Tragic Music Festival Disasters You Didn't Know Happened

You may find it hard to believe, but music festivals have been around for centuries — sort of. No one was getting excited about Bonnaroo or Coachella in the 6th century B.C., but as Britannica notes, they were getting excited about the Pythian Games. In addition to athletic competitions, music competitions were held as well, setting the stage (metaphorically) for their descendants centuries later. By the late 1960s, according to Time, music festivals at places such as Monterey, Newport, and Milwaukee were already taking place, and Woodstock later cemented the music festival in the popular consciousness.

Today, music festivals are a multi-million-dollar industry. And though the industry took a huge hit during the COVID-19 pandemic due to restrictions on large crowds, it has slowly been crawling back to life.

Unfortunately, bringing tens of thousands of people together into a confined area can result in problems, and tragedy can strike. Similarly, not every music festival organizer has been competent or even ethical, and sometimes attendees have been left holding nothing but a worthless receipt.

Six people were poisoned by bad drugs at Time Warp Argentina in 2016

In 2016, Argentina's fans of Electronic Dance Music convened on Buenos Aires for what was to be a two-night music festival known as Time Warp. Unfortunately, as Vice reports, the festival lasted only one night. That's because within hours of the first performers taking the stage, several concert-goers had been severely sickened, with five people dead and another five in critical condition. According to a follow-up Vice report, the death toll would end at six, with another sickened victim, a teenage girl, likely requiring lengthy professional follow-up care.

It would later be revealed that the sickened concert-goers had taken a drug called "Superman," which was a mix of ecstasy and methamphetamine. Further, concert-goers claimed that there were too many people crowded into a hot, poorly ventilated, and too-small performance space. "We couldn't stay inside, we couldn't breathe," one attendee told a reporter, via BBC News. When the dust had settled, multiple people were arrested, and the Argentine government banned electronic music festivals until further notice.

Nine people suffocated in a mosh pit at Roskilde in 2000

Poor planning helped contribute to the deaths of nine people at the Roskilde Music Festival in Denmark in 2000. As Rolling Stone reports, late in the evening of June 30, Pearl Jam was performing when the mosh pit in front of the stage got out of control. The area was positioned in such a way that neither the band, nor security, nor the crowd could see what was amiss. Fans crowded into the mosh pit, having no control over how they were moved due to the sway of the crowd, and soon found themselves suffocating. One attendee would later say that she and a companion thought they were standing on bags when they'd actually been standing on the body of a victim.

Meanwhile, security was trying valiantly to stop the show, but because of the unclear chain of command, it took a while before anyone in charge became aware of the problems, continuing the tragedy. Eventually Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder himself had to command the crowd to step back. When the dust had settled, nine people were dead of asphyxiation. "There are absolutely no words to express our anguish in regard to the parents and loved ones of these precious lives that were lost," Pearl Jam would later say in a statement.

People were crushed to death at Germany's Love Parade in 2010

In another case of poor planning ending in tragedy, the German city of Duisburg found itself the scene of unimaginable suffering when the Love Parade festival got out of hand. As The Guardian reports, in 2010 organizers of the festival decided to hold it in an abandoned railyard in the comparatively small city, rather than a larger German city capable of handling large crowds, such as Berlin. Soon the city of 500,000 people found itself hosting 1.4 million concert-goers. What's more, eventually concert-goers found themselves cut off from the action after police closed the main entrance due to over-capacity. That meant that the only way into or out of the grounds was a narrow tunnel. Making matters worse, there was no crowd control.

As people tried to make their way through what police would later call "like the eye of a needle," panic ensued, and soon victims were being trampled and crushed. "There were 25 people lying in a heap. I screamed — people could no longer get any air. I saw dead people, and one person was sitting there looking extremely pale. I wanted to give him some water, but the ambulance medic told me there was no point as he was already dead," said a survivor. When all was said and done, according to BBC News, 21 people were dead, and over 500 people were injured, while 10 festival organizers would go on trial for their roles in the tragedy.

A fire at Montreux Jazz Festival inspired a classic rock staple

If you were to ask any music fan to sound out one of the greatest and most-recognizable opening guitar riffs in history, it's a fair bet that at least a few would belt out those first few notes of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water." The song has been a staple of Classic Rock radio for decades, and it was born out of a tragedy.

In 1971, the band was in Montreux, Switzerland, on the shores of beautiful Lake Geneva, to lay down some tracks. Meanwhile, Frank Zappa and the Mothers were playing a set at the Montreux Casino. At some point in the show, a deranged fan launched a flare gun toward the stage, as Far Out Magazine reports, and soon, the casino was in flames. Fortunately, several things were working in the attendees' favor, not the least of which was the fact that the crowd had largely left due to technical issues plaguing Zappa's set. Though there were a few injuries, everyone managed to get out alive. However, the band's equipment was destroyed, and the casino was burned to the ground. The aftermath? Deep Purple went down in Rock & Roll history with one of the greatest songs ever written about a fire.

The Fyre Festival was a very big, very empty promise

The line between incompetence and criminality can sometimes be a thin one indeed, although a court has decided that Fyre Festival organizer Billy McFarland was definitely on the criminal side of that equation. As BBC News explains, he's currently serving six years for his role in a music festival that never happened.

As Vanity Fair reported in 2017, McFarland had always been fascinated by wealth and celebrity, and desperately wanted to be a part of those worlds. However, his dreams exceeded his ability to carry them out, and he lived by the motto "Fake it 'til you make it." Nevertheless, his incompetence didn't stop him, and by 2016, he'd set upon the idea of holding the Fyre Festival in the Bahamas, in order to promote his festival-booking app, as Vice reported. To make a very long story short, the festival was to be headlined by Ja Rule, and was to feature wealthy celebrities and influencers partying it up in the Bahamas while scantily-clad waitresses handed out drinks.

But it was all a house of cards; McFarland had neither the time, the money, nor the connections to get the festival up and running in time, and soon planes full of concert-goers were arriving, finding only an empty beach, FEMA tents instead of luxury cabanas, and cheese sandwiches instead of gourmet catering. Some of the attendees had paid thousands for their worthless tickets. In 2018, McFarland was sentenced to six years in prison for his role in the fraud.