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Safety experts weigh in on the growing trend of artists pausing gigs due to medical emergencies in the audience
By James Hanley on 28 Jul 2022
Crowd management specialists have spoken to IQ about the post-Astroworld rise in artists temporarily stopping shows due to fan safety concerns.
Last November’s tragedy in Houston, Texas, in which 10 people were killed following a crowd surge during Travis Scott’s closing set, appears to have prompted an enhanced level of vigilance from performers.
High-profile acts such as Adele, Paul McCartney and Billie Eilish have all briefly halted gigs in the last few weeks after being alerted to apparent medical emergencies in the audience, while Scott paused a New York concert earlier this month when he spotted fans climbing a lighting truss by the stage.
“We don’t know really how much of it was taking place beforehand for certain, but both venues and crowd managers are reporting an increase since Astroworld,” says Gentian Events founder Eric Stuart. “That is not a surprise though; it’s in the minds of the artists, for which we should all be grateful and hope it remains there.”
Crowded space expert Professor Chris Kemp elaborates on the shift in mindset that has occurred.
“It is not a new thing that artists, promoters, production reps, floor and barrier staff work together to keep the crowd safe,” he says. “But it is new that many more artists are understanding that they have a duty of care alongside everyone else for the audience.”
“We are seeing some more extreme behaviours and responses from crowds since we left Covid lockdown, making them more vulnerable”
Stuart, who also chairs the Global Crowd Management Alliance (GCMA), believes a combination of factors is driving the trend.
“Some of them are human heuristic tendencies or biases that make us – and that includes artists – focus on recent, high profile, high impact activity,” he tells IQ. “Astroworld fits all of those criteria. So there are some natural human elements to this for the artists. However, we are also seeing some more extreme behaviours and responses from crowds since we left Covid lockdown, making them more vulnerable.
“As well as some crowds being short tempered and intolerant, there is also an enhanced feeling of euphoria that may – I repeat, may – be leading to more medical events, fainting, etc, so there may be more need for artists to respond as well as more awareness of it.
“I emphasise may, because we don’t really have the empirical evidence, just plenty of anecdotal evidence from experienced people saying it is the case and frankly, we need to trust our instincts and our people on this.”
“We are still fighting with artists who encourage the public to join in mosh pits and don’t consider the risks”
Pascal Viot, safety chief for Switzerland’s Paleo Festival Nyon, urges all performers to treat their audiences with care.
“We are still fighting with artists who encourage the public to join in mosh pits, ‘walls of death’ and pogoing, and don’t consider the risks,” he tells IQ. “That is a real issue with fragile audiences.”
Singling out Billie Eilish for praise, Viot says the festival can collaborate with acts to make sure the crowd movement generated during their performances is under control. He also reveals discussions were held with Yourope Event Safety (YES) Group ahead of the 2022 season to educate artists and work together to provide the safest possible concert conditions.
Paleo sent a festival security rider to artists’ representatives this year, detailing the show stop procedure along with other safety elements.
“Show pauses or stops are complex matters that need very careful management”
Stuart stresses that show stops present additional issues from a crowd management perspective.
“Show pauses or stops – particularly the restart – are complex matters that need very careful management,” he says. “The awareness is very welcome, but the uneducated, unanticipated and unmanaged show stop is a challenge. Some of these show ‘pauses’ are absolutely essential, but some seem to have been generated by relatively minor, everyday incidents that security and medical teams just get on with.
“Certainly, one incident in a theatre in Vancouver led to a 20-minute show stop for a ‘faint’ which led to impatience and disorder in a crowd and soon afterwards, fighting on the balcony. That led to real risks for those bystanders on and below the balcony, but also for staff who had to intervene.”
Spearheaded by the United Kingdom Crowd Management Association (UKCMA), the Event Safety Alliance (ESA) and Event Safety Alliance Canada (ESAC), the GCMA was launched in December 2021 to “promote reasonable crowd management and crowd safety practices worldwide”.
“Artists have a vital role to play but, if they say the wrong thing, it could make matters far worse”
“If artists want to help, they should speak to the teams charged with crowd safety at the event first-hand. Not through agents or managers, but actually ask what is needed or expected of them in an emergency,” continues Stuart. “They have a vital role to play but, if they say the wrong thing, it could make matters far worse.”
Stuart expresses frustration that the lines of communication between security personnel and artists are often closed off.
“It is remarkably hard for the safety team to speak first hand to an artist protected by so many of their people,” he laments. “I just wish we could break down that wall of them protecting the artist so we could all protect the guests.”
“We do not expect artists to be entirely responsible for crowd safety, but they are part of the team that does that”
He concludes: “If any reader of this article is engaged in band or artist management, or you are ‘with the band’ and you know they are genuinely interested in crowd safety, just get in touch. We know the artist has a job to do and they are under enormous pressure to perform every time. They do that job with lighting effects that often make the crowd invisible and in-ear monitors making them almost deaf to the audience noise.
“We do not expect them to be entirely responsible for crowd safety, but they are part of the team that does that. We just want to give them an idea of what to say or do on the day they notice something amiss, and to know what we will do to rectify that. We want to work with them to keep all of our crowds safe and if we could get to speak to the artists, we think they would agree.”
To get in touch with the GCMA, email [email protected], or contact Stuart directly at [email protected]
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