Worldwide, nearly 70 people were crushed, suffocated or otherwise killed in concert-related incidents last year, the highest total of the past decade and more than three times the previous high in 1997, according to an upcoming report by a concert-safety consultant.
One of those deaths that of a 14-year-old dropped on his head while crowd-surfing at a heavy-metal show has prompted a California lawmaker to draft a bill that would require first-aid stations and medics at many concerts.
But critics accuse the annual survey of sensationalism and say measures to legislate concert safety won't work. The report's author, however, insists current safety practices are often inadequate.
"Why was this a bad year? It had all the ingredients of previous years: lack of care, or sufficient care, for safety," said Paul Wertheimer, owner of the Crowd Management Strategies consulting firm, and author of a taskforce report on the Who concert stampede of 1979.
"As a result of that, [it's] the Russian-roulette theory. You can do something wrong a lot of times. You can spin the chamber with only one bullet in it a lot of times. But eventually, at concerts, something is going to go wrong."
Wertheimer's Chicago company will issue its survey of the worst concert disasters next month. This year's report includes concerts and festivals featuring sets by well-known groups such as Hole, Creed and Phish, as well as many acts from outside the United States.
Previously, the worst year for deaths was 1997, when 19 people were killed, according to Crowd Management Strategies' figures.
Report Follows Recent Incidents
The release of the study will come on the heels of a fatal shooting at an Isley Brothers concert earlier this month in Los Angeles, in which a police officer killed a man who had allegedly fired shots into the crowd.
And last summer, three people died at Woodstock '99 in Rome, N.Y., including a man who authorities said died from a heat-related condition, another man who died of cardiac arrest and a woman who was killed on the highway on her way home from the festival. In addition, hundreds more were injured in massive mosh pits during the three-day event, which was eventually consumed by a riot on its final day.
Inflating the upcoming report's death count was a horrific outdoor event last May in Minsk, Belarus, featuring the band Mango Mango. Fifty-one teens and two police officers died in a stampede in an underground subway passage while trying to escape a rain- and hailstorm, according to the Associated Press.
"It's not the same as 50 people dying at a Korn concert at Madison Square Garden, and to imply that to politicians or parents is misleading," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert trade magazine Pollstar. Calling the report "grandstanding," Bongiovanni said Wertheimer ultimately undermines attempts to promote concert safety by using high figures as scare tactics.
"I'm not undermining anything," Wertheimer said. "I'm trying to educate the public, concert-goers and the industry that there's a problem that should be addressed."
Even Wertheimer's detractors agree that just one concert death is too many.
That's precisely what Christopher King's mother told Democratic California State Assemblywoman Nell Soto.
King, 14, died nine hours after crashing on his head to the concrete floor at San Bernardino, Calif.'s Masterdome Arena, according to Pollstar. He was dropped while crowd-surfing during a set by metal act Neurosis, whose Times of Grace (1999) album includes "Under the Surface" (RealAudio excerpt).
King's mother contacted Soto, her state representative, to explore safety measures, Soto's legislative assistant Peter McEntee said.
"We started looking in and realizing there's absolutely no regulation on safety that has to be done at these concerts, where there is a risk and people are crowd-surfing and things of that sort," he said.
Last month, Soto introduced a bill that would require general-admission venues that hold more than 500 people to have a paramedic on site for concerts, as well as a first-aid station with at least two medically certified staff members. The bill, AB 1714, was drafted with help from Wertheimer and is expected to come up for public debate in April.
But publicly owned venues in the U.S. already follow the guidelines of the Fire Protection Agency's Life Safety Code, according to Jack Zimmer, executive director of the International Association of Assembly Managers, a professional group for municipal venue operators.
Moreover, it's difficult to create across-the-board standards for music events, he said.
"Setting up safety precautions for someone to go to the opera is a little different than to go see some wild and crazy rock concert. The patrons are different. They have different levels of expectations. And there's a certain level of spontaneity, particularly with rock concerts. You don't totally control you manage."
'In Denial For So Long'
The survey includes 36 music events in 12 countries. Many of the deaths occurred outside the United States.
In December, five female fans were trampled by a rushing crowd at the G-Shock Air & Style Festival in Innsbruck, Sweden, according to a press release from organizers. The show included sets by rapper Ice-T and "Higher" (RealAudio excerpt) rockers Creed.
In June, a 19-year-old girl was crushed at the stage during a set by "Celebrity Skin" (RealAudio excerpt) singers Hole at the Hultsfred festival in Sweden, according to news accounts.
Wertheimer has been cataloging concert deaths, injuries and property damage since 1992. His study, which he sells to security firms, facility operators, and police and fire departments, is compiled from media reports, eyewitness accounts and interviews with security companies.
His history with concert safety stretches back to 1979, when Wertheimer wrote the public-task-force report following a stampede at Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum. Eleven people were killed there in a rush for general-admission seats before a concert by the Who.
In his opinion, the concert industry refuses to create voluntary standards for itself because doing so would admit responsibility for fan safety. "They've been in denial for so long that perhaps to acknowledge it now would mean they could have been doing better all along."
But if the industry won't adopt its own guidelines, it's the government's role to step in, he said.
"When government sees lack of safety, it's the responsibility of government to protect the public in general," Wertheimer said. "Even heavy-metal and punk fans, even Marilyn Manson fans. Even rap and hip-hop fans. They have a right to a safe environment, even if they're gonna mosh."