Although uncommon, incidents of mass violence and other tragedies have been known to occur at metal shows from time to time. We document a few of those instances here.
Black Sabbath – Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1980)
It’s best not to leave a crowd waiting. Show opener Blue Öyster Cult went off without a hitch, but the audience grew restless during the hour-long changeover before Black Sabbath hit the stage. The lights went down after two songs and in the darkness, Geezer Butler was hit in the head with a bottle. Sabbath and crew immediately went into action to get the bass player to the hospital, leaving the stage empty when the lights came back on. The crowd again grew increasingly unruly, which prompted Sabbath’s tour manager to take the stage, scolding “1776 was a long while ago!”
The comment didn’t go over well, and fans proceeded to storm barricades, rip out chairs and railings, and smash everything in sight. Riot cops were dispersed and close to 160 people were arrested. According to Geezer, “By the time I’m in the hospital and kids in Sabbath shirts started arriving covered in blood. We’re all lying there, side by side, as if it was a battlefield.”
A tour this big just had to be doomed. Disaster struck multiple times at the Montreal stop of the Guns N’ Roses / Metallica tour. First, James Hetfield suffered third degree burns to his hand during Metallica’s set when he missed a pyro cue, forcing the band to cut their set short. The band handled the accident as gracefully as they could, with Lars, Kirk, and Jason taking the stage (along with a french translator) to apologize for the abrupt exit, promising to make it up to the crowd at a later date.
Metallica handled the evening with dignity. Guns N’ Roses, not so much. The band took the stage after a two-and-a-half-hour delay. Very much in line with his documented behavior at the time, Axl Rose spent the set complaining about his monitors, passive aggressively sitting on the drum riser mid song, and repeatedly leaving the stage. Forty five minutes into their two hour set, Axl screams “I’m out of here!” before spiking the microphone and leaving the stage.
What followed could only be described as a full-scale riot. Fans stormed the stage and merch booths, windows were smashed, and cars were set on fire. It took several buses of riot cops to quell the violence.
Damageplan – Columbus, Ohio (2004)
The world of heavy metal was forever altered on December 8th, 2004. Damageplan, the new band of Pantera founders and brothers Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul, were nearing the end of a club tour. At a show at the Alrosa Villa club in Columbus, Ohio, former marine Nathan Gale rushed out from behind a wall of amps with a 9mm handgun, stopping in front of Dime and shooting him four times. Gale continued to shoot as members of the crew attempted to subdue the gunman. Four people died and two were seriously injured before Gale was killed by police.
Although it was initially believed that a war of words between Phil Anselmo and the Abbots led to the tragedy, an investigation found that Gale suffered from schizophrenia and believed that members of Pantera were stealing his thoughts.
Great White – West Warwick, Rhode Island (2003)
Tragedy struck on February 20th, 2003, when 100 Great White fans died and 230 were seriously injured in a fire at The Station nightclub. A pyrotechnic mishap led to total devastation of the building in just over five minutes. 432 people rushed the exits, leading to a crush of bodies and numerous cases of smoke inhalation. Several of the venue doors were locked.
Tour manager Daniel Biechele pled guilty to 100 counts of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 15 years with the possibility of parole in 2007. Biechele was released in 2008.
Woodstock ‘99 – Rome, New York (1999)
Few instances of mass chaos hold the disastrous reputation of Woodstock ‘99. As the subject of countless documentaries and podcasts, it has become a longstanding part of the public discourse.
The 30th anniversary of Woodstock was the antithesis of the original festival. Gone was the comforting “peace, love, and music” on an open farm in 1969, only to be replaced by the broiling hot tarmac of an air force base, price-gouged water, and severely limited restroom facilities. The frat bros took the place of the hippies and lived up to their behavioral reputation.
What followed was a mele of arson, assault, and wanton destruction. Security, dubbed the “Peace Patrol” were unqualified and disinterested. When problems began to arise, many just walked off the job.
It is widely believed that Limp Bizkit had a hand in inciting the riot. After festival goers had already torn down a plywood wall, Fred Durst told the crowd, “”They wanna ask us to ask you to mellow out a little bit. They say too many people are getting hurt. Don’t let nobody get hurt. But I don’t think you should mellow out. Mellowing out – that’s what Alanis Morissette just had you motherfuckers do. Take your Birkenstocks and stick them up your fuckin’ ass!” Before launching into their song “Break Stuff,” Durst continued to egg on the audience by saying, “Hey man, let me ask you a personal question. How many people ever woke up one morning and just decided it wasn’t one of those days, and you’re gonna break some shit?”
In total, three deaths were directly or indirectly attributed to the festival. A candlelight vigil for survivors of the Columbine massacre erupted into mass arson during the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ set (particularly during their cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic, “Fire”). MTV correspondents and crew had to be evacuated. It took 700 riot police to get the situation under control.