It is a common perception that concert violence is a modern phenomenon, but history contradicts this belief.
Middle Age minstrel shows were occasionally marred by outbreaks of Tanzwuth, or "dancing mania." Tanzmuth epidemics were belived to accompany minstrels whose music was particularly loud and "intoxicating." Early episodes of Tanzwuth were often characterized by audience members dancing wildly until collapse; however, by the 14th century, we have reports of afflicted audiences tossing each other into the air and colliding repeatedly. Tanzwuth epidemics often associated with consumption of copious amounts of wine, and musicians whose performances elicited these outbreaks often found their services in high demand. (Morens, 1995)
An early example of concert violence accompanied the 1813 debut of Igor Stravinsky's ballet, The Rites Of Spring (Le Sacre de Printemps). Though now a familiar, much-beloved work, the piece, which is characterized by musical dissonance and radical, even scandalous, choreography, resulted in a full-blown riot upon its premiere. The atonal score and pagan themes incited catcalls within minutes of the curtain's rising, and several fights erupted among audience members. The show's producer tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to quell the violence by repeatedly flashing the houselights, and Stravinsky slipped out of the theater moments before police arrived. (Ross)
The Birth of Rock-and-Roll
Despite concerns of the "evil effects of rock and roll" in the 1950, there are precious few examples of documented concert violence. However, DJ Alan Freed, the man who ostensibly coined the term "rock and roll," found himself near the epicenter of the decade's two main incidents. In March of 1952, Freed staged the Moondog Coronation Ball at a 10000 seat venue in his hometown of Cleveland, and a "near riot" broke out when many of the estimated 25000 fans were not admitted. Later, in 1958, violence reportedly erupted outside a Boston venue immediately following a Freed show, and Freed was indicted for inciting a riot.
Early attempts to report and quantify concert violence coincided with the birth of the rock festival in the late 60s and early 70s. The forebear of all festivals, Woodstock, represented the initial attempt to quantify burdens placed on the event's makeshift medical facilities, which researchers estimated at 125 patients per ten-thousand (PPTT). A similar study conducted at a 1973 Watkins Glen festival reported 130 PPTT. (Whipkey et al, 1976) It must be pointed out, however, that the researchers in both cases made no attempt to categorize medical usage, and subsequently statistics on violence-related trauma cannot be separated from medical incidents like bee stings, dehydration and "bad trips."
Through no reporting mechanisms were in place, the most infamous incident of concert violence during this period occurred at Altamont Speedway in northern California in December of 1969. Billed as "Woodstock West," the event was marred by logistical problems, most significantly offering the local Hell's Angels chapter $500 worth of beer to provide security. Numerous fights ensued, Mick Jagger was punched in the face seconds after emerging from his helicopter and Jefferson Airplane lead singer Marty Balin was punched in the head and knocked unconscious by a Hell's Angel mid-set. The violence culminated in the fatal stabbing of concertgoer Meredith Hunter during the Rolling Stones' set, an incident captured on film and featured in the documentary, Gimme Shelter.
The Who in Cincinnati
The first highly-publicized incident of concert violence occurred in Cincinnati during The Who's 1979 U.S. tour. Eleven concertgoers were crushed to death when the band's soundcheck was mistaken as the beginning of the show and forced entry into the arena. This high-profile incident garned national attention thanks to a subsequent cover story in People magazine and a special episode of the hit TV show WKRP in Cincinnati that dealt with the tragedy.
Despite efforts of promoters to recapture the sentiment of the original event, Woodstock 99 will instead be remembered as one of the worst, and highly publicized, examples of concert violence as concertgoers rioted, destroying the stage and burning the campgrounds. In addition to numerous injuries, four rapes were reported and countless sexual assaults are believed to have transpired. (Tully, 1999 and Vider, 2004)