Tyler’s concert was canceled that night, but in a strange coincidence (and an event that may make concert safety feel like the Wild West), the rapper would himself directly endanger concert safety the following day. He was arrested for essentially starting a riot at his show. Video released by the police shows Tyler, The Creator yelling at fans to break down a barricade and rush into his concert. It was a wild scene and just one more issue to add to the list of current events challenging our safety at concerts.
Tyler, The Creator’s behavior was undoubtedly that of an irresponsible musician, putting fans and venue staff in obvious harm’s way. But what level of responsibility does the musician have for concert safety? Is keeping fans safe even the musician’s job at all? I Killed The Prom Queen guitarist/vocalist Jona Weinhofen (formerly of Bring Me The Horizon) takes a proactive approach to these situations and would argue that it is his job. “It’s my job just as much as anyone’s to keep an eye out for unsafe behavior,” he says. “This behavior could put myself and my friends or other fans at risk. Now, I’m not saying all bands should be ‘safety Nazis,’ but if you see a big dude in the pit beating up smaller people, call it out. It’s just common sense.”
Responsible musicians and venue staff will definitely make all the difference, and, despite our current threats to safety, it does seem, in the broader scope of time, we have made some undeniable progress in making concerts safer. The problematic events we face at concerts today, pale in comparison to what transpired in 1979 at a concert by the Who in Cincinnati, Ohio, where 11 concertgoers were trampled and killed when the crowd rushed into the venue. The Who had decided to perform a late soundcheck, which prompted the crowd to believe that the band were starting and ignited the subsequent stampede. After the tragedy, the city of Cincinnati took the appropriate steps to enact a ban on festival seating, an arrangement where unreserved seats are available to those who claim them first, which was believed to be at the root of the tragedy’s cause. (The ban has since been lifted.)
A proactive approach to preparation in the case of such incidents is a necessary step to minimizing the damage in the event of problem. Having onsite EMS at larger shows is just one preventative measure that can be taken. This is exactly what McGowan does at larger shows. “The highest law is that of hospitality,” McGowan says. “We are not extensions of the ‘zero tolerance’ tight asses who are stretching their wings and trying to suck the zing out of life. The second highest law is one of common sense. Somewhere after those laws are federal, state and local laws, and yeah, we know them and pay attention to them. No one wants to see anyone get hurt, so our team works with traveling crews to ensure safety. The greatest risk to anyone is him or herself. So the fans are the greatest danger to themselves. We are not part of a ‘nanny state.’ Musicians bring us something close to the most important stuff of life. If it comes with some risk… obviously we think it’s worth it.”
With proactive venue staff, responsible musicians and fans a relatively safe experience when attending a concert can be had. These incidents, after all, are the outliers when stacked up against the thousands of shows that take place every day of every week, year-round in the U.S. alone. Going to a live show is suppose to be fun, and short of making it a police state, with armed guards at every show, there’s little more we can do. And if that were the case, what would be the point of attending at all? McGowan sums it up with his stance on security.
“If security is heavy handed, it can really hurt the mood of a show. Hosts are not there to act as police but to maintain a safe environment. This line can be blurred, but it’s critical to have smart supervisors that can, to some degree, sense the feeling in the room and make adjustments accordingly. Do more police make a scene more secure? Historically, police states are not more secure. So, is more security more secure? I doubt it. A big piece of a ticket prices goes to pay security. In most states, including Michigan, a venue does not have to provide security. If we eliminated security altogether, we could lower ticket prices. Our venues often get sued when we step in and try to break up fights between assholes.”
McGowan’s idea of less security leading to lower ticket prices is definitely an enticing one, but such an idea looks unlikely to occur in the face of each new concert tragedy. Risky acts like crowdsurfing and stage diving are culturally ingrained in the concertgoer’s behavior and are part of the joy of the overall experience for some. So we can’t just simply ban those acts or beef up security to prevent them altogether; we have to trust in venue staff, like Douglas, to handle the sticky situations and do their best to ensure no one gets hurt. More responsible musicians like Weinhofen, who take an active role in safety, will also remain key to the process. At the end of the day, extremes like zero security or a police state-like presence of security will not be the answer. We have to strike a balance between safety and fun.