappointed festival-goers and the festival was canceled outright. After waiting for the wounds to heal, Bloc Festival made a comeback in 2015 with positive reviews.

Glastonbury Festival (1990)

Pilton, England 

The 1990 edition of Britain’s renowned music festival turned into a grim affair of relentless rain, mud, unsanitary restrooms, and overcrowding. The event attracted a record-breaking 70,000 attendees who endured the challenging conditions to see performances by The Cure, Sinéad O’Connor, and acid-house pioneer Adamski. However, the true disaster unfolded after the festival concluded. A group of long-time travelers, who had traditionally camped at the festival, were given their own field that year to host additional music acts. When the festival ended, they remained on the site to scavenge through the mountains of trash left on the ground. Tensions escalated between the travelers and security personnel, leading to a violent clash known as the “Battle of Yeoman’s Bridge,” resembling a chaotic convergence of the Wild West and Mad Max. In response to the incident, Glastonbury Festival took a hiatus the following year to reassess its security measures.

Time Warp (2016)

Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire, England

The Argentine edition of Time Warp, a popular German electronic music festival, faced a tragic turn of events during its third installment in 2016. The Costa Salguero venue, already overcrowded and poorly ventilated, became the backdrop for a devastating incident that tarnished the festival’s reputation. The organizers were caught off guard when attendees started collapsing with convulsions and experiencing cardiac arrhythmia at the overcrowded and under-ventilated Costa Salguero venue. The event was abruptly canceled after emergency services declared six deaths from overheating and substance overdose. The investigation revealed that the root cause of the incidents was a highly adulterated batch of illegal substances. As a result, two event organizers were subsequently imprisoned, and electronic music festivals were prohibited in Argentina.

Wings Festival (2003)

Moscow, Russia

In 2003, Russia’s Wings Festival made headlines for all the wrong reasons. At the Tushino airfield near Moscow, the event was in full swing with a crowd of 20,000 attendees when two women were apprehended by security for attempting to enter the grounds while wearing explosive belts. Tragically, the women detonated their bombs, resulting in their own deaths, the loss of 16 innocent lives, and over 100 people injured. The Russian police investigation revealed that the perpetrators, identified as 20-year-old Zulikhan Elikhadzhiyeva and 26-year-old Zinaida Aliyeva, were believed to be Chechen terrorists who aimed to cause even greater devastation within the festival.

Roskilde Festival (2000)

Roskilde, Denmark

Pearl Jam’s performance at Denmark’s Roskilde festival in 2000 took a tragic turn when a mosh pit descended into chaos. The crowd surged forward, causing panic and leading to a stampede. In the aftermath, nine people lost their lives, trampled in the mud, while 26 others suffered injuries. This devastating incident prompted significant safety reforms in festivals across Europe. Roskilde, despite the tragedy, remains a prominent music festival, with Pearl Jam commemorating the event in their song “Love Boat Captain.” A memorial stone on the festival grounds serves as a solemn reminder of the fragility of life.

Love Parade (2010)

 Various cities in Germany

In 1989, Germany’s Love Parade emerged as a spirited celebration of dance and electronic music, offering a liberating experience of floats and dance parties, and quickly becoming a global focal point of rave culture, inspiring countless spin-off events across the world. However, by 2010, the beloved festival had undergone significant changes, relocating from Berlin to the comparatively smaller city of Bochum. Tragically, a series of logistical missteps led to catastrophic consequences. Estimates regarding attendance vary widely, ranging from 400,000 to 1.4 million people. Nonetheless, all festival-goers were directed through a single tunnel, which opened up into a broad staircase. In a harrowing turn of events, a surge of people pressed forward through the tunnel, resulting in a chaotic crowd rush. Bodies tumbled down the stairs, trapped beneath a stampede of feet, and crushed against the walls. The ensuing pile-up left 21 individuals dead, with the majority succumbing to suffocation, and an additional 500 people sustained injuries. This devastating incident prompted the Love Parade organizer, Rainier Schiller, to make the heart-wrenching decision of permanently canceling the event.

TomorrowWorld (2015)

Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia, United States

Unpredictable weather can cast a shadow over any outdoor music festival, and TomorrowWorld 2015 serves as a vivid example of how poor organization can compound the challenges. This massive EDM extravaganza was plunged into chaos when heavy rainfall transformed the venue into a muddy quagmire, putting a damper on the festivities. However, it was the mishandling of logistical arrangements that truly escalated the situation. Shockingly, festival organizers failed to provide adequate transportation for the 3,000 camping guests, leaving them stranded, drenched, and seething with frustration. This oversight added insult to injury, exacerbating the already challenging conditions. To make matters worse, on the final day of the festival, non-camping guests who had purchased tickets were unexpectedly barred from attending the shows. This unjust decision further fueled disappointment and anger among attendees who had eagerly anticipated the event.

Fyre Festival (2017)

Great Exuma, Bahamas

The brainchild of shady entrepreneur Billy McFarland and shadier musician Ja Rule, Fyre Festival was meant to epitomize exclusivity, opulence, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Promising a dreamlike escape to a private island in the Bahamas, complete with world-class musical performances, gourmet cuisine, and unparalleled luxury, Fyre Festival became the talk of the town. Influencers like Kendal Jenner and Bella Hadid and social media buzz fueled the hype, enticing eager festival-goers and FOMO sufferers from across the globe to open their wallets and splurge a “modest” $12,000 to secure a coveted spot at this extravagant affair. Upon arrival, the luxury tent accommodations turned out to be nothing more than makeshift shelters reminiscent of a “Fema camp.” The gourmet dining options were meager rations of processed cheese on bread. Adding insult to injury, several headlining performers, including Blink 182 and Disclosure, never bothered to make an appearance leaving attendees disheartened and disillusioned. As if the disappointing amenities and no-show artists weren’t enough, Mother Nature added her own twist to the calamity. A storm swept in, forcing the cancellation of the event and leaving participants stranded on the island in a very ” Lord of the Flies” esque ambiance. The once-privileged attendees quickly descended into chaos, sharing their misfortunes and frustrations on social media for the internet to gloat mercilessly. Billy McFarland was arrested and charged with multiple counts of wire fraud, as well as making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer. The fiasco of the festival was chronicled in various documentaries, with one of them streaming on Netflix.

Altamont Free Concert (1969)

Altamont Speedway, California, United States

Altamont ’69, a mere four months after the original Woodstock, was the first disastrous attempt to replicate the era-defining event for the “peace and love” generation. Over 300,000 attendees gathered for the anticipated “Woodstock West” featuring The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, The Grateful Dead, and other renowned bands.  However, one ill-fated decision to hire the Hells Angels motorcycle gang as unofficial security, paid in beer, proved disastrous. Safety concerns arose when a Hells Angels bouncer assaulted a member of Jefferson Airplane, prompting The Grateful Dead to withdraw from performing. But the real tragedy struck during The Rolling Stones’ set as an 18-year-old with a gun was fatally stabbed by a Hells Angel just steps away from the stage. The disturbing moment was immortalized by the documentary Gimme Shelter, which captured the chilling footage of bikers mercilessly stomping on Hunter’s lifeless body.

Woodstock ’99 (1999)

Rome, New York, United States

Woodstock ’99 was supposed to be the torchbearer of the iconic ’60s festival and its ’94 anniversary edition. Instead, it turned into a blazing dumpster fire fiasco, A staggering crowd of over 400,000 attendees flocked to the Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York, expecting to be a part of another groundbreaking counterculture phenomenon. And they kind of were. But not in a good way.  Instead of embodying peace, love, and harmony, this edition rode the wave of the growing hard rock trend, featuring acts like Metallica, Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Rage Against the Machine. Sweltering temperatures, a music lineup fueled by angry young male rage, a venue situated on a former nuclear weapons storage site, unsanitary conditions, price gouging, and the widespread culture of self-obliteration through substance use, led to the nightmarish final hours of anarchic behavior. The chaos of the event was so profound that it became the subject of a Netflix documentary named “Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99.”

 

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