They say that no matter what, the show must go on. But is that really the case when you’re facing high speed winds capable of toppling a massive stage, clubs packed beyond capacity that aren’t up to fire code, stampedes and human crushes, and Axl Rose? Let’s take a look at some concerts that didn’t exactly go as planned.
10. Rolling Stones use Hell’s Angels as security
In 1969, New York’s Woodstock festival made international headlines. But the Altamont Free Festival later that same year, marketed as its west coast equivalent, didn’t do so well when it came to all the peace and love that’s come to symbolize the flower power movement of the ‘60s. In one of the most infamous chapters in rock ‘n’ roll history, The Rolling Stones’ decision to hire the Hell’s Angels as security was fraught with disaster.
The Hells Angels, a notorious motorcycle club more known for their rough-and-tumble ways than its crowd management skills, were brought in to keep order in exchange for – get this – a whopping $500 worth of beer. However, they used pool cues and fists to manage the crowd, resulting in widespread hostility and exactly the kind of dangerous disorder concert security is supposed to prevent. The event culminated tragically, with the stabbing death of 18-year-old Meredith Hunter by a Hell’s Angel member. This shocking incident was caught on film and is prominently featured in the Gimme Shelter documentary, casting a grim shadow over The Stones’ legacy and effectively ending the utopian dreams of the 1960s counterculture.
9. The Who concert Stampede
By 1979, Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum was one of the last venues that hadn’t retired the old “festival seating” policy. But a tragedy that December was about to prove to the world exactly why it was so dangerous. British rock band The Who was scheduled to perform, attracting thousands of eager fans. But before the music could even begin, the night took a dark turn, resulting in one of the deadliest concert disasters in history.
The absence of assigned seating meant every seat in the house was up for grabs on a first come, first serve basis, incentivizing people to rush to the front as soon as the gates were opened. On this deadly night, only a few doors were opened, funneling the crowd into tiny access points and causing a fatal stampede, as thousands of fans began to push against the crowd already gathered by the doors. The resulting human crush cost eleven fans their lives and injured several more. Fortunately, the disastrous event led to a reevaluation of concert safety protocols and significantly changed the way general admission events are managed, with many venues finally dumping “festival seating” to prevent such accidents in the future.
8. Beverly Hills Supper Club fire
On May 28, 1977, The Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky was filled well beyond legal capacity, with more than 3,000 patrons and staff. A tragedy was about to prove the importance of proper electric wiring, as well as adhering to safety codes and capacity limits in public venues.
The incident is believed to have started in the Zebra Room, one of the smaller private rooms at the Club, when faulty wiring sparked a fire that could not be put out due to a lack of sprinkler systems at the facility and the extensive use of flammable materials for interior decoration. The flames soon spread throughout the venue. In the ensuing panic and confusion, escape routes became impassable, trapping many inside. A horrifying 165 people lost their lives, and over 200 were injured in the catastrophe. Fortunately, the disaster led to nationwide changes in fire code regulations and far more attention being paid to fire codes and the integrity of electric wiring.
7. Crowd Crush at Castle Donington 1988
The Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington in Leicestershire, England, held annually since 1980, was a beacon for heavy metal fans around the world. But in 1988, the event took a horrifying turn. On August 20, Guns N’ Roses took the stage.
An estimated 107,000 fans – far more than had been anticipated since the band was at that very moment surging in popularity for the first time but had not been billed as a headliner – packed onto the sloped ground in front of the stage. The angle formed a natural amphitheater, making it ideal for shows. But a combination of slippery mud and the crowd understandably wanting to mosh at the front led to a human crush near the stage. Although singer Axl Rose tried to stop the set a few times to restore order, two fans, Alan Dick and Landon Siggers, tragically lost their lives due to compressive asphyxia. The incident, also known as the Donington Disaster, led to a serious reevaluation of crowd safety measures at large-scale concerts and festivals. To prevent such tragedies in the future, the Monsters of Rock Festival took the next year off and reopened with new crowd control measures.
6. Metallica / Guns N’ Roses in Montreal
In the summer of 1992, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses, two of the biggest heavy metal bands on earth and both touring in support of blockbuster albums, decided to join forces for a slate of co-headlining shows in North America. However, things got out of hand when the behemoth double-header stopped in Montreal that August. What should have been a memorable night of music and camaraderie morphed into an evening of destruction and chaos.
The trouble began when Metallica frontman James Hetfield suffered severe burns due to a pyrotechnics mishap, forcing the band to cut their set short. Following a lengthy delay, Guns N’ Roses took the stage, but their performance was also cut short due to alleged vocal issues with lead singer Axl Rose. This double disappointment infuriated fans, sparking a riot in the streets surrounding the Olympic Stadium. Rioters smashed windows, set fires, overturned cars. and looted local stores, resulting in numerous injuries and significant property damage. “I go and light myself on fire,” Hetfield later quipped, “and he [Rose] upstages me.”
5. Woodstock ‘99
Woodstock ’99, an event meant to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the legendary 1969 music festival, sadly missed the mark on the peace and love its predecessor and namesake had come to symbolize. Instead, it descended into chaos, violence, and copious amounts of dudebro shenanigans. Held at the former Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York, a combination of high concession prices, inadequate facilities and supplies (mainly water), decidedly not inadequate amounts of drugs, aggressive music performances, and hundreds of thousands of angry kids packed onto a sweltering tarmac in the middle of summer, resulted in a volatile atmosphere.
On the final night of the festival, after a fiery performance by Red Hot Chili Peppers, the crowd spiraled out of control. Some concertgoers rioted and began looting vendor booths, setting fires, and destroying festival properties, eventually forcing the National Guard to respond and restore order. Beyond property damage, the festival was marred by reports of numerous assaults, including instances of sexual violence. The disaster of Woodstock ’99 highlighted the importance of sufficient planning, adequate resources, and appropriate safety measures in managing large-scale events. There’s a reason the festival is said to have marked the end of the ‘90s.
4. Station Nightclub fire
On February 20, 2003, the Station Nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island was hosting a performance by ‘80s glam rockers Great White. Sadly, the small venue was not designed to accommodate the band’s use of pyrotechnics. Jets of flame during their opening number sparked not only a deadly fire, but panic, chaos, and death.
The fire broke out when sparks from the pyrotechnics ignited the highly flammable acoustic foam on the walls and ceilings of the club. The fast-spreading flames and smoke, coupled with the resulting panic, turned the building into a deadly trap. Many of the victims were unable to escape due to blocked or inadequately marked exit points. The tragedy led to 100 deaths, more than 200 injuries, and, thankfully, significant changes in fire safety codes across the US, particularly regarding the use of pyrotechnics indoors and the enforcement of stricter guidelines for fireproofing in public venues.
3. Indiana State Fair stage collapse
August 13, 2011 should have been filled with music and family-friendly fun at the Indiana State Fair, with fans eagerly waiting to see the country music duo Sugarland perform. Instead, it turned into a horrifying night of tragedy when high-speed wind toppled the stage rigging and lighting equipment, causing both to collapse onto the audience. This horrifying incident resulted in seven fatalities and injured dozens of others, leaving an ominous mark on the history of live music events.
Prior to the show, a severe weather warning had been issued, but event organizers decided to proceed, hoping the worst of the storm would miss the fairgrounds. Tragically, it didn’t: winds estimated at 60-70 miles-per-hour hit the stage, causing it to crumble and collapse onto the crowd. The heartbreaking disaster triggered a major reevaluation of safety protocols for outdoor events in the face of severe weather warnings. The incident led to multiple lawsuits, significant changes in Indiana state law regarding event safety, and an industry-wide discussion about the urgent need for standardized safety procedures in the staging of live outdoor events.
2. Manchester Arena Bombing
On May 22, 2017, the city of Manchester, England, was struck by one of the most horrific terrorist attacks in British history. A homemade bomb turned what should’ve been a joyful set by Ariana Grande into a deadly nightmare, killing 22 and injuring hundreds, as the world watched in terror and panicked loved ones across the city tried everything to contact those who might’ve been hurt.
This devastating incident led to increased security measures at concert venues across the globe, and served as a stark reminder of the reality of modern-day threats to public safety. Despite the tragedy, the people of Manchester and music fans worldwide demonstrated resilience and unity. And although nobody blamed Grande herself for the tragedy, she did more than send tweets of condolences. She helmed the “One Love Manchester” benefit concert held shortly after the attack, to benefit victims and their families, and visited recovering fans in the hospital.
1. Travis Scott’s Astroworld
“Sicko Mode” rapper Travis Scott isn’t exactly known for creating safe environments at his shows. In November 2021, his penchant for whipping crowds into violent, dangerous frenzies resulted in a terrifying and deadly night at his own Astroworld Festival, in Houston, Texas.
Signs of trouble actually started well before the show did, as unruly mobs of fans began gathering at the gates that morning. When the gates opened, the crowd stampeded into the outdoor venue area, damaging gates and chaotically surging towards merch tables. Opening acts performed throughout the day. Already, hundreds were being treated for minor injuries caused by out of control crowds. But the worst came when Scott himself took the main stage at 9:00 p.m.
The enormous crowd surged forwards, crushing those at the front. Some fans screamed for help as casualties mounted, but despite becoming aware of the chaos and even seeing ambulances making their way through the sea of people, Scott made no effort whatsoever to calm things down and continued his set as normal. When the event was over, 10 people had been killed and hundreds more injured. Scott himself will not face criminal charges for failing to maintain control.