Suddenly, a concertgoer turned and swung his backpack. A friend and I slowly tilted and then fell off like a tree a lumberjack had cut to a stump.
I went keister-first toward one of the sitters, who managed to get out of the way and let his backpack take the brunt of the fall.
“Can we help?” one of them asked me after my tumble.
“Yeah,” I said. “You can stand the (expletive) up.”
I took the time to remind them that this is how bad things happen. I spoke of the Roskilde Festival in Denmark in 2000, when Pearl Jam “lost nine friends we’ll never know” because they were crushed to death.
They shot me daggers with their eyes. Fans actually chanted “Stand! Up!” and they still didn’t. Finally, minutes before Muse took the stage, they did.
With Roskilde in my mind, hours later I read about a different kind of concert tragedy that has been a strangely frequent occurrence this summer — stage-related disasters.
A stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair last month before country music duo Sugarland took the stage. Seven people have died to date. Lawsuits were recently filed.
Days later, in Hasselt, Belgium, a stage collapsed at the Pukkelpop Festival while Chicago’s Smith Westerns performed. As the structure crumbled, the band’s manager yelled to leave the stage. Although the band escaped, four died.
There are many concert tragedies. With the Altamont Free Concert more than 40 years in the rearview mirror, no one in the Bay Area needs to be reminded of how things can go terribly wrong at a live concert.
In 1979, 11 people were crushed to death trying to enter the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati to see The Who.
It brought about a virtual ban on “festival seating,” which made all of a venue’s seats on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Part of the tragedy in Cincinnati, too, was a lack of order. Only a handful of the venue’s gates were open before show time, creating a bottleneck that led to the stampede.
What came out of that was a virtual industry-wide halt to festival seating and much clearer rules and protocol about opening gates, when to do so and how it’s done.
While there are lessons to be learned from the recent rash of incidents, at the risk of sounding morbid, accidents do happen.
It seems that at least one person dies nearly every year at Bonnaroo in Tennessee, be it from drug overdose or heat exhaustion. When you get tens of thousands of people in a space like that for a few days, you’re effectively creating a little city. Statistically, the more people, the more the odds increase that someone won’t go home.
A nice day of more than 100 degrees turned into a windy downpour in Tulsa. Wind and rain brought down the stages in Belgium and Ottawa.
In Indiana, organizers were in the process of formulating a plan to shelter crowds from winds topping 70 mph when the structure crumbled.
However, it’s hard to call for harsh, industry-wide standards because weather varies from location to location and, in some instances, hour to hour.
It’s unfortunate and it’s sad, but accidents do happen.
Most likely, the incidents in Belgium and Indiana will become cautionary tales to future concertgoers, much like the The Who or Roskilde tragedies.
But they’ll also be reminders to concert organizers who have one duty that is even more important than making sure every rocks out and has a good time making sure everyone is safe.