The dark side of music festivals – University News
Hands shake, smoke floats in the air, and the vibration of adjacent stages shakes the ground. The bodies press against each other, jostling each other to position themselves. Anticipation hangs in the air, fueling a restless and unpredictable crowd.
It’s the atmosphere of music festivals, oscillating between collective exhaustion and total chaos. The tragedy of the Astroworld festival last month made me reflect on my own experience with music festivals and how quickly they can escalate. Hearing spectators’ tales of the breathless air and crushing weight of people at Astroworld was eerily familiar.
In my hometown of Chicago, I have attended the Lollapalooza Music Festival for the past two years. Exorbitant ticket prices, coupled with limited sanitation and seating, as well as long lines for water and food, all without designated seats on artist sets, made the less attractive festival. The culture of “rage” pushes crowds to behave unruly, even violent. More than once I have been lifted off my feet as a crowd rushed forward, desperate to get as close as possible to the performer on stage. The mosh pits summon an almost unconscious rage as people throw themselves and others. Bottles and shoes are thrown into the sky, crashing into the heads of other unsuspecting spectators. Through the chaos, the crowds disconnect from the actual performance; there is the artist who performs and then there are the spectators, divided between those who fight to enjoy the show and those who are more concerned with a savage display of adolescent rebellion. It’s fair to say that this isn’t a characterization of every crowd at a show. Often, performers with softer, chanting music encourage a soft, swaying crowd; However, mainstream rappers and singers attract disruptive groups that often leave fans frustrated and forced to pay more attention to their safety than the artist they camped out to see. Several arguments can be made to devise strategies for increased crowd control and security measures, such as selling fewer tickets, dividing stages into sections to reduce the effects of the influx of crowds, and having more medical staff on standby. However, there is another aspect of music festivals that lurks beneath all of this.
“Where are you?” I scream on the phone. My friend pleads with a stranger to hoist her up into the air. “Tell her to look for my hand, does she see it waving?” ”
Almost taking center stage, my friend and I urge our third companion to cross the unbelievably dense sea of bodies. Suddenly, the stage lights come on and the crowd crumbles into chaos. My friend and I are lifted off the ground, thrown into the mix of limbs, desperately gripping our fingers as we try to stay upright. We begin to push back men twice the size, fighting the disarray. Near the crowd, we find our friend.
“Some guys took off my top when I was trying to find you,” she said. “No one would help me.”
“Do you remember what they looked like?” I ask. It was a question marred by doubt. We all knew we would never see them again.
A few hours later, as I was driving home, a girl told me that she had been assaulted in a mosh pit. Another night at the festival and my friend and I fumble our hands around as we hurry through the station gate. On the platform, we ignore the boos. A few minutes later, we go through the cars, far from the same men. All this to arrive at a festival where it will be the same. Maybe worse. There is always the threat of something worse.
By going to see my favorite artist, I forget that a music festival is not an alternate reality. The harassment follows the women through the crowd, shrouded in darkness as bodies brush against each other. Attackers almost always get away with it. As far as I know, there is nowhere to report abuse at festivals. Promoters prepare for drug overdoses, dehydration, and possible crushes, but nowhere do they deal with assaults. Instead, the women just go home. Prevention and response become our responsibility. In a place where teens go to have fun with their friends, they are protected from a lot of things, but aggression is not one of them. As promoters scramble to increase security at concerts and festivals, will they consider an assault? With most of the festival goers being women, consideration matters.