In the wake of the recent Astroworld music festival tragedy, concert safety is more important than ever. The Astroworld incident resulted from a crowd surge towards the stage which violently crushed people against each other. Ten died at the concert, 25 were hospitalized, and over 300 were treated for injuries, while a shocked public was left wondering: how did something like this happen? Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time. In the past 50 years, there have over 10 concert incidents wherein five or more people were killed.
Staying safe at a concert goes beyond simple common sense. Between the excitement of seeing a live performance, the thrill of being there with friends, and whatever substances may be consumed, it’s easy to forget that concerts — like any densely crowded event — can be high-risk environments.
There are several precautions you can take to stay safe and enjoy the show worry-free. We talked to a range of experts, from concert videographers to body language experts, for their concert safety tips.
Read the room
The point of going to a concert is losing yourself in the music. But you don’t also want to lose awareness of what’s going on around you.
“As someone who not only attends but also films many concerts,” says Daniel Hess, concert videographer, “one of the biggest ways to keep yourself safe is just by paying attention to the room around you. Moments where you might be pushing into others, trying to rush to the front, and even getting too close to a pit can all get you hurt at even the smallest shows. I can remember a time at a concert where I jumped into a circle pit in which someone tripped. Next thing I knew I was at the bottom of a pile of other people who all fell within a matter of seconds. The band immediately stopped playing and other concert goers started picking everyone up. It is that kind of awareness to help others that you need to keep in mind when you are at your next event.”
James Doyle, Managing Director of Global Sound Group, also advocates for having a clear awareness of the space around you, particularly with regard to the exits.
“Make sure you know where the emergency exits and escape routes are in case of an emergency,” he says. “Also, try to stay in as much open space as possible, which may be difficult at a close-knit show. Stay near the edges of the floor or seating area if you prefer more space around you.”
Make a plan
Sometimes, understanding the space around you requires making a plan in advance. Patti Wood is a body language expert with a deep knowledge of crowd behavior.
“Know the territory,” she suggests. “That may involve getting a map and studying carefully before the event begins so you know where the stage or stages exits are. You might want to print out the map beforehand so it’s easily accessible.”
Wood also recommends making an emergency plan with your friends. It might not be the most fun part of preparing for a concert, but it could be a life-saving concert safety tip. “Make plans with your friends,” she says, “for what you would do and where you would meet should someone get lost or some emergency happens. Even have a backup to that plan.”
Even if you’re totally prepared with maps and backup plans, you still need to keep your head clear. If your state of mind isn’t conducive to making rational decisions, all the preparation in the world won’t help you.
“Know that the response to danger is not just fight or flight, but also freeze, faint, or fall,” says Wood. “If you find your body wanting to freeze in place that’s a sign you’re in danger. Override whatever social norms there are about looking ‘cool’ and move away from the danger.“
In addition to staying in tune with your own instincts and emotions, be cognizant of others’.
“If you see agitated or angry people around you,” she says, “move away from the space as quickly and calmly as possible to somewhere safe, knowing that may be the exit. Aggressive behavior usually involves people not only raising their energy level but making nonverbal cues. Your primitive limbic brain picks up on these cues before your neocortex does. You may not be able to formulate words to why you’re feeling uncomfortable, but your body knows. Every crowd has an energy and crowds that are dangerous or recognizable if you’re paying attention.”
At live performances, we tend to forget that security personnel are around even though they are essential to the concert’s safety. Next time you’re at a crowded event, Wood suggests that you get to know the security guards.
“Introduce yourself and your friends to security,” she says. “Make sure you feel safe and comfortable with them and ask them how things are going and how they’re reading the crowd.”
That might sound like overkill, or the behavior of someone with serious anxiety, but it can help you both feel safer and get an inside look at how the crowd is behaving. She also recommends being open and honest with fellow concert-goers, vocalizing your needs and not being afraid to ask for help.
“If you stumble in a crowd and need help,” she says, “tell those around you that you need assistance.”
Strategic and mental preparation are certainly important, but material preparation shouldn’t be ignored. In the event you need to find an exit quickly, you become separated from your friends, or jostled by the crowd, you’ll be glad all your belongings are protected and within easy reach.
“It can be helpful to bring a clear plastic case for your phone in some sort of lanyard that you can wear around your neck,” Wood says. “In a dangerous crowd situation, trying to hold your phone as you move through the crowd can be dangerous. You may need both hands.”