August 17, 2022

Fergal Kinney has been going to music festivals since he was a young person. However when Kinney, a 29-year-old British music journalist, attended Primavera Sound in Barcelona this previous June, it was the primary time he had ever feared for his security in a competition setting.

Kinney sensed that one thing was off quickly after arriving at Primavera, which has lengthy been famend for its stellar lineups and delightful setting⁠. The competition grounds had been dangerously overcrowded; bottlenecks and cramming rendered it troublesome to maneuver from one stage to a different. Water factors had been few and much between, with music followers struggling to remain hydrated. Strains for the bar tents had been absurdly lengthy — 45 minutes to an hour. And when considered one of Kinney’s associates felt unwell, the pal knowledgeable the bar employees, who simply told him to get in line for bottled water.

“I’ve been going to festivals for 12, 13 years. I’ve by no means witnessed overcrowding as worrying as that,” Kinney says. He describes one significantly grueling crowd crush popping out of Gorillaz’s set, throughout which he fearful that followers may actually get pushed into the Mediterranean Sea. “After I say grueling crush, I imply spending simply half an hour probably not transferring, and also you’re very densely packed in with individuals,” Kinney says. “The truth that no person died was actually right down to the goodwill and moderation of the individuals who had been there. It was extraordinarily obvious on day one which one thing was not proper.”

“It was all anybody was speaking about,” says Daniel Dylan Wray, a contract music journalist who has been attending Primavera since 2009 and tweeted that this was the worst group he had ever seen. “Usually you’d be immersed within the music, and the communal speaking level is perhaps: ‘What have you ever seen tonight?’ However as an alternative it was: ‘What a fucking nightmare it’s to do something.’”

“In some elements of it, you possibly can barely transfer,” says Ally Chapman, a music fan from Bristol, England. “Everybody simply saved saying, ‘Astroworld, Astroworld, Astroworld — bear in mind Astroworld.’ It appeared prefer it was gonna be similar to that. It was harmful.”

Luckily, Primavera unfolded with out related tragedy, and sources say circumstances improved considerably after the primary night time, with standout performances by the Nationwide, Fontaines D.C., and a newly reunited Pavement. On June 3, the competition acknowledged and apologized for “issues within the bar providers.” “We added three factors the place we had been giving freely water bottles without cost, and we rearranged the bar employees so they might attend essentially the most crowded areas,” says Marta Pallarès, the competition’s head of worldwide press, in a press release. “After the primary night time, the remainder of the times ran as typical.”

But the chaotic clusterfuck that was Primavera Day 1 looks like greater than a momentary stumble. Moderately, the frustrations that greeted followers there appear consultant of a competition season broadly marred by overcrowding, crowd chaos, and stunning organizational blunders by ostensibly seasoned organizers.

Few massive festivals have been immune. At Revolve Fest, an unauthorized, Coachella-adjacent occasion geared toward influencers and style bloggers, would-be attendees complained of being stranded within the desert solar for hours with out meals or water. In June, Bonnaroo largely ran easily, although its first day was hindered by reports of prolonged traces resulting in a single GA entrance. Later that month, Pharrell Williams’ One thing In The Water fest was described by USA As we speak as a “logistical nightmare” spoiled by “inexcusable delays.” (“Too many individuals fainted, too many unsuitable set instances,” one fan tweeted.) In July, Rolling Loud Miami was derailed by a extremely publicized incident during which Child Cudi angrily left the stage mid-set after being pelted with objects thrown by viewers members; one other attendee accused safety of failing to assist a lady passing out within the entrance row. And simply final weekend, Lollapalooza was interrupted by an damage when rapper Lil Durk was hit within the face with a pyrotechnic.

There’s little doubt that large-scale stay music is absolutely again after final yr’s take a look at run, nevertheless it hasn’t precisely been making a easy return. Past festivals per se, latest headlines are filled with tales of mega-sized concert events gone awry. There was the Rage Towards The Machine stage intruder who led safety to unintentionally sort out Tom Morello; there have been the Child Rock followers who trashed a North Dakota state honest after his present was canceled. And on the Switzerland hip-hop competition Openair Frauenfeld, each Lil Child and Roddy Ricch had their units interrupted by stage crashers who had been each violently ejected.

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* * *

What’s happening? Why is all the things so chaotic recently?

Eric Renner Brown, a senior editor at Billboard who beforehand reported on stay music for the commerce publication Pollstar, believes a number of the crowd points might be attributed to a collective post-lockdown “dusting off the cobwebs.”

“The viewers is off form. Safety is off form. All people is off form,” Brown says. “I’ve skilled that throughout the board at concert events — lots of locations additionally having to determine tips on how to implement vaccine or testing entry necessities, which had been applied with very differing effectivity.”

One may count on a newish competition, like One thing In The Water, to be tormented by disorganization and overcrowding. At a veteran competition like Primavera, which has been operating effectively since 2001, it’s extra stunning. When Brown attended Primavera in June, after wanting ahead to it for 2 years, he discovered himself pissed off by the gang points.

“For Tame Impala, the gang was so loopy that we ended up being separated from the chums we had been with. After which weren’t in a position to reconnect for hours,” says Brown.

“My group that I used to be with, we had been all first-timers at Primavera,” Brown provides. “We had been like, ‘That is wild. These individuals have been doing this for 20 years. It’s probably the most revered festivals on this planet for music.’ That’s what made me suppose, is there a dimension right here to do with getting again on-line post-COVID? Are they having hassle getting skilled people to employees these stations? Had been they a bit of bit rusty in understanding what number of concession stands they should have?”

Equally, throughout the pond, some festivalgoers had been shocked by the hour-long traces to get into Bonnaroo in June — a stunning hitch for such a longtime competition. “For the primary time in Bonnaroo’s 20-plus-year historical past, they primarily consolidated the doorway traces to a single level,” says the competition insider often called Festive Owl, who runs the @TheFestiveOwl Twitter account and prefers to stay pseudonymous. “It received kinda irritating for attendees and folks, particularly when it’s 100 levels.”

Though he says Bonnaroo was a fantastic weekend total, the single-entrance downside struck him as an entirely pointless frustration; the second entrance was nonetheless there however designated exit solely. (Bonnaroo has not responded to a request for remark.)

“I believe a part of the problem is that they in all probability attempt to pull again staffing at areas seeing decrease attendance numbers,” says Festive Owl, who has been attending Bonnaroo since 2009. “It doesn’t matter if there’s 100,000 or 20,000 [people] — for those who pay $500 for a ticket, there’s issues that you’re shopping for logistically and infrastructure-wise that you just need to have as a fan.”

Certainly, Bonnaroo seemed to be understaffed this yr. Festive Owl notes that Bonnaroo’s volunteer areas sometimes refill shortly; some years, they cease taking volunteer functions by mid-April. This yr, the fest was nonetheless sending out blasts asking for volunteers per week or two earlier than the occasion.

“I believe it simply speaks to a bigger factor on festivals as an entire. There’s positively been sure festivals the place it simply feels not absolutely there but,” says Festive Owl. “They haven’t absolutely recovered but, you realize what I imply?”

He provides, “I believe there’s a scarcity of individuals to assist do issues. For example, there’s been reductions in distributors in a few of these spots as a result of they don’t have individuals to work. You are taking away 4 pizza distributors, impulsively that could possibly be 40, 50 individuals who could have been consuming pizza as an alternative of crowding into this space. It doesn’t appear to be rather a lot, nevertheless it provides up when it extrapolates over 100,000 individuals.”

Consultants say understaffing stays a big downside in stay music. “Ever since popping out of COVID, there’s been lots of dialogue within the stay business about labor shortages,” says Brown. For example, many main excursions have been struggling to search out and rent certified tour bus drivers.

Relating to festivals, Festive Owl (who works within the music business) believes the issue is twofold: not solely are music festivals chronically understaffed, however lots of the new staffers who’ve been employed to exchange those that left the business are primarily studying on the job.

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“When the pandemic began, within the music business and lots of industries, there was a giant mind drain,” says Festive Owl. “I do know a dozen individuals who had labored on this business, who had labored on these occasions for years — they get to some extent the place they’re laid off they usually’re not creating wealth. So these individuals are doing stuff like actual property and industries that don’t have anything to do with stay occasions anymore. And now they’re there they usually’re not coming again.

“There are individuals within the fold now — I believe they’re doing a fantastic job, they’re doing the very best they’ll, however they’re nonetheless studying in lots of methods, you realize?” Festive Owl provides. “A few of these individuals could also be engaged on their first competition. It’s been three years [since the last Bonnaroo]! And it’s gonna take a short while to get again in that groove of, ‘Right here’s the way you produce this yr in and yr out.’”

* * *

This season’s competition woes are, after all, unfolding within the aftermath of final yr’s catastrophe at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Pageant, throughout which 10 individuals had been killed and plenty of extra injured because of a lethal crowd crush. Scott solely not too long ago returned to the stage, with a heightened sense of urgency round conserving his followers protected: When the rapper paused a set at Coney Island’s The Day Social gathering on July 4 to inform followers to get down from a lighting rig, his attentiveness to security considerations made headlines across the web. But it’s unclear what bigger classes the business has taken from Astroworld.

“There’s lots of concern proper now about being in a giant crowd,” says Eric Renner Brown. “I believe it’s incumbent on competition organizers to make issues as seamless as doable. You’re in a crowd like that, and along with fascinated with the plain factor — the Astroworld crowd crush — individuals are nonetheless iffy about being jammed collectively due to COVID. And you consider all of the gun violence and stuff.”

Add to that the truth that some attendees are pretty new to the world of stay music, and it’s a recipe for chaos. A latest Paste article chronicled Gen Z’s chaotic introduction to the world of concert events after lacking out on formative experiences in 2020. “So what occurs when a bunch of youngsters are determined to have in-person experiences … and have by no means been to a large-scale live performance earlier than? As you possibly can count on, absolute chaos,” wrote Paste‘s Leila Jordan. “Whereas faintings and medical emergencies have at all times been a chance at concert events, the frequency has change into alarming in latest months.”

Equally, Marta Pallarès, the Primavera spokesperson, claims that one reason behind crowd circulation difficulties at Primavera was that as much as 80% of the viewers got here to the competition for the primary time. “Parc del Fòrum is a big house and for those who don’t comprehend it, it may be troublesome to navigate,” Pallarès says. There have been structural points as nicely: Days earlier than the competition, the harbor authority advised organizers they wouldn’t be capable of use the bridge that sometimes connects the 2 largest areas within the competition, which impeded regular circulation between the assorted factors.

Some Primavera attendees assumed that competition tickets had been oversold to compensate for pandemic losses. In actuality, Pallarès says, the fest offered 80,000 tickets per day, nicely underneath the Parc del Fòrum’s complete capability of 95,000.

The issue seemingly had much less to do with uncooked numbers and extra with an uneven distribution of audiences. In Daniel Dylan Wray’s view, as a result of the primary introduced headliner was Pavement, the fest attracted indie-rock followers who had been extra more likely to crowd round Dinosaur Jr. and Yo La Tengo slightly than the dance acts, so the crowds weren’t nicely dispersed.

For knowledgeable organizers, counterprogramming — that’s, a number of acts enjoying on completely different phases with overlapping set instances — is an important device to maintain a competition viewers from all crowding into the identical place on the similar time. Some Coachella attendees could have griped that Harry Types and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard had been enjoying on the similar time, however such a battle helped be sure that neither set was dangerously packed.

“One key issue at Astroworld was how poorly designed counterprogramming/staging led to an enormous mass of individuals all going in a single route concurrently,” Brown says. “I wouldn’t evaluate Primavera to Astroworld, however essentially the most crowded set [at Primavera], in my expertise, was Tame Impala, and my working concept is that that was as a result of Large Assault dropped out as headliner they usually didn’t add a substitute headliner, so the one competing act was Rina Sawayama.”

That brings us to a different main downside with festivals of late: dropouts. Pageant lineups have by no means been extra unstable, and COVID is essentially in charge. To be a stay music fan in 2022 is to be keenly conscious that the present you’re wanting ahead to is perhaps postponed or canceled due to a optimistic take a look at. And it’s arduous to counterprogram successfully when a headlining act is liable to drop out on the final minute.

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In June, the Strokes dropped out days earlier than a headlining set at Primavera on account of a optimistic take a look at (Large Assault had already dropped out months earlier). Equally, the Chemical Brothers pulled out of Glastonbury on account of COVID, and Kanye West pulled out of scheduled appearances at each Coachella and Rolling Loud Miami, although that in all probability has extra to do with Kanye being Kanye. He made a shock look at Rolling Loud anyway to carry out “Sizzling Shit” with Lil Durk, although festivalgoers nonetheless took out their frustrations on his substitute act/nemesis, Child Cudi, by pelting Cudi with trash and chanting Kanye’s title. Cudi left the stage after being hit with a water bottle in probably the most miserable competition spectacles of 2022.

In the meantime, regardless of the Chemical Brothers’ cancelation, festivalgoers say Glastonbury ran fairly easily this yr on each entrance. “I can’t actually reward Glastonbury sufficient,” Kinney says. (Let this be your compulsory acknowledgment that not all festivals are a shitshow in 2022.)

But because the BA.5 variant continues to unfold nearly unchecked, last-minute COVID cancellations stay a legal responsibility for competition season and for stay music writ giant. “I’ll have an interest to see the medium-to-long-term results of that on client confidence and curiosity in festivals,” Brown says. “How is that going to have an effect on individuals deciding to go to those enormous festivals if there’s this concept that the rug could possibly be pulled out from underneath you due to COVID?”

That is, after all, the issue with planning a triumphant post-pandemic competition season (see: Coachella dropping all COVID-19 security restrictions towards the recommendation of well being specialists) when the pandemic may be very a lot not previously.

Regardless of these woes, Festive Owl is hopeful that competition organizers will get again into a standard groove of manufacturing these occasions. “But it surely has been a bit of bit rougher popping out of this than I believe some individuals imagined,” he concedes.

* * *

In late July, Splendour In The Grass unleashed a late-stage contender for messiest competition of the season — actually talking.

Maybe the annual Australian music competition was doomed earlier than it started: On July 22, organizers canceled day one of many competition, which was set to characteristic Gorillaz and Kacey Musgraves, on account of huge rainfall. Days two and three carried on regardless of the issues, although the competition website close to Byron Bay proved so swamped that some attendees wished it had been known as off.

Dangerous climate could have shared the blame, however as with different latest competition mishaps, poor planning clearly exacerbated the distress. In a harrowing account for The Guardian, author Nathan Jolly chronicles the numerous indignities that festivalgoers endured for the sake of the Strokes and Tyler, The Creator: hours-long bus delays, music tents rendered inaccessible on account of foul-smelling mega-puddles, public urination, and “a slippery mix of mud, vomit and piss” that followers had been compelled to wade by means of to get to the location.

Whereas some attendees reveled within the mud and partied prefer it was Woodstock ’94, Jolly and his companions selected to desert ship after catching only one set (Violent Soho). Exiting the competition proved to be its personal problem; Jolly stories that some followers had been compelled to attend 5 hours for buses to reach. “Our bus again to Byron was like a warfare hospital,” he writes. “Bloodied, muddied, shell-shocked individuals, sitting in silence with thousand-yard stares, shaking their heads now and again. No one was speaking.” (Splendour In The Grass launched a press release apologizing for the transportation delays.)

Whereas the specter of Astroworld hangs heavy over the competition woes of 2022, the favored comparability right here is as an alternative Fyre Pageant, the fraudulent 2017 fest that has change into shorthand for any giant occasion executed with gross incompetence and disrespect for viewers well-being.

Perhaps Festive Owl is true and these giant festivals will rebound from their COVID-era woes. In any other case, your subsequent competition may simply be fodder for a straight-to-streaming documentary about what went unsuitable.