Injuries: concussion, broken finger|
I attended literally hundreds of punk/"alternative" shows between 1985 and 1991. Every week I made my way to clubs like CBGBs to catch bands that ranged in styles from the Ramones to Ministry to Social Distortion to Circle Jerks to the Specials to Sonic Youth etc. I was very familiar with pit etiquette given my tastes in music. Sometimes, when the spirit and the music moved me, I moshed. Sometimes I pogo'ed. Sometimes I stood stoically. Sometimes I danced. Pits were fun, contained outlets of self-expression. Even large pits were small compared to what you see now. I never saw any significant injuries at any shows ... until 1991.
I traveled down to Jersey with five friends for the first Lollapalooza tour. Most of us had already previously seen the "big" Lollapalooza acts at small venues (NIN and Jane's Addiction), but at that point my age group hadn't experienced a true festival to call its own. So we all had high hopes for Lollapalooza.
I remember feeling annoyed when we were told at the door that we couldn't bring food or beverages onto the field, nor were we able to return to our cars to eat or drink. This sucked mostly because two people in our party had no cash on them, there were no ATMs, and even I only brought like $30 for the day ... which evaporated quickly among the group via $2-$3.00 cups of water in 90-degree heat. And the food was outrageous. Chalk it off to poor planning and the fact that none of us had ever done a festival show like Lollapalooza before.
I don't honestly know how many people were there ... thousands. There was a designated "pit" area at the foot of the stage ... we stayed away from it and chose to sit/stand a little less than halfway up the field from the stage. Most of the moshing during Rollins and the Butthole Surfers was pretty standard (I ran down into the pit during Rollins), and it was all contained within the designated area.
But when Ice-T took the stage, who was virtually unknown at the time, the mood started to go sour. The pit grew to such a size that it made the designated pit area laughable. Suddenly, the pit was ten feet in front of us, even though we were almost half-way up the field. We moved back again.
I began to notice that a lot of people around us were drinking heavily ... way too heavily for the heat and the crowd. By the time NIN came on, a good portion of the crowd was smashed and caught-up in the angry vibe. With some unsubtle prompting from NIN, the pit exploded well beyond where we were standing and sucked my girlfriend into the thrashing crowd. I tried to pull her out but some drunk fat guy knocked me across the face, yelling, "You're gonna die!" Luckily, I'm a pretty tall guy so I could see above most people's heads. I fought through the crowd following my girlfriend until I was really close to the stage. I saw the bouncers backing away from the crowd ... they looked terrified. It took three songs or more before I was finally able to get the both of us out of the pit. No one helped, in fact, most of the fat jocks kept trying to pull her back toward the stage. I was covered by other people's blood and dirt and god-knows what else. By the time we reached the back of the field, her shirt was torn off her body and she was crying. She'd been groped and kicked and her hand had been stomped on when she fell.
A thousand people punching and kicking each other isn't moshing. It's not self-expression. It's a violent mob of conformity. It's not fun and it certainly has nothing to do with enjoying music. The original concept of a pit wasn't a huge swarm of people at an enormous outdoor event ... and pits just don't work in that environment. Too much room for too many a$$holes.
I walked her over to the medical station, and there was a line of fifty people or more wrapped around it. More serious injuries than I'd seen at all my previous shows combined. The line grew throughout NIN's set. When we finally got medical attention I discovered that one of the friends who came with us was already laying inside the tent with a concussion he sustained while trying to get out of the pit. My girlfriend had a broken finger and a possible concussion. I asked one of the frazzled nurses there what she thought of this show. She said, "I've never seen anything like it. It's a warzone. There's no security and these kids are beating the sh*t out of each other."
By the time we got out of the tent NIN's set was over. We regrouped and realized we'd lost out blanket and a few shoes in the confusion. We managed to find them ...squashed up at the front of the stage. That just goes to show how powerful the force of the crowd was, because our stuff had moved hundreds of feet forward ... a football field away. I also had to buy my girlfriend a $20 t-shirt since she now only had her bra.
Before the next band played (Fishbone or Living Colour) someone took the mic and asked the crowd to calm down because there were a lot of injuries. This actually seemed to work for the next two sets, but the calm might have been the result of the alcohol consumed earlier. Everywhere I looked I saw dirt-covered idiots puking on themselves from drinking too much too fast in the summer heat. There were a lot of drug-saturated unconscious bodies, too.
Someone turned-on a hose to cool-down the crowd on one side of the field. Unfortunately, they chose to do this right in front of the leaking porta-potties. The water from the hose turned the ground into a muddy quicksand ... so not only could you not go anywhere near the hose, but now bathrooms were unreachable without being knee-deep in mud.
Even when you weren't in the pit, people were either pushing you or puking on you. I wanted to leave, but my girlfriend insisted we stay to see Siouxsie (we had driven a long way). After two calm sets the crowd got its second wind for Siouxsie and the pit swelled and got violent again. I couldn't believe what I was seeing: a thousand people beating on each other to Beatles cover songs?
By the time Jane's Addiction took the stage, we were already so far back on the field to avoid further injury that it was ridiculous. We stayed for half the set and then decided to go home.
I see nostalgic articles claiming that Lollapalooza shows were a great bonding experience in the beginning ... that's a crock. I'd never experienced such a bad concert vibe before Lollapalooza. But not long after that show, I noticed that the "bad vibe" was infecting everything. Venues encouraged bad behavior by yanking out their seats. Bands whose music wasn’t conducive to mosh pits before 1991 were now cesspools of broken noses and cracked skulls.
I don't go to many shows anymore ... not like I used to. I've moshed at a few old-school shows, but I've pretty much learned to hate pits since Lollapalooza. More importantly, I've never attended another unseated festival event, even when people were throwing free Lollapalooza tickets at me. In 1999 I passed-up free tickets to Woodstock and relayed my Lollapalooza experience to the ticket-bearer, warning her that people are bound to ruin this sort of thing. She was robbed and assaulted at Woodstock.
I'm writing this to dispel any notions that Lollapalooza was immune to the bad pit behavior that became synonymous with large shows. In fact, I think Lollapalooza marked the beginning of the giant jock pits, because I know I never saw anything like it until Lollapalooza. And every person in my group who attended that Lollapalooza agreed that, had one thing gone wrong with the show (like, a band storming off the stage), the whole place would have exploded into a riot. People were looking for an excuse to erupt. They finally found one in 1999.
I think Perry encouraged the behavior in the beginning while still believing that pits were a form of self-expression. The trouble is: people suck and would rather break a nose and cop a feel than express themselves.
In summary, Lollapalooza was not much fun (unless you were too drunk to remember it), yet it managed to set a negative tone that was subsequently emulated in future festival events.
Total Cost: $30-all available cash