10 Infamous Concert Riots

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10 Infamous Concert Riots

The Doors - New Haven Arena, New Haven, CT

December 9, 1967

Jim Morrison was the first rock star to be arrested onstage and probably also the first to be maced backstage at his own show.

While the opening acts played, Morrison and a young woman had slipped into a bathroom shower for some privacy. A policeman working backstage security came across them, and thinking the lead singer of the headlining act for an interloper, told them to “Beat it,” Morrison grabbed his crotch and told the cop to “Eat it.” The policeman pulled out a can of mace and said, “Last chance to beat it.” The Lizard King’s response: “Last chance to eat it.” The cop maced him.

The show was delayed for an hour while Morrison’s eyes were washed out. The show proceeded normally until they launched into “Back Door Man.” According to Doors keyboard player Ray Manzarek, instead of Morrison bellowing the opening “Oh yeah! All Right!” Morrison started to tell the story of what had happened to him backstage in what’s been described as an “an obscenity-laced tirade.”

The house lights came on. Police came onto the stage, took the microphone from Morrison – one of them saying into the mike: “You’ve gone too far, young man” – and arrested him, and announced that the show was over.

The real aftermath was far less prosaic. Angry fans tussled with police and threw around the wooden chairs on the arena floor as the cops tried to clear the venue. The fracas between angry Doors fans and police continued outside on the street. A Life magazine photographer who snapped a picture of a policeman abusing a concertgoer was arrested, as were some 30 others, including fans who showed up at the police station to plead for Morrison’s release.

He was charged with obscenity and inciting a riot, but the charges were later dropped. The incident inspired the later Doors song “Peace Frog.

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Sly and the Family Stone - Grant Park, Chicago, IL

July 27, 1970

By 1970, Sly Stone, had already burned Chicago with three cancelled shows, so a free concert in downtown’s Grant Park was scheduled to make up for disappointing his Windy City fans. Alas, his reputation preceded him.

People started gathering at 7 AM for the concert slated to begin at 4 PM. When the first opening act, Fat Water, took the stage, people began shouting, “We want Sly!” Rumors began to circulate that the headliner wasn’t going to show. After Fat Water’s three songs The Flying Burrito Brothers prepared to take the stage… until a bottle was thrown from the crowd. It was quickly followed by a hail of debris: bottles, cans, stones and broken-off pieces of concrete and park benches. Thousands of concertgoers started to rampage through the park, pelting police with an even-heavier flow of bottles and stones. The cops responded by beating people with nightsticks. Cars were smashed, overturned and set on fire.

The violent conflict soon spread into The Loop, with gangs of rioters breaking the show windows of pricey stores and looting their contents. The melee didn’t subside until 10 PM that evening. The final toll: 162 people injured, 126 of them police officers. Another 160 were arrested. Three people were shot, but it was unclear who pulled the triggers. TheChicago Tribune claimed the crowd was “more intense” than the protesters that battled with police during the Democratic Convention two years earlier.

One kind of positive aspect to the fracas was that in racially tense Chicago, it was an equal opportunity riot. Both blacks and whites went wild.

The irony is that Sly was on his way to the show by either limo or helicopter, depending on whose story you believe. What everyone does agree on is that the cops turned him away because the situation was too explosive. Talk about your self-fulfilling prophecy!

The title of Sly’s album the next year? There’s A Riot Goin’ On. In recent years Grant Park has also been the site of the Lollapalooza festival since 2005 without any major incidents.

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Jethro Tull - Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO

June 10, 1971

The rule of unintended consequences came into play at what became known as “The Riot at Red Rocks.” Some 1,000 to 2,000 people arrived to the sold-out show without tickets. Police directed them to an area just off the parking lot where they could hear but not see the concert.

But after opener Livingston Taylor went on, some of the freeloaders weren’t happy with the arrangements. They threw stones at and rushed the line of police guarding gates into the venue. Others tried to scale the walls around the amphitheater.

During the melee, tear gas was dropped on the attackers from a dangerously low-flying helicopter. It incensed the rioters further. Wind drifted the gas into the theater. Taylor left the stage, but Ian Anderson and his Jethro Tull bandmates later gamely came on. After the first song, the singer/flautist quipped, “Welcome to World War Three.” He saved the evening by calming the crowd and instructing them to cover their mouths with pieces of clothing. As the fracas continued outside and more tear gas was dropped, Tull continued to play, likely preventing a bad situation from becoming worse.

For the next five years only soft-rock bands were allowed to play Red Rocks.

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Eric Clapton - Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ

July 7, 1974

At that time, Eric Clapton was riding high with the just-released 461 Ocean Boulevard getting a positive initial reception. But the Jersey City stop of the tour at a dilapidated, rusting pile of a minor league ballpark was a black mark.

Looking distracted and undernourished, Clapton was in no shape to be on that stage. He not only forgot the lyrics but the guitar riff for “Layla.” Even when Freddie King joined him onstage, it couldn’t rouse the listless (and some believe drunk or still drugged-out) Clapton. Some of the audience began booing. After about 35 minutes, the star was mercifully led off the stage.

Some 50,000 people had shown up to see God and, frankly, God sucked that night. A lot of fans chose to simply sit on the ground and weep. Others showed their displeasure in more active fashion by breaking through the barriers behind the stage and surrounding Clapton’s limo to prevent him from leaving. As people streamed down from the stands, some fans broke up the wooden seats and jumped into the infield. More than a few brought fireworks, which they hoped to set off in a celebration at the end of the show. Instead, they used them as weapons, pointing bottle rockets toward the stage. As more police arrived, the chaos kept many of those leaving peacefully from getting to their cars or the Jersey City PATH station, angering those who had been merely disappointed. It took a few hours until some form of order was restored to the area.

A few days later at Madison Square Garden, an apparently cleaner and more engaged Clapton played a much more successful show.

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Led Zeppelin - Tampa Stadium, Tampa, Florida

June 3, 1977

The tickets said “rain or shine,” and you’d think that Jimmy Page would have been able to invoke his deal with the devil to keep the clouds away… but it was not to be. Around 15 minutes into the show, a thunderstorm rolled in. After a truncated version of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” Zeppelin left the stage for what Plant told the crowd would be a 15-minute break.

Many of the 70,000 fans in the audience had already hung out for hours since doors opened at 11:30 AM in the brutal Florida summer heat for Zep to take the stage at 8:30 PM. Then they waited another 45 minutes to be told the band would not be returning.

The audience did not take the news well. Amidst chants of “We Want Zeppelin,” bottles, cans, stones and even shoes were thrown at the stage. A few thousand rushed the barricade in front of the stage. Some 250 cops in riot gear repelled them and then began to herd unruly fans out of the stadium.

The final toll was 100 concertgoers injured, and eight people were arrested. There were also a reported 26 auto accidents in the vicinity of the stadium.

One upside: Promoters Concerts West offered refunds on the “rain or shine” tickets. One downside: Rock shows were banned from the stadium for the next two years.

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Public Image, Ltd. - The Ritz, New York, NY

May 15, 1981

By 1981, it was hard to think of PiL as a band. Drummer Martyn Atkins was gone, and Jah Wobble, whose untutored, dub-wise bass was one of their most distinctive musical elements of a band whose music specialized in being abrasive, had been read out of the band over “corporate espionage.” Public Image was now John Lydon – formerly known as Johnny Rotten, lead singer of The Sex Pistols – guitarist Keith Levene, and Jeanette Lee, who was not a musician but videographer; they were a company, not a band. And had recently moved from London to New York City, setting themselves up in a midtown Manhattan loft.

Actual band Bow Wow Wow had cancelled their show at The Ritz (now known as Webster Hall) two days before they were scheduled to appear. Public Image was called to fill in. (That Bow Wow Wow was managed by Malcolm McLaren, former manager of the Pistols, only adds to the intrigue.) Never mind that they weren’t a band at that time.

So instead of a concert, PiL decided to stage a piece of performance art. They would perform behind the Ritz’s giant video screen that usually was lowered at the front of the stage in between sets to show music videos (all the rage at the time), and then raised just before the bands came onstage.

When the show finally began well past midnight, a bank of spotlights along back wall facing the screen threw elongated silhouettes onto it. At the same time, Lee wandered the stage with a video camera that fed images projected onto the screen. It looked great, but no one had bothered to inform the crowd – who had waited for hours outside in the rain, expecting a rock show – what they would be seeing.

What they got was a bucket of noise: Levene wanking around, an older tuxedoed black drummer recruited from the union hiring hall playing a jazzy groove, and Lydon abusing the crowd from behind the screen.

“Getting your money’s worth, New York? This is rock’n’roll!” he sneered, his visage projected 30-feet high onto the screen like some snotty Big Brother.

“You’re all a bunch of fucking hippies, into peace and love!”

“You’re just boring Americans,” he howled. “Why don’t you do something?”

Okay. A beer bottle flew out from the crowd towards the stage. Then another. And another.

“Don’t like the screen?” Tear it down!”

A few more bottles sailed towards the screen. Following Lydon’s orders, fans at the front of the stage started clambering onto it, reaching for the video screen. House security bruisers rushed over to shove them back onto the floor. For the audience, the fun was just beginning as others also decided to bum rush the stage.

Meanwhile an ever-increasing hail of beer bottles was sailing towards the stage. Some of them hit spotlights that exploded in bursts of sparks. More concertgoers started climbing onstage as the bouncers wrestled and exchanged blows with those who did so before them.

Levene even came out from behind the screen to try to calm things down, but only became a target, and was dragged off the stage by security. At that moment, the plug was pulled, a harried voice came over the PA, shouting, “Show’s over,” and the house lights came on. As the video screen was being raised audience members finally grabbed ahold and ripped it. A rug was pulled from the stage and the drum set atop it toppled over. Monitor wedges other and other PA equipment was shoved off the stage.

Ironically, as the melee ensued on the auditorium floor, concertgoers upstairs in the balcony sat safely at their tables watching from above what had indeed become a highly entertaining piece of auto-destructive performance art. They waited for the fracas to play itself out, and once the coast was clear came down the stairs. The entire auditorium dance floor was covered in small shards of broken beer-bottle glass. It also carpeted the stairs down to the lobby, and sheets of fragments extended out through the venue’s front door.

The next weekend, Ritz bartenders were pouring beers into plastic cups before serving them to customers.

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Guns N’ Roses - Riverport Amphitheater, Maryland Heights, MI

July 2, 1991

Patti Lupone may have gotten all kinds of publicity recently for reaching into the crowd to take a phone from a rude audience member. But Axl Rose pioneered such pique back in 1991.

For the first 14 songs of this show outside St. Louis, it seemed like one of Guns N’ Roses’ less notorious performances on the massive Use Your Illusion tour. Rose had shown up, the show started at a reasonable hour, and everyone was enjoying themselves.

Then, during “Rocket Queen,” the frontman saw a fan with a camera in the audience.This did not please him, and he pointed the fan out from the stage. When security did not respond fast enough, Rose literally took matters into his own hands, jumping off stage, tackling the guy, taking his camera, and proceeded to make his way back to the stage, leaving punched out fans and security in his wake. Once back on stage, he announced he was leaving, slammed his microphone on the stage and stalked off. The band followed. It was now the crowd’s turn to get angry, and they did.

The post-show scene was a comedy of errors. Once the crowd realized the band was not coming back, they stared pelting the stage with beer cups. When they didn’t make it to the stage, members of Gn’R’s stage crew started taunting the crowd, which only made them angrier. In addition, Rose had jumped into the middle of the Saddle Tramps, a local motorcycle gang, and they made their displeasure known by beating up fans who were in their vicinity.

When the cops arrived, their presence only further riled up the mob. Even the people in the boxes joined in, handing chairs down to the give the crowd additional ammunition. An attempt to use a hose to control the audience failed; the water pressure was too low, and people moved toward the spray to cool themselves off. Cables were loosened and used by people to swing above the stage; video screens were torn down. Finally, the police allegedly used tear gas to clear the room. Those that remained were violently chased out. The conflict continued out into the parking lot with more tear gas reportedly used, although police denied it.

Final tally: 60 people were hospitalized and 15 arrested. Charges were filed against Rose for inciting a riot which a judge later threw out, saying he wasn’t responsible for the incident.

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Grateful Dead - Deer Creek Music Center, Noblesville, IN

July 2, 1995

It’s one of those cosmic jokes: The Dead was at their most popular when they were declining as a live act. And for once, the people who claimed the newbies were ruining everything were right.

Inauspicious portents had already plagued the band’s summer 1995 tour when a lightning strike killed three fans about a week earlier outside RFK Stadium in Washington, DC.

The latter-day Deadheads camping outside this sold-out show decided there was no good reason why they should experience the music from the parking lot even though they didn’t have tickets. So some 3,000 or so of them jumped over and tore down a fence at the perimeter, and raced into the crowd, brandishing pieces of wood, and swatting at anyone who crossed their path, be it other fans, the Dead’s security detail or the cops, who tried to beat the mob back with tear gas. While only 17 were arrested, the collective ethos of the Dead and Deadheads took a hard hit.

The band did manage to play a full show (some fans reported that Garcia seemed “out of it”). A planned second concert the next night at the venue was canceled. The Dead issued an open letter, headlined “This Darkness Got To Give” (the refrain from their post-Altamont commentary “New Speedway Boogie”). Calling the crashers “fools” and “saboteurs,” they admonished their fans, reminding them that the Dead is about “higher consciousness, not drunken stupidity,” and warning that “the spirit of the Grateful Dead is at stake.” While no connection has ever been proven, Jerry Garcia died about a month later.

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Woodstock 99 - Griffiss Air Force Base, Rome, NY

July 22-25, 1999

What could go wrong? Five years earlier at Woodstock ’94, a 25th Anniversary salute commemorating the original 1969 fest held on a farm near Saugerties, NY in the Hudson River Valley, echoes of the past had descended with, first, heavy rains to make the site a mud bath. It drew 350,000 people for three days of music, and before its end security had given up on checking the tickets of the hordes streaming in and out the gates.

The 30th Anniversary event sullied the Woodstock legend even further, first by being rife with corporate sponsors like MTV, which broadcast from the fest. Then there was the choice of venue, a real head-scratcher: A decommissioned air base with the stages set up on its tarmac runways that only reflected the weekend’s triple-digit heat back up on the concertgoers. And almost no natural shade to be found.

Add to that insufficient bathroom facilities. Twelve dollar pizzas and $4 bottles of water. Long lines for everything, especially the few free water spigots that were eventually broken off their pipes to create large mud ponds around them.

At first the third iteration of Woodstock that drew some 200,000-plus fans was thought to be a success: no gatecrashers nor rain, though the high-priced passes ($150) sparked a brisk trade in counterfeits. And the horndog cries for women to show their breasts signaled sordid instincts throughout the gathering.

Then on Saturday night, Limp Bizkit played their angry set, including the song “Break Stuff.” And that’s just what some in the crowd decided to do, pulling plywood off the perimeter fences and nearby structures. Observers reported that a woman was pulled into the moshpit near the front of the stage and gang-raped.

The next day a peace organization distributed candles to be lit in a demonstration of solidarity that evening. Instead, during a final set on one of the two main stages by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, they were used to start bonfires. An audio tower also caught fire.

Then as the final song of their encore, the Chili Peppers unwisely chose to perform a Jimi Hendrix tribute by playing his song “Fire.” A rampage across the site began that resulted in the burning of 12 trailers and other vehicles, looted and burned vendor booths, and ATMs being smashed to get at the cash inside. Riot police were finally called in to clear the site.

The aftermath: eight women were allegedly raped or molested (only one person arrested). A concertgoer who collapsed on the second night died in a hospital on the following Monday. Several lawsuits were filed against the promoters.

Despite all that, a two-CD set of live recordings from the fest, Woodstock 1999, was released in October. The following March a DVD of performances and interviews with artists and fans, Woodstock 99, hit stores. The “show” must go on.

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28 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Altamont festival 1969. Rolling Stones and Hells Angels ?
    Was that a riot, or did one guy get killed and that was the end of it?
    Good point, in this case you could say the fans didn't riot but security did.  The Angels simply beat the living shit out of the hippies  
    You can say want you want about Limp Bizkit, but for me their Woodstock performance was one of their best - full of power and raw energy!..
    And famous "Break Stuff" performance - when Fred screamed "Break your fucking face tonight!" at 3:18 - it's really one of the most powerful moments of the festival!.. And yes, of course, what happened at the festival is really bad, but it's not a LB's fault, it's all about bad organizing. And when people are going crazy (in a good way of course) is much better than when the crowd is totally dead looking at their phones and not enjoying the moment...
    And it really wasn't their fault Bizkit did the same thing every show getting the crowd pumped. Having a festival at the height of summer with $6 (like $9 in 2017 prices) bottles of water is to blame.
    I always thought the lyrics were "it's all about the he said she said boo".
    Hah) Actually the line is "It's all about the "he says/she says" bullshit"
    No metallica/GnR riot in montreal?  James Hetfield got blown up by a badly placed pyro, show got cut short, GnR then took 2 hours to show up and left after nine songs.  Fans were pissed and rioted
    The pyro wasn't poorly placed, but there was an change(addition) to the pyro, where some extra magbesium flashes were going to happen on the outside edges of the stage. There was confusion that those flashes were replacing the other pyro, but it did not.
    Living in Canada, the only riots we have are when we lose the Stanley Cup to a US team.  Fingers crossed for a good riot this year!
    Good luck, though I think my Pens are gonna take it.  When Crosby is on the ice you've gotta beat the refs, too. But you know that. 
    Thought for sure that the riots at the Metallica/Guns n Roses gig in Montreal in 1992 (when Hetfield was burned by the pyrotechnics, forcing the band to finish early and giving GnR the opportunity to rise to the occasion) would have been here.
    So because someone had a camera during a show Axl Rose attacked him and then was too much of a primadonna to fisnish the show, and then the GnR crew taunted the angry fans, causing 60 people to be f*cking hospitalised? And he is still paid millions to play gigs.  
    I feel cheated. Title says top 10, but there are only 9. Learn to count please.