Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via AP
A drone image shows the stage area at Astroworld on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021 in Houston. Several people died and numerous others were injured in what officials described as a surge of the crowd at the music festival while Travis Scott was performing Friday night.
NEW YORK (AP) — The crowd deaths at a Houston music festival added even more names to the long list of people who have been crushed at a major event.
Tragedies like the one Friday night at the Astroworld Music Festival have been happening for a long time. In 1979, 11 people died in a scramble to enter a Cincinnati, Ohio, concert by The Who. At the Hillsborough soccer stadium in England, a human crush in 1989 led to nearly 100 deaths. In 2015, a collision of two crowds at the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia caused more than 2,400 deaths, based on an Associated Press count of media reports and officials’ comments.
Now that more people are heading out of their homes and back into crowds after many months of being cooped up because of the pandemic, the risks are rising again.
Most major events happen without a death, of course, but experts say they see common traits within the tragedies. Here’s a look at how they happen:
HOW ARE PEOPLE DYING IN THESE EVENTS?
They’re often getting squeezed so hard that they can’t get any oxygen. It’s usually not because they’re getting trampled.
When a crowd surges, the force can be strong enough to bend steel. It can also hit people from two directions: one from the rear of the crowd pushing forward and another from the front of the crowd trying to escape. If some people have fallen, causing a pileup, pressure can even come from above. Caught in the middle are people’s lungs.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE SWEPT IN?
A U.K. inquiry into the Hillsborough tragedy found that a form of asphyxiation was listed as an underlying cause in the vast majority of the deaths. Other listed causes included “inhalation of stomach contents.”
The deaths occurred as more than 50,000 fans streamed into the stadium for a soccer match on a warm, sunny day. Some of them packed into a tunnel and were getting pressed so hard into perimeter fencing that their faces got distorted by the mesh, the inquiry found.
“Survivors described being gradually compressed, unable to move, their heads ‘locked between arms and shoulders … faces gasping in panic,'” the report said. “They were aware that people were dying and they were helpless to save themselves.”
WHAT CAUSES SUCH EVENTS?
“My research covers over 100 years of disasters, and invariably they all come down to very similar characteristics,” said G. Keith Still, a visiting professor of crowd science at the University of Suffolk in England who has testified as an expert witness in court cases involving crowds.
First is the design of the event, including making sure that the density of the crowd doesn’t exceed guidelines set by the National Fire Protection Association and others. That includes having enough space for everyone and large enough gaps for people to move about.
Some venues will take precautions when they know a particularly high-energy crowd is coming to an event. Still pointed to how some will set up pens around stages in order to break large crowds into smaller groups. That can also allow for pathways for security officers or for emergency exits.
WHAT ARE OTHER CAUSES?
The crowd’s density may be the most important factor in a deadly surge, but it usually needs a catalyst to get everyone rushing in the same direction.
A sudden downpour of rain or hail could send everyone running for cover, as was the case when 93 soccer fans in Nepal were killed while surging toward locked stadium exits in 1988. Or, in an example that Still said is much more common in the United States than other countries, someone yells, “He has a gun!”
Surges don’t always happen because people are running away from something. Sometimes they’re caused by a crowd moving toward something, such as a performer on the stage, before they hit a barrier.
Still also cited poor crowd-management systems, where event organizers don’t have strong procedures in place to report red flags or warnings, among the reasons deadly surges happen.
HOW HAS THE PANDEMIC AFFECTED THINGS?
Steve Allen of Crowd Safety, a U.K.-based consultancy engaged in major events around the world, said it’s always important to monitor the crowd, but especially so now that events are ramping up in size following the the pandemic lockdown.
“As soon as you add people into the mix, there will always be a risk,” he said of crowds.
He recommends that events have trained crowd spotters with noise-cancelling headsets who are in direct communication with someone in close proximity to the performer who’s willing to temporarily stop the event if there’s a life-threatening situation. That could be a crowd surge, structural collapse, fire or something else.
Allen said he has personally stopped about 25 performances by the likes of Oasis, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Eminem.
WHY AREN’T PEOPLE CALLING THIS A STAMPEDE?
Professionals don’t use the words “stampede” or “panic” to describe such scenarios because that can put the blame for the deaths on the people in the crowd. Instead, they more often point at the event’s organizers for failing to provide a safe environment.
“Safety has no profit,” Still said, “so it tends to be the last thing in the budget.”
Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.
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Music lovers are rejoicing! Live festivals are returning, bringing the sounds of music to the ears and hearts of fans who have had to rely on playlists and earbuds to bring music into their lives over the past year. The Stacker team agrees with Billy Joel when he said, "I think music in itself is healing. It's an explosive expression of humanity. It's something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we're from, everyone loves music."
Stacker chose 15 major upcoming festivals to create a list including their dates, highlights of headliners, and lineups. Are you a music fan who has been longing for Lollapalooza or vying for Voodoo Fest to return? While many iconic festivals had to cancel their 2020 events, our curated list illuminates that live events are coming back to life across America.
Be sure to visit the websites of the festivals to check for new protocols. In the meantime, put on your favorite playlist and scroll through our slideshow to find out if your favorite festival is one of the 15 featured. As Marilyn Manson notes, “Music is the strongest form of magic.” Isn’t it great to have live magic back in our lives?
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Rolling Loud Miami is slated for July 23-25 at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. A$AP Rocky, Travis Scott, and Post Malone will headline this year's event, and all passes from the canceled 2020 festival will be honored.
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Grant Park in Chicago will be hopping on July 29-Aug. 1 with the sounds of Lollapalooza. The illustrious lineup of headliners includes Foo Fighters, Post Malone, Miley Cyrus, and Tyler, The Creator. Dababy, Marshmello, Illenium, Journey, Megan Thee Stallion, Alison Wonderland, Roddy Rich, Kaytranada, and Young Thug will also be performing, along with other major talent.
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Summerfest will be held at Henry Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin over three consecutive weekends: Sept. 2-4, 9-11, and 16-18. Live music will rock 11 stages with 800 acts including the Jonas Brothers, Chance the Rapper, Miley Cyrus, and 100 more headliners.
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Bonnaroovians will flock to Manchester, Tennessee, on September 2-5, to celebrate the 20th anniversary Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. Opening night features headliner the Grand Ole Opry and British jazz sax star Nubya Garcia. Foo Fighters, Megan Thee Stallion, Lizzo, Tame Impala, Lana Del Rey, and Tyler, The Creator join the lineup of over 150 musicians.
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Napa Valley will be rocking Sept. 3-5 when Bottlerock blazes to life at the Napa Valley Expo. The festival, rescheduled from last May, features an impressive lineup, including Guns N’ Roses, Stevie Nicks, Foo Fighters, Miley Cyrus, and Megan Thee Stallion. According to the official website, the festival is already sold out.
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Pitchfork Music Festival will take place Sept. 10-12 in Chicago’s Union Park. Headliners include Phoebe Bridgers, St. Vincent, Big Thief, Flying Lotus, and other top artists.
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Downtown Las Vegas will host the Life is Beautiful festival from Sept. 17 to Sept. 19. The festival “exists to build a more beautiful world’ and features music, comedy, food, and art. Musical headliners include Billie Eilish, Jonas Blue, Green Day, A$AP Rocky, Megan Thee Stallion, and Chance the Rapper. Comedians include Desus and Mero, Jonathan Van Ness, and Pod Save America.
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Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins, and The Avett Brothers will join other industry icons at Ashbury Park in New Jersey on Sept. 18-19 to perform at Sea.Hear.Now. Featured artists include Billy Idol, Lord Huron, Dirty Heads, Dr. Dog, and many more.
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Treefort Music Fest is set to take over multiple venues in downtown Boise, Idaho on Sept. 22-26. The festival will feature 150 bands as well as 369 celebrated indie artists including Japanese Breakfast, The Marías, Andy Shauf, and more.
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Firefly ignites Sept. 23-26 at the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. More than 120 bands will play across seven stages. Headliners include Billie Eilish, The Killers, Tame Impala, Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion, Cage The Elephant, Roddy Ricch, Wiz Khalifa, Machine Gun Kelly, and more. The 105-acre festival grounds feature a myriad of experiences including a beach club, roller rink, and pride parade.
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Louder than Life will rock the Kentucky Expo Center's Highland Festival Grounds in Louisville Sept. 23-26. The four-day festival will feature some of the industry’s leading talent, including Metallica, Snoop Dogg, Nine Inch Nails, Korn, Judas Priest, Jane's Addiction, Staind, Rise Against, Mudvayne, Cypress Hill, Machine Gun Kelly, Gojira, and more.
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The Governor’s Ball is a three-day experience featuring music, art, and food, and this year it's scheduled for Sept. 24-26 at Citi Field in New York City. The lineup features over 750 acts, including Billie Eilish, A$AP Rocky, Megan Thee Stallion, Post Malone, 21 Savage, and Young Thug.
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Over 130 bands will perform on eight stages at Austin City Limits Music Festival on Oct. 1-3 and 8-10 at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas. Headliners include George Strait, Stevie Nicks, Billie Eilish, Miley Cyrus, and DaBaby.
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Outside Lands has been rescheduled to Oct. 29-31 at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Headliners include Boy Pablo, Dr. Dog, Glass Animals, Kaytranada, Lizzo, Lord Huron, Rüfüs Du Sol, Sofi Tukker, Tame Impala, The Strokes, Vampire Weekend, and Young Thug.
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Voodoo Music + Arts Experience will return to City Park in New Orleans on Oct. 29-31 for guests to enjoy art, cuisine, and music. The event has been rocking the community since 1999, with 2,000 performances from icons like Pearl Jam, KISS, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Eminem. This year’s lineup is still being confirmed.