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Horrible / Music Festivals

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  • The 100% Silk 2016 West Coast Tour met with disaster two shows in, at the Ghost Ship in Oakland, California. The San Francisco Chronicle has a full breakdown here.
    • The venue, a repurposed warehouse, never got permits or even a formal inspection - it was essentially MacGyvered into a live/work space for artists. The owner, Derick Almena, had foregone any form of fire safety, even ignoring formal citations and refusing donations of fire extinguishers. Furthermore, the building was chock full of antique wooden items, forming a highly flammable, labyrinthine corridor. The stage proper was on the makeshift second floor, accessible via a single jury-rigged wooden staircase; venue staff barricaded the other shut to keep people from sneaking in. This meant that, when a fire broke out on the first floor, many in attendance didn't realize it had until it was already out of control. By the time the blaze had reached the stage, escape was near-impossible. It ultimately destroyed the whole building, and with it over half the performers and at least a third of the audience.
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    • Golden Donna, the organizer and would-be main event, cancelled the entire tour. Almena's associate Max Harris skirted jail time for mass involuntary manslaughter. More broadly, the incident cast doubt on the fate of artists' collectives across the US as cities took action regarding live/work spaces and fire safety, and jeopardized underground music shows throughout the region for months on end. The East Bay art world especially took a huge hit: bands dissolved with the loss of their members, labels collapsed for want of their owners, and other popular local figures were among the casualties of the fire. City officials also saw blowback over the fire; Oakland mayor Libby Schaal's memorial speech was met with jeers, and debates began to rise over the ever-worsening circumstances that resulted in people living there to begin with.
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  • The Altamont Free Concert, or "Woodstock West", as infamously documented by the concert film Gimme Shelter. The Rolling Stones booked and headlined this show, which featured many of the big rock bands of '60s counterculture America... as well as four deaths, countless injuries, massive property damage, and an attempt on Mick Jagger's life. Among the worse decisions: co-organizers The Grateful Dead paid members of the wrong chapter of Hell's Angels note  to stand guard, allegedly in $500 worth of cold beer. This decision resulted in, among other things, countless fights with the audience, one of the aforementioned deaths, note  and a Jefferson Airplane set so catastrophic (one of them knocked singer-guitarist Marty Balin out partway through) that the Dead cancelled their performance and fled out of fear. In contrast to the "peace and love" atmosphere of Woodstock, Altamont came to symbolize the death of The '60s.
  • 2017's Fyre Festival, co-founded by Ja Rule and Billy McFarland. It was a promotional event for McFarland's Fyre music booking app. Tickets ran for anywhere from $1,200 to $250,000, for a luxurious 3-day festival with headliners like blink-182. It was hosted on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma (advertised as a private resort) after their first choice (an actual private resort) pulled out. The event promised accommodations in "modern, eco-friendly, geodesic domes" and gourmet meals from chefs. It was supposed to be "cashless and cardless", with $1,500 wristbands covering the incidentals.
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    • At one point, the committee considered canceling the 2017 festival to perfect a 2018 one, then quickly went back on the idea. By mid-April, it was reported that many artists were not paid, and the event had failed to acquire a complete lineup. All of the headliners pulled out when the festival's setup proved completely unsuitable. Then, word broke out that the "resort" was within walking distance of a chain hotel. Attendees took a chartered flight to Exuma International Airport, then got shuttled to a ruined, half-built, understaffed "impromptu beach party" (minus the beach) on an aborted building site. After a long performance by a local band, staff announced that the festival was postponed and the attendees would be sent back ASAP.
    • The aforementioned "domes" were really FEMA disaster relief tents, with dirt floors and portable toilets. The "gourmet" dinner was open-faced cheese sandwiches and undressed salad in Styrofoam containers. There was no access to water, but alcohol was free. Theft and property destruction were rampant among the baggage crew, as was assault among the security detail. At least one tent was lit on fire. To top it off, all the flights in and out of Exuma were cancelled or stalled, leaving people stranded, without food or water, for hours.
    • The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism went so far as to issue a statement distancing itself from the event. The Washington Post has a pretty entertaining article on the affair here, and New York Magazine's article offers an insider's viewpoint, thanks the organizers' failure to mandate an NDA. Korey Coleman and Martin Thomas talked about it on their webseries here. The organizers are the subject of eight lawsuits, one seeking more than $100 million in damages—the ensuing investigation got Billy McFarland put away for fraud, in relation to this and another racket. Internet Historian has an in-depth look at the festival and how it all went so catastrophically wrong. Swindled dedicated an episode to Billy McFarland's fraudulent activity up to and during the festival, while Netflix and Hulu premiered different documentaries on the disaster in 2019, respectively Fyre and Fyre Fraud. Taking Dueling Works up to eleven, both docs directly accuse the other of being ethically compromised in various ways.
  • If TomorrowWorld 2015 is the electronic music festival equivalent of Woodstock '99 (see below for both), then the 2010 edition of Love Parade is the equivalent of Altamont. The venue wasn't built to accommodate even a quarter of the projected turnout. Not helping was the fact that there was, at most, one person on crowd control for every 310 attendants. The end result was that the crowd spun hopelessly out of control, and over 500 people got trampled, 21 of which got trampled to death. This caused the festival to be permanently cancelled and charges of gross negligence were filed against the organizers, which were later dropped when the prosecutors couldn't prove that they were at fault.
  • The Newport Contemporary Music Series, organized by 25-year-old Paul Van Anglen, was an ambitious 2017 Rhode Island music festival featuring over a hundred professional musicians from various backgrounds, most notably Philip Glass. Three concerts were completed before it crumbled "amid charges of broken promises, rank amateurism, and an estimated $120,000 in unpaid orchestra musicians fees, plus tens of thousands more for unpaid soloists and other costs." Among the things that went wrong:
    • Van Anglen missed several payments to his musicians despite consistently promising that the checks would go through. At one point, a large donor refused to send in their check at the last moment.
    • Despite its fame as a live music town due to the outdoor Newport Jazz and Folk festivals, Newport has no large indoor concert venues apart from an arthouse movie theater, which the festival did not use. Instead, the first concert was held at a church in Jamestown, a town nearby but distinctly separated from Newport by one of the longest bridges in New England. That concert wound up being one of the few that was actually held, and the modest reception it received turned out to be the high point of the entire enterprise.
    • There was already a Summer classical music festival in Newport, the nationally-renowned Newport Music Festival, which has been held annually since 1969. Many locals believed there wasn't enough demand for two such festivals to be held simultaneously in a city that isn't particularly well-known for classical music. While Van Anglen insisted that the two festivals covered different types of classical music, there was still plenty of local skepticism about the future of his festival before the enterprise fell apart.
    • A large venue for the Philip Glass concert could not be secured, resulting Van Anglen moving the location to the local high school auditorium. It was fairly small, being primarily used for theater performances, and, most importantly, in a school that was falling apart. Needless to say, not the most impressive place to see a composer with the fame that Glass has. Shortly thereafter, Glass and his ensemble were pulled from the series by the production company representing him after Van Anglen missed both of his payments to them.
    • Van Anglen's conducting skills were obviously deplorable during the rehearsal, causing the musicians to ignore him entirely and whisper the meter to themselves.
    • Tensions over musician compensation and the lack of communication rose to the point where Van Anglen and his concertmaster Harris Shilakowsky began yelling and crying at each other for an hour.
    • After finally admitting there weren't any funds left, Van Anglen ultimately apologized for his failure to fulfill his promises to the musicians and was hit with various small-claims suits following the festival's demise.
  • TomorrowWorld 2015 could very well be described as electronic music's answer to Woodstock 1999 (see below). The event, which was created in 2013 as an American sister festival to the Belgian music festival Tomorrowland, was held in a field near the town of Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia and started off swimmingly. However, by the second night, bad weather kicked in and things went downhill fast. The festival grounds became saturated and muddy, causing a massive backing up of transportation services. Attendees that weren't camping on the festival grounds, an option traditionally offered by its parent event, were forced to wait for hours on end, putting up with cold temperatures and a lack of basic necessities like food and water, some growing frustrated enough to just try walking back to town.
    • The final day was no better: in an effort to reduce the impact of the transportation issues, the festival decided that only attendees who were camping would be allowed to attend the final day of the festival, and everyone else would be refunded. After dealing with the PR blow of their lousy planning, which alienated audience and performers alike, and the festivals' parent company SFX Entertainment going bankrupt and being sold to new ownership note , the 2016 festival was canceled, and there hasn't been a TomorrowWorld festival since.
  • "United We Stand: What More Can I Give" in Washington, D.C. stands as concrete proof that benefit concerts can go wrong, even those dedicated to 9/11. Thanks to an inept sound crew, even after delaying the concert for over three hours, technical difficulties still plagued every set: mics gave off feedback on a regular basis, the visual presentation was loaded with bugs, and one performer's backing track just plain stopped mid-performance. Several of the sets had to be cut for time last-minute, some of which were outright omitted, and in several cases the performer never showed up. Many performers carelessly used the US flag as a stage prop, often desecrating it as a result, which flew in the face of the show's rather patriotic tone. Mariah Carey tactlessly used the concert to promote her terrible movie Glitter. The Backstreet Boys' set was the exact same one they did at the well-received Concert for New York City, which was done earlier that week, showing their lack of enthusiasm. Michael Jackson was the organizer and got top billing, and was supposed to end the concert, but all he did was a lip-synced version of "Man in the Mirror", followed by his participation in the group finale. To top it all off, this was being filmed for a later broadcast on ABC rather than being broadcast live, which meant the show was padded out even further by the recording of intros and outros for all the sets. Much of the crowd, including several performers, left well before the grand finale featuring Jackson and the remaining stars. Plus, due to an agreement with CBS for an upcoming 30th anniversary special note , Jackson was contractually required to be downplayed from the aired version, which led to said "Man in the Mirror" performance being cut. Salon and MTV provide the details.
  • Woodstock 1999 ranks next to the aforementioned Altamont disaster as one of the worst mass live events in America, and disgraced its namesake by going completely against its spirit. One can't fault the lineup for what happened - the event featured some of the most popular rock artists and singer-songwriters of The '90s, and the actual performances ranged from good to great. However, it was horrendously planned from the get-go, with this retrospective by Rolling Stone going into detail on how everything went wrong.
    • To start with, environmental issues and terrible scheduling constantly plagued the show. It was staged at the closed-down Griffiss Air Force Base, which was declared a toxic waste site in 1987. There was no natural shade to protect guests from the late-July sun shining on hot tarmac and concrete, and the two main concert stages were a mile and a half apart, necessitating very long walks through the exhausting heat. This caused hundreds of cases of heat exhaustion, and many people didn't even leave the hangars containing the Emerging Artists and rave stages. Since this was around the same area and at the same time as the Baseball Hall of Fame's induction ceremony, accommodations were sparse in the extreme and had been sparse for months. Even the performers had trouble with the accommodations; one account describes Howard Stern, George Clinton, and Alanis Morissette being turned away from a packed Quality Inn. The lineup schedule was even worse: on one stage, mellow, introspective alt-rockers The Tragically Hip, Counting Crows, and the Dave Matthews Band played right before noisy, loud-mouthed Rap Metal bands Limp Bizkit and Rage Against the Machine.
    • The organizers strongly discouraged outside food and drink, mainly so attendees would have to deal with blatantly inflated vendor prices: On top of the $150 tickets just to get in, bottles of water and soda went for $4, and 10-inch personal pizzas went for $12. note  This led guests to tear apart the water fountains to access free water, creating mud pits. They also swarmed supermarkets in nearby Rome, New York, resulting in massive lines and grave shortages. Likewise, toilet facilities amounted to port-a-potties that just weren't enough for a crowd of 200,000, which was 50,000 less than projected, and they ended up breaking in little time. There were only 100 showers, 50 each for men and women, all with very long lines and the waste water flowing straight into the camping area. Garbage cans overflowed as underpaid sanitation workers simply walked away from their jobs. Parking was bad enough to cause a three-mile traffic jam, exacerbated by abandoned cars which had overheated or run out of gas idling. Some argue that these conditions alone caused the riots mentioned below. Event planner John Scher admitted that all of this cost-cutting and price-gouging was an attempt to have the event turn a profit, unlike Woodstock '94.
    • It's debated what exactly drove the crowd to riot, but there are several common candidates. Some blame Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, noting his angry speech to the crowd and his band's performance of "Break Stuff". Others blame Kid Rock, who demanded the audience to throw water bottles at the stage. Still others blame the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who covered Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" and handed out candles before "Under the Bridge", which wound up being used in the arsons. Finally, some blame Insane Clown Posse, who threw $100 bills into the audience, causing fights. The crowd wasn't exactly that good prior to this - somebody drove a truck through it during Fatboy Slim's set, and fights broke out over who came to see what bands, even mid-concert. Security detail, consisting of state troopers and local police, was quickly overwhelmed, and their backup quit on them.
    • By the end, there was mass arson, bonfires, burglary, looting, ATM and property destruction, and at least eight confirmed (we do stress that last part) counts of rape. The "Peace Wall" bordering the event, a 12-foot-high, steel-reinforced wooden fence bearing murals that commemorated the original Woodstock, was torn down and used as kindling. While there was only one reported death note , six people were injured, and a dozen trailers, a small bus, an art gallery, several vendor booths, and an audio tower were destroyed. Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chili Peppers compared the sight from the stage to Apocalypse Now, The San Francisco Gate referred to it as "the day the music died", and the above-mentioned retrospective in Rolling Stone refers to the event as "the day the Nineties died". A midnight DJ set by Perry Farrell, intended as the final scheduled event, was canceled as a result of the riot. MTV evacuated its entire crew for fear for their safety (with anchor Kurt Loder, an Army veteran, describing the scene as akin to an all-out war), and the New York State Police had to be called in to clean up the mess. Spin also did a post-mortem feature on the festival.
    • Festival organizer and Woodstock co-founder Michael Lang declared that there would be no further Woodstock events after the disaster that was the 1999 festival. He attempted to go back on his word in 2019, but Woodstock 50 was ultimately cancelled after a series of setbacks.

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