On Friday 30 June, day two of the Roskilde Festival 2000, in Denmark, at about 11.30pm, eight people lost their lives and many more were hurt.
Nine festival-goers died as the crowd surged forward on a muddy farm field during a Pearl Jam concert. Twenty-six people were injured, three of them seriously. Of the fans that died, one was a 26-year-old cadet police officer from Hamburg, one was a 23-year-old Dutchman and three were from Sweden, two of them aged 22 and one 20. Three Danes, including a 17-year-old, also died. Their different nationalities reflect the festival's huge international diversity.
The rain, which had been threatening the day before, came pouring down. It is easy to notice how much it can rain when you are camping at a festival. With 100,000 people walking over and over the same ground it was not long before you could not see the roads. The only thing visible was a sea of mud.
First thoughts about what happened later that night, were mainly centered on thinking that people must have slipped on the mud. These were quickly dismissed. The following day, visiting the area in front of the main stage, all around where the crowd would have been, the ground was relatively dry.
Another possible cause was the metal barriers that are placed near to the front of the stage(s). It was believed that people were pushed up against these and were therefore crushed. These barriers have received a lot of criticism, even before the deaths. However, the organisers insist that they prevent more accidents than they cause. First hand accounts from Roskilde in 1999, seem to support that view, with one Researcher getting very near to the front, just behind a barrier. When the crowd pushed forwards the Researcher was able to push back against the barrier and was perfectly able to breathe.
So far the police have only hinted at this as a cause. Of course the press have jumped all over this angle, though it does not appear that any of the victims had taken anything. It seems unlikely that drugs would cause that many people to collapse, all at once. The band onstage at the time, Pearl Jam, mentioned alcohol as a possible contributing factor.
This was something that both Oasis and Pet Shop Boys used as part of the reason they cancelled. The argument was that there was not enough security, and/or was not good enough. First hand accounts suggest that this is totally not true. h2g2 Researchers have been commenting that this is one of the most well run festivals they have ever been too. The statistics for the festival - 75,000 visitors and 25,000 staff, which includes bands and their staff - seem to back this up. Even taking out all the non-security people it must have been something like one security person to every six people. Pearl Jam, however, in a statement, raised questions about the chain of command and the qualifications of the medical personnel.
A Researcher actually there, with some friends, gives the following account:
As we were not in the crowd, I can not tell you what it was like to be in there. Even so, the effects flowed across the entire site within an hour. We were in the campsite area not far from the main stage on our way back to the tent. I could hear someone speaking English across the loudspeakers. Even though I could not fully hear what was said at first, the tone of his voice was very clear. Something very bad had happened.
The voice said something about some people being hurt at the Pearl Jam stage. Everyone must move backwards to help them. It felt like we should go towards that area to see what was happening, but I thought if it was that bad then more people going to have a look would only make it worse. We listened to the radio for news. Then it came on; suddenly it felt very unreal. I have been lucky so far in my life that I have never experienced real shock, but I am sure this was very close.
Then panic hit us both. My cousin and her friend from England had come to the festival with us. They were not with us when we got back to the tent. What if they were in that crowd? It was almost too horrible to think about. Fortunately they were okay and did come back so afterwards. We sat and talked about it for what seemed like hours. It was quite a dramatic picture, us four sitting in the tent entrances facing each other, candles flicking, dark skies above and an almost quiet floating across the campsite.
The Following Day
The difference in atmosphere was amazing. No one seemed to know what to do. Before people were running around, in the mud, laughing, having a good time. Now most were stumbling through the dirt. The closer people got to the main stage area the slower they walked. It was described as 'walking through treacle'. The atmosphere built up more and more, the closer you got to the site.
The main stage and just in front of it, the metal barriers, were all taped off by the police. There was a small crowd around the tape watching the police search. Even though the bodies had been cleared away, it was like the people expected to see the dead there. Maybe, in a way, they could.
Even with this tragedy it should be mentioned that people should still go to a festival. There is nothing quite like a festival atmosphere. Just remember to think a bit more, next time. Crowds are at many events, not just festivals. Many people would love to use this as an excuse to close down such festivals, so make sure they do not get their way. The only way you can help, and stop this from happening, is to keep going and play safely.
Here are some quotes from other people at Roskilde in 2000:
The festival spirit has gone. We'll stay because going home would mean turning our back to what has happened.
- Edwin Walter, 16, of Sweden
This is so painful. I think we are all waiting for someone to wake us and say it was just a horrible nightmare. There are absolutely no words to express our anguish in regard to the parents and loved ones of those precious lives that were lost.
- Pearl Jam, in a statement
The guy in front of me was so shocked he simply screamed. It was impossible to get anywhere.
- Erik Olsen, 17, of Norway
It is very difficult to put words on the fact that so many young people have lost their lives.
- Danish Prime Minister, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen