The deaths of three young fans during a concert by the heavy metal band AC/DC in Salt Lake City last week have revived the debate over so-called "festival seating."
This means selling general admission tickets rather than reserved seats. Patrons are free to find the best places they can, usually as close to the music as their eardrums will tolerate. Often the number of tickets sold far exceeds the number of seats.Even outdoors, people risk being hurt in the crush of a crowd. But the danger increases at jam-packed arenas where the audience is hemmed in by walls. When hundreds of excited people are pushing and straining for space down front, there's a big risk that someone will be knocked over and trampled, as the three teenagers reportedly were.
Many people remember the 1979 concert by The Who where 11 fans died and 22 were injured in a stampede at the Cincinnati Coliseum. Some cities banned festival seating after that. Salt Lake City authorities have suspended the practice while they investigate the latest tragedy.
For concert promoters there is a lesson in this. Audience safety is serious business. Some outdoor settings may be appropriate for festival seating, but at indoor arenas the practice only means another horrible accident is bound to happen eventually. It isn't worth the risk.