Georgina Guedes

Big Concerts, rescue me!

2013-02-07 11:13

Georgina Guedes

I am standing, holding hands tightly with my best friend on one side, my husband on the other. My friend is holding her husband's hand in the same panicked grip. Our husbands make a barrier on either side of us, cushioning us from the shoving of the crowd, but sometimes squashing us like a compacter as the crowds behind or in front surge in a mass of stinky, furious humanity.

People are drunk, confused, pissed off. There's the stench and stickiness of vomit and spilt beer on the floor. Suddenly, the mass contorts and my husband isn't behind me anymore. I tighten my grasp on his receding hand, but I'm not sure this is such a good idea as my arm twists, and two agro people ram themselves against my bridge to my husband. I know that if I let go in this swirling, surging mass, I'll never find him again.

Suddenly, the two people realise that they're trying to separate us, and lean back into the masses to allow my husband to rejoin me. As we are jostled from all sides, a group of shaken people push their way back past us, their motion reminiscent of a snake regurgitating its prey. "It's hell in there," they say. "It's not worth it. Go back."

Rising panic

This is pretty much what I'm thinking, and my friend and I and our husbands all look at each other in horror. I feel the panic starting to rise. People are pushing. We can't see ahead or behind us. We are on a staircase. I can barely breathe. All it takes is one person to lose their footing, or shove someone too aggressively and the whole hot, sticky, stinking mass of people would tumble and crush us.

I take a couple of deep breaths of putrid air. We decide to keep going, only because it's just as difficult to turn back. Suddenly, we emerge from the stairwell onto a walkway. We're closer to the field now, and while the crowd hasn't thinned, the air is clear. Eventually, we make it onto the field. By now, we need the loo, we're thirsty (from dry-mouthed panic) and we don't have a thing to drink. There is no way we're fighting our way back out of this thing.

We were at the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert at Soccer City. The concert was great (Anthony Kedis is looking old, hey), the organisation was not. As far as I can make out, Soccer City has entrances A through N - that's 14. There were massive queues at every entrance. Then, once you were in, you had to go to one of only two queues elsewhere in the stadium to get your wristband. There were no queue management, no signs and no barriers - just a seething mass of confused people.

What went wrong?

Half of the congestion was caused by the fact that people didn't understand that they needed to get wristbands. They were inside the stadium. They tried to get onto the field. They were turned back. The people turning them back couldn't tell them where to go. The rest of the crowd was also trying to get onto the field. There was no one anywhere to ask.

I have been to a few concerts in my day. They're not all beautifully organised, but I've never felt the sheer terror I did at this concert. Which is why, when I hear Big Concerts denying chaos at the show, it makes me sick. The management was a disaster. Calling newspaper reports sensationalist is not addressing the problem.

Something went very wrong with the organisation and Big Concerts’ ability to handle it. I can think of about ten different ways that the concert security could have been improved. I did not feel safe, and my reasons for feeling that way were sound. I believe that it is only through good fortune, and not through any administrative efforts that nobody died (this time) at this Big Concert.

As a concertgoer - essentially a customer of Big Concerts - I was afraid while I was in their care. It would help if they said something like "We are investigating ways to improve crowd control and queuing systems." Instead they've written it off as "the ordinary course of business'. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth that no amount of Chili Peppers can counteract. 

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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