A series of unfortunate incidents at last week’s South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, has organizers considering a limit on free events in the future.
Free afternoon shows have been a staple of the annual music gathering in Austin for years, drawing huge crowds that line up hours ahead of time for a chance to see a buzz band or a major act in an intimate setting.
One of the scariest incidents occurred at a showcase at 1 a.m. on Saturday night, when fans standing behind a fence behind the Beauty Bar began pushing on the barrier during a surprise show by reunited act Death From Above 1979. Bassist Jesse Keeler warned the excited onlookers that if they broke down the fence the show would end. Just one song later, the fence was pushed in, resulting, according to the venue’s website, in a full-on riot.
Police on horseback intervened and positioned themselves in front of the fence, pulling out Tasers and pepper spray to keep back the unruly, garbage-throwing mob. Chaos ensued for a few minutes after someone hit a police horse with debris and the show was temporarily shut down while police tried to empty out the alley.
On Friday night, a father was injured when he was pushed to the ground and stepped on during a free show by the Strokes at the Auditorium Shores pavilion, according to local channel KXAN. Michael Mansfield and his 22-year-old daughter lined up at 6 a.m. on Thursday for the show that night and staked out a nice spot in front of the stage. When officials announced at 7 p.m. that no more people would be allowed in, angry fans reportedly began climbing fences and crashing gates to get in.
SXSW officials blamed the gate crashing on drunken crowds who were already roaming the streets celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, saying the thousands of people who were turned away included a few “troublemakers” who retaliated for being shut out.
“All of a sudden there was this huge surge of people,” Mansfield said. “I was terrified. More for other people than myself, but yeah, I was afraid I might die. It was pretty bad. I mean, I felt people’s bodies cracking around me pushing so hard.” Though he only suffered some scrapes and bruises, Mansfield said the incident was traumatizing.
A spokesperson for SXSW said the festival will reexamine its approach to free events, which appear to have reached critical mass. Austin city officials plan to limit permits next year for the free shows in order to avoid a repeat of incidents like these.
In another scary incident, an unauthorized camera boom crashed down on an unsuspecting crowd at Stubb’s BBQ before Friday night’s show by reconfigured 1980s new wavers OMD. Four people were sent to a local hospital with minor injuries.
The four-day musical celebration was also marred by an onstage fight involving Screeching Weasel singer Ben Weasel. The singer’s band was performing at the Scoot Inn on Friday night, and according to reports he stopped several times to berate someone in the crowd for throwing ice onto the stage. He then confronted a fan who tossed some ice, reportedly a woman, and asked her to come up onstage and fight him. In a video posted on YouTube, Weasel appeared to approach the fan and throw a punch. A second woman came up onstage a short time later to confront Weasel, and a YouTube video shows him punching her in the ribs before being hauled away by security. At press time no charges had been filed in the incident.