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Are music festivals safe?

Philipp Jedicke
November 6, 2021

Eight people died at a music festival in Texas — and it's not the first time a fatal event has taken place. Has concert safety actually improved over time?

An ambulance arrives at the Astroworld Festival in Houston
An ambulance arrives at the Astroworld Festival in Houston after a deadly crowd crushImage: @ONACASELLA/Twitter/REUTERS

After the many hard pandemic months, it has felt like a blessing for music fans to finally be able to see their favorite artists live again, and to dance together in a crowd. But in the United States, what should have been a carefree event took a deadly turn. 

At least eight people died on Friday in a crowd surge during a concert by rapper Travis Scott at the Astroworld Festival, a music festival that he launched in Houston, Texas. Investigations are ongoing into the precise cause of the incident. 

Germany experienced a major music festival tragedy in 2010. That year, 21 people died and 652 were injured at the Love Parade, an electronic music festival in Duisburg, western Germany. The cause was overcrowding of an access tunnel, with too many people pushing into the small space. The recent incident in Texas featured chaos in front of the stage.

A similar incident took place in 2000 at a music festival in Roskilde, Denmark, during a Pearl Jam concert. As more and more concertgoers tried to get close to the stage, the entire audience was forced into motion, relentlessly pushing on those at the front. Many fans ended up being trampled. Nine people were killed and many more were injured.

The area in front of the stage after the deadly crowd surge at the Pearl Jam concert in Roskilde, Denmark
The area in front of the stage after the deadly crowd surge at the Pearl Jam concert in Roskilde, DenmarkImage: Nils Meilvang/dpa/picture-alliance

Change in festival culture

The impact of the Danish catastrophe was far-reaching. In the following years, the festival made major improvements to its safety measures, including implementing cordoned-off safety zones, paved surfaces, and more extensive training for security personnel. Today, Roskilde's safety measures are considered some of the best in the world, and have been adopted by many other large events.

Being driven along by the crowd across a festival site or a concert hall was considered normal during rock concerts in the 1990s. Today, however, this is a thing of the past, thanks to the practice of separating audience areas into different zones. This prevents people at the front being pushed into the stage by the crowd behind them.

Fans bow their heads and mourn at a memorial concert for the Roskilde victims
In 2010, a concert was held in memory of those who died at the Roskilde Festival ten years earlierImage: Vandall Ortvig/AFP/Getty Images

New awareness

Ernst-Ludwig Hartz is a concert organizer who, since the 1980s, has been responsible for large concerts with up to 65,000 attendees. Hartz told DW that safety has been a top priority since the very beginning of his career, adding that long before the tragedy in Roskilde, he had to fulfill strict safety requirements to secure authorization for his events.

Roskilde spurred discussion much discussion among Hartz and his colleagues. "We thought about whether we were doing everything right, what we could do better," he said. Hartz also believes that concertgoers' awareness has changed since then, and that audience members now look out for each other more.

Fans wave their hands in the air during a concert at the Roskilde festival
The Roskilde Festival (above, in 2019) is now a model for concert safety measuresImage: Photoshot/picture alliance

Keeping risks as low as possible

In the aftermath of the fatal crowd crush in Roskilde, safety requirements in Germany were made stricter, and Hartz said that new measures are constantly being developed.

There is no such thing as a foolproof safety guarantee when masses of people are in the same place. But organizers today have many more tools at their disposal to keep crowd-related risks as low as possible – hopefully without destroying the concert vibe or preventing concertgoers from enjoying being in a crowd.

What exactly caused the fatal incident in Texas and whether the organizers were legally negligent will only be known once investigators conclude their work. But November 5, 2021, has already become a tragic day in the history of music festivals.

Pearl Jam did not perform at festivals for years following the Roskilde catastrophe. Today, at every concert, the band has made it an immutable ritual to ask its audience to be considerate and cautious. 

This article has been translated from the German original.