Crowds are unwieldy and amorphous. If you’ve ever been swept up in one, you know that to be among the press of a crowd is to physically cease to operate as an individual. It’s like being pulled by a current. You become an element of a much larger thing.

When you add the passion people have for their favorite bands to fire and intoxication, it’s surprising that more people don’t die. Individual deaths at festivals and shows from heat stroke, drug overdoses and heart attacks are sad, if not necessarily surprising. But sometimes things go horribly wrong and death is more than an isolated incident.

Here are the 10 worst concert disasters of the last 50 years:

Memorial site of the Cromañón tragedy, Buenos Aires, Argentina – Photo: Kate Sedgwick

10. A1, Deaths: 4
March 18, 2001 – Jakarta, Indonesia

A1’s scheduled appearance at a mall record store, broadcast on live television, was not interrupted by the death of four teenage girls. In fact, the boy band knew nothing of the incident until hours later.

The crowd of 1,500 in the Taman Anggrek shopping center became panicked and people began rushing for the exits. The four girls who died were crushed to death after falling amid the stampede. As a result of the incident, the band cancelled their Asian tour.

9. Altamont Free Concert, Deaths: 4
December 6, 1969 – San Francisco, CA, USA

If you watch the footage from Gimme Shelter, besides gratuitous footage of the Rolling Stones preening, you will see a chaotic situation in which nearly 300,000 people manage to survive.

Last minute venue changes made the organization of the concert at Altamont Speedway slipshod at best. Jefferson Airplane, Ike and Tina Turner, and the Flying Burrito Brothers played what was billed as being “Woodstock West”. The Grateful Dead got a load of the vibe after hearing about violence and declined to play.

The Hell’s Angels were charged with keeping the stage clear which proved to be quite a job as clothed and naked fans alike repeatedly mounted the stage. One of the bikers punched Airplane’s Marty Balin in the face during their set before the sun went down and it was announced to the crowd, which could account for crowd aggression toward the club’s motorcycles.

Hell’s Angel Sonny Barger explains the rationale for the stabbing in Gimme Shelter as a radio call-in show is replayed for The Rolling Stones by saying someone kicked their bikes.

Barger’s take on the incident can be heard in this video starting at 6:35:

What’s really surprising when watching the footage from the movie is that there were only 4 deaths – the murder, a hit and run accident that killed two, and a drowning.

There were also 4 births, so maybe things really do balance themselves out.

8. Roskilde Festival, Deaths: 9
June 30, 2000 – Roskilde, Denmark

Nine young men were killed as concertgoers rushed the stage while Pearl Jam played. According to BBC, the band was told to stop playing and once aware of the problem, asked fans to back away, but it was too late.

Original news footage includes some announcements in English:

Several had fallen and the crowd pressed on, suffocating those at the bottom of the pile to death. The Cure, who was scheduled to play after Pearl Jam, did not and Pearl Jam cut their act short.

According to Wikipedia:

Pearl Jam’s song “Love Boat Captain” references the tragedy with the line “Lost nine friends we’ll never know… two years ago today.” When performed in concert, lead singer Eddie Vedder modifies the lyric to reflect the passage of time since the tragedy.

See some photos from during and after the concert at BBC.

7. The Who, Deaths: 11
December 3, 1979 – Cincinnati, OH, USA

More than 18,000 tickets were sold for this show at Cincinnati Riverfront Stadium for which there were only 25 police officers allotted for crowd control. The set was to begin at 8PM, but the doors were still closed at 7:45 when an anxious crowd, hearing The Who’s warmup and mistaking it for the opening number, surged toward the opening doors.

Original news coverage, WEBN:

General admission seating made up 80% of tickets sold which was said to be a contributing factor to the rush for entry as fans clamored for a good view of the show. As a result of the tragedy, new regulations were put into effect to keep order during large concerts that are still practiced today.

6. Mawazine Festival, Deaths: 11
May 23, 2009 – Rabat, Morocco

This nine day festival, according to several sources, was meant to promote the reputation of Morocco as a modern nation. Many international stars played the event including Stevie Wonder, Kylie Minogue, and Ennio Morricone. On the final night as the festival came to an end, after a set by Moroccan singer Abdelaziz Stati, 11 people were crushed to death.

Reuter’s video:

According to BBC, attendees blamed the tragedy on the police who closed several exits, ushering the crowds through others “that were not destined for the purpose.” The official line was that fans, too eager to leave, climbed fences, and one of them collapsed, causing the 11 deaths.

5. Love Parade, Deaths: 21
July 25, 2010 – Duisburg, Germany

Berlin refused to host the Love Parade this year citing safety concerns over the size of the crowd. The event was, in fact, cancelled in 2009 in Bochum due to the inability to host so many spectators, and this year’s Love Parade in Duisberg is said to have had 1.4 million in attendance, though other estimates are much lower.

Two survivors later died in the hospital as result of injuries incurred during a panic in a tunnel that left 19 dead at the scene. An underpass that led to the concert grounds became clogged with people who continued entering though no one was being let into the festival itself.

Some tried climbing a wall to escape the press of the crowd and it’s is said that several fell, causing the suffocation and trampling deaths. A more comprehensive video can be viewed at the BBC website.

4. Santika Nightclub Fire, Deaths: 100
January 1, 2009 – Bangkok, Thailand

It’s unclear what started the fire in Santika Nightclub while hundreds rang in the new year and the tragically named band Burn played. Some mention sparklers, some say there may have been an electrical problem, others say it started as a result of pyrotechnics in the club, and it’s possible that fireworks from outside the club started the blaze.

Whatever the cause, 66 people wouldn’t see the second hour of 2009.

Other known facts are that the club was never sanctioned as such and never received a fire inspection. There was one fire extinguisher for the entire building. Inspection papers were forged to keep the club operating. Exits had been welded shut to prevent patrons from skipping out on their bills which meant that marked exits were no such thing. Bodies were so badly burned in the blaze that DNA identification was necessary.

Footage as emergency services arrived at the scene:

Sarawut Ariya, the lead singer of the band, was charged with setting fireworks which caused the blaze, though videos show that fireworks in the club went off automatically. The owner of the club was charged along with “12 other directors,” but whether any of them have been punished does not appear to be public knowledge in the English press.

View footage of the tragedy and read more at BBC.

3. Station Nightclub Fire (Great White), Deaths: 100
February 20, 2003 – West Warwick, RI, USA

Crowds were well past fire capacity the night of the Station nightclub fire in which 100 perished seeing Great White. The band’s tour manager set off some pyrotechnics which set insulation ablaze and it took a while for the audience to understand that the flames weren’t part of the show.

Once they did, there was a mass exodus, but most tried to leave the way they’d entered and the ensuing stampede crushed and knocked over many who died from suffocation, smoke inhalation or were claimed by the fire itself. Injuries doubled the death toll at 200 and have been life altering for many of those who survived. Great White’s lead guitarist, Ty Longley, was killed.

Footage from the concert (may be upsetting):

In January of this year, the club’s owners, foam manufacturers [of the hazardous and toxic insulation that caught fire so readily, the fumes of which killed many], Anheuser-Busch, Clear Channel Broadcasting and the town of West Warwick” settled for $176m to be distributed among the survivors of the fire and the children and families of those who perished.

2. Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire, Deaths: 165
May 28, 1977 – Southgate, KY. USA

The Beverly Hills Supper Club was a sprawling maze of a club just across the bridge from Cincinnati, OH. It was possible to have several events going at the same time as was the case on the night of the fire — simultaneous banquets, receptions and larger events like the John Davidson concert — all connected by narrow passageways within the same structure.

A Cincinnati channel WLWT program about the fire including original footage and eyewitness accounts:

The exact cause of the fire was never determined, but what is known is that the fire was well underway when it was discovered by two waitresses. The ornate Cabaret room, where two comics were warming up an audience of at least a thousand in a space meant for about 600, held the majority of the building’s occupants.

Busboy, Walter Bailey, stopped the show to make an announcement about the fire. Several people made their way toward the exits he’d pointed out while others didn’t take the threat seriously. When the fire reached the room, the crowd panicked.

Bruce Rath, a firefighter interviewed in the video above says of that night:

“When I got to the inside doors, which is about 30 feet inside the building, I seen this big double doors, and the people were stacked like cordwood. They were clear up to the top, the people. They just kept diving on each other trying to get out. I looked back over this pile of – it wasn’t dead people, there were dead and alive in that pile – and I went in and I started just grabbing two at a time and pulling them off the stack, and dragging them out, giving them to the busboys.”

1. Cromañón, Deaths: 194
December 30, 2004 – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Cromañón was a rock club in Barrio Once in Buenos Aires. The night of the fire, República Cromañón was packed with an estimated 3,000 revelers to see the band Callejeros, nearly three times the amount it was zoned for.

The club had several doors that were permanently locked shut and emergency exits were fenced off to prevent people from sneaking in and avoiding a cover charge. The boliche hadn’t been inspected, and had no sprinkler system.

The fire was likely started by an audience member who set off a firework, probably something similar to a Roman candle, despite this having been directly discouraged by the lead singer of Callejeros. Others say it was the band’s manager that started the fire. Netting near the ceiling caught fire and spread quickly.

Most of the casualties were a result of inhaling smoke and toxic fumes rather than being crushed or burned. This video shows unburned shoes left behind and a club that doesn’t show the fire damage you’d expect in light of the death toll.

Footage as the trials of those culpable in the tragedy started:

República Cromañón was about a month overdue for a fire inspection at the time of the incident, and many say this oversight was a direct result of bribery and corruption. The magnitude of the tragedy enraged citizens.

The street where the club was situated is now closed to traffic with a memorial near the site where family and friends of the victims leave messages and photos in memorium. The city has just announced plans to reopen the street (in the 3000 block of calle Bartolomé Mitre).

Despite several arrests (club owner Omar Chában was sentenced to 20 years), families and friends of the victims still seek justice and hold vigils.

Community Connection

Read How Travel Helps You See Past the Headlines on BNT.

Do you have ideas about how to prevent disasters like these in the future? Memories of evading tragedy yourself? Tell us about them in the comments below.