Concert safety: From language to dress to mosh pits, parents have a little homework to do

By Caitlin Orton and Hillary Bowler

Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Sept. 1 2011 6:46 p.m. MDT

Fans form a mosh pit during the Warped Tour at the Utah State Fairpark in 2009.

Brendan Sullivan, Deseret News

On a scorching day in Chicago, Utah State University graduate Cody Titmus was bouncing around in the crowd as Santigold performed on stage.

He thought the music was exceptional, but the heat was blistering. With a mass of people in close proximity, conditions became so unbearable that some crowd members threw up.

Then things turned nasty.

"Some would keep circling the vomit and then some got in there and started throwing it," Titmus said.

It was a bizarre scene, but parents who are deciding whether to allow their child to attend a concert should expect to confront some uncomfortable — even stomach-churning — issues.

Mosh pits. Physical assault. Sexual harassment. Alcohol abuse. Depending on the venue and the artist, the concert scene presents concerns that range from a teen's physical safety to types of behaviors some parents would rather not have their children exposed to, such as cursing and inappropriate dress.

While teenagers and young adults relish the bands and concert-crowd experience, parents have some homework to do in order to make informed choices and increase the odds of their children having a safe and positive experience.

"Expect the unexpected," Titmus said.

The 'unexpected'

The concert experience can be as varied as the artists themselves and the venue they play in — whether it's Enya or Ke$ha.

Brady Bingham, a Syracuse resident and writer for the Ogden Standard-Examiner, has seen his fair share of oddities over his 30 years of attending concerts.

"From the big hair and wild makeup of the '80s bands, the cowboy hats and boots at country bands, to the girlish screams at Justin Bieber, that is all part of the fun," he said.

But some concert experiences are anything but laughable.

David Castillo, a 22-year-old USU student, has seen young women being groped at many concerts. If a girl goes crowd surfing, she's considered "free game" by the crowd, Castillo says.

"People will make the excuse that 'the girl landed on me and I had to keep her from the ground,'" he said. "I always go to a concert and see one man's hand — every show — going for the girl's chest, every time."

He suggested that girls attend concerts with a companion who can help keep men they don't know from taking advantage of them.

Profane language is also something that can surprise concertgoers. Castillo used the All-American Rejects as an example, saying that the band used the f-word left and right even though they don't use that word on their albums.

Sydney Tycksen, a 20-year-old Southern Utah University student and avid concertgoer, says she's seen a lot of illegal drugs and alcohol at concerts.

"Concerts don't necessarily advertise or allow drugs and alcohol, but kids are already involved in that," she said. Despite rules and regulations, a lot of kids are introduced to substances in the atmosphere of concerts, Tycksen says.

Kathryn Sorber, a mother and musician originally from Utah who lives in Lewisburg, W.Va., says that while language and drug use may be an issue at some concerts, she's more concerned about her children witnessing the all-around "loose" behavior of the audience, even at concerts for artists she considers to be safe for her kids to listen to.

"They're just kind of throwing caution to the wind," Sorber said, describing the screaming and erratic behavior of audience members at the many country concerts she attended while living in Nashville, Tenn. Juxtaposing such behavior with how she teaches her children to behave can confuse kids because it sends a "dualistic" message, she says.

Issues of safety

In light of the recent Indiana State Fair accident, concert safety has become a viable topic. As Sugarland fans waited for the concert to begin on Aug. 13, winds clocked at up to 70 mph caused the stage to collapse, killing five people and injuring 45.

While such hazards can't be completely prevented, especially in outdoor venues where safety is largely dependent on the weather, safety mishaps can be minimized.

At all sizes of venues, general admission or festival seating tickets typically guarantee a spot to stand among a crowd of hundreds to thousands. A Salt Lake City law bans free-standing crowds of more than 2,000 people, with exception to venues applying for a one-time permit 30 days before the concert. The ordinance had been passed shortly after The Who concert tragedy in Cincinnati in 1979 when 11 fans were crushed to death.

In 1991, AC/DC performed at Salt Lake City's Salt Palace with almost 13,000 fans present. Despite the ordinance, a crowd of thousands stood brushing shoulders waiting for the band to play.

"When AC/DC came on, there was a jolt forward," said Brandi Burton in a People Magazine article. She was a teen at the time who attended the concert with her roommate Elizabeth Glausi. "Immediately, Liz and I were knocked down. … People were falling on top of our faces, our bodies."

While Burton survived, her roommate died three days later.

A "mosh pit" wasn't the force behind the accident, but standing crowds oftentimes lead to the activity, especially if there's room for fans to move in and out of the crowd. Some call it dancing, but mosh pitting is essentially a group of people jumping around. As speed and excitement pick up, there is a lot of physical contact. Cellphones are lost and shoes go flying.

What begins as a movement of expression for concertgoers can quickly turn into a rowdy crowd, and people sometimes get hurt. In Tycksen's experiences, mosh pits have been a constant, and she warns against them.

"People start fighting," she said. "It comes with the territory."

But Casey Jarman, founder and director of the Twilight Concert Series, says "most pits are a positive thing."

"At almost every concert there's a mosh pit," Jarman said. "People need to express themselves because they're really excited to be down there. It's a fun release."

Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City, where the Twilight Concert Series is held, is big enough to accommodate concertgoers wanting to sit in lawn chairs and those wanting to be nose-to-nose with the stage. With ample space, concertgoers can mosh freely.

Being scrunched between other concertgoers is less pleasant and less safe when the attendee isn't wearing sturdy attire. Jeans, tennis shoes and a T-shirt are pretty standard, and deviating from that can lead to unexpected problems or injuries.

"I've seen the girls show up to concerts in heels and skirts, then they're in a crowd of people being thrown around," Tycksen said. "I break the rules. I wear flip flops and my feet get stepped on all the time."

Being properly hydrated is another precaution many don't consider before, during or after a concert. While many parents worry about underage drinking and delinquent crowds, the mixture of dancing, sweating and stuffy venues can lead to people passing out or getting sick, such as in Titmus' experience.

"A lot of times they're not physically ready to go to the show," said Kevin Lyman, founder of Vans Warped Tour, a multi-stage concert outdoor series that tours the country each summer. He added that concertgoers often show up dehydrated from the start.

"It's just the basic simple things," Lyman said.

How to prepare

Every concert is different, but the experiences aren't dictated solely by the attendee. Responsibility also falls to parents and venues.

Parents who have concerns about their child attending a concert need to do their homework.

Brandon Bates, a branch manager for Contemporary Services Corp., a security company hired by United Concerts to work venues from USANA Amphitheater to The Depot, said the atmosphere of concerts changes with every performer, and as a result, so does the security.

"My whole staffing need will change based on the artist and style of music," Bates said. "With BB King, I will not be working all my big guys, but you better believe when Snoop Dogg is in town I will have more big guys than small."

Jim Olson, senior vice president of sales and marketing and guest services at EnergySolutions Arena, also understands the impact the hosted performer can have on the venue.

"We are cautious about (what artists) we bring into our building," he said, adding that ESA tries to stick to shows worthy of support.

Kevin Bruder, general manager at the Maverik Center in West Valley City, remembers phone calls from shocked parents who didn't seem to know much about the performers their children bought tickets to see.

"We may receive a phone call saying, 'We couldn't believe the band swore on stage,' but if you listen to the CD, it swears every other word," he said.

Bates offered tips he uses himself when he's preparing to work an event.

"A little Internet research can go a long way," he said. "YouTube is a wonderful tool. Everyone and their dog is posting up video from shows now, and this will give you a great idea of what you are sending your child into."

The artist isn't the only thing for parents to research. Olson emphasized how important it is for parents to know what options they have at the venue, including carpool and pick-up areas. ESA offers a parents' room — a separate room at the venue for parents to wait in during the concert — as a free accommodation. Other venues provide similar options, such as an air-conditioned tent set aside for parents at the Vans Warped Tour.

Bruder said that if parents are worried about a certain venue, they should investigate. The Maverik Center welcomes phone calls from parents, and most venues have a website or Facebook page. If the atmosphere depends largely on the performing artist, the kinds of concerts a venue regularly hosts will clue parents in to the general environment.

And then, there's good old-fashioned communication between parent and child.

"It gives parents a good opportunity to talk to their kids about crowds and concerts, and for parents to bond with their child and talk about crowd issues," said Jim McNeil, president of United Concerts.

It's the venue's responsibility is follow the law and provide a safe environment, but parents should lay down their own law for their teen or young adult with regards to drinking, drugs, curfew and general concert behavior.

"It is up to them to behave themselves, keep themselves hydrated, monitor their alcohol intake," Bates said. "We cannot babysit and monitor every single patron."

Sorber's kids are too young to go to concerts alone, but she's teaching them now about concert behavior.

"At a certain point your kids have to (choose for themselves) — you can't just shield them from life," she said. "Hopefully I will have taught him."

If parents are still worried about their kids attending a concert despite all their research and preparation, they may consider cramping their teen's style and getting extra tickets — for themselves.

"If I were a parent, I would go down (to the concert) with my kid," Jarman said. "They might not want you with them, but go see what it's like for yourself."

Rick Wall, a Salt Lake City Police detective who has been in law enforcement for 15 years and has worked in conjunction with various security services for large crowd events, believes that for the most part, "people go to those shows to have a good time and enjoy the show."

"We typically don't have big melees," he said. "The last thing they want to do is have problems."

10 tips

Here are 10 tips for parents from our venue experts and concertgoers:

1. Avoid general audience/standing floor tickets if you wish your teen to stay clear of mosh pits, crowd surfing or any pushing and shoving that can occur.

2. Make sure your teen has at least one concert buddy to stick with in the crowd.

3. Make sure your teen is hydrated the night before or takes water to the concert.

4. Make sure your teen is appropriately dressed and has ear plugs if desired.

5. Collect valuables. Don't let your son or daughter join the concert crowds with your nice digital camera.

6. Research the band. Use YouTube and websites or talk to friends who have been to concerts.

7. Research the venue — its security, any past incidents, options it has for parents and the kinds of bands it usually plays host to.

8. Know where and when you can pick up your children or when they'll be home.

9. Communicate. Lay down your own rules for behavior, drinking and drugs.

10. Buy a ticket. If you are just too worried about your teens and what might happen at the concert, go with them.

Here is a list of 20 small to medium concert venues across the state. Parents should also note that universities, colleges and even high schools let their event centers and stages double as venues.

Venues

The Depot, Salt Lake City

Kilby Court, Salt Lake City

In the Venue, Salt Lake City

The Gallivan Center, Salt Lake City

Sandy Amphitheatre, Sandy

Harry O’s, Park City

Kingsbury Hall, Salt Lake City

Deer Valley Resort, Park City

Utah State Fair Park (host of Vans Warped Tour), Salt Lake City

Logan Arthouse and Cinema, Logan

Why Sound, Logan

Red Butte Garden, Salt Lake City

Muse Music Cafe, Provo

Velour, Provo

Urban Lounge, Salt Lake City

Avalon Theater, Salt Lake City

The Electric Theater, St. George

GoGo37, St. George

Snowbasin Resort, Ogden

Saltair, Salt Lake City

EMAIL: hbowler@desnews.com, Contributing: Trent Toone, Rhett Wilkinson

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