A few weeks back a news story about 10 fans dying during a stampede at an Indonesian punk rock concert caught my attention for obvious reasons. And with the anniversaries of the Chicago nightclub E2 and Great White tragedies occurring this month, I began to think about how fans respond to unexpected turmoil at a live show and why, in some situations, we even invite rage and pain and even seek out or expect those emotions at a live show.
Thinking back on past concert experiences and the history of the live show, I began to ask some questions about what drives fans to such emotional extremes at a concert. Is it the music that ignites tragedy or is it the fan’s emotional response to the music? Are fans afraid of pondering the emotional impact of a show fearing that deeper thought will taking away from the enjoyment of the show? Do live music fans even care about understanding how music can propel you beyond a crucial emotional threshold? Or could it be that live concert mayhem is a myth for the minority and it’s just a few reckless fans that cast a unnecessary shadow over the larger more-behaved majority who just want to be entertained?
While the E2 and Great White tragedies, for the most part, occurred due to reasons related to unsafe venue conditions, faulty security practices and stage pyrotechnic and I mention the tragedies only because both stories took me down a train of thought that led me to think about the concept of expressing anger, frustration and confusion via a live rock concert and how it came to be that live music has become one of the most popular ways many music fans express their emotions in a communal setting. What happened at E2 and the Great White concert are also a contemporary link to a long line of live concert tragedies that can be traced back to rock n roll’s first live event that ended shortly after it started.
On March 21, 1952 The Moondog Coronation Ball took place in Cleveland, Ohio at the Cleveland Arena. Organized by radio DJ Alan Freed, the concert was the first documented rock concert, and an event to supposedly mark the birthday for rock n roll and was the first attempt to gather a large audience to see a live rock n roll show. The event was oversold twice the venue’s capacity and fans only heard Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams play one song before the show was shut down for fear of a riot.
Here’s a brief account as noted on fiftiesweb.com “…But this is where the dream and the reality collided. Even after the hall was full to capacity, those crowds were pushing and shoving. Doors crashed open, glass exploded. Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams was on stage when the first fight broke out. And still they poured into the Arena, just to be a part of it. Dancing, moving wildly, the crowd became more and more unruly. Even the big glittery sign proudly announcing “Moondoggers” came tumbling down. That’s when the Fire Marshals came and shut it all down.”
So apparently ever since the dawn of rock n roll, the promise of hearing live music (or in this case it being withheld) has always made us go crazy and even when we don’t get to hear the music we paid for we can turn on each other. And then the cops are brought in to separate us form each other. And in the case of the Moondog concert, sources cite the location and demographic that made up most of the concert audience which was noted as being predominantly African American. So can the demographic of the audience and the type of music being played be that important in determining whether the fans will riot?
Well, we’ll examine that question on the next post by looking at the audience impact of bands like Black Flag, Wilco and Rage Against the Machine and see how the music does or does not incite fans to harm themselves and if the music should cause worry and fear in the hearts of local law enforcement.