On Aug. 3, 1994, the annual Lollapalooza alternative music festival stopped near Providence, R.I. It was as close as the show would come to Pittsfield, Maine, so 15-year-old Jeremy Libby made the journey down with friends. He wasn’t there long. During the first set of the day, by a band called the Boredoms, Libby was bodysurfing in the mosh pit, being passed around on the upstretched hands of the roiling crowd of dancers in front of the stage. He fell, slamming into the ground and breaking his neck. In an instant, he changed from normal, healthy teenager to quadriplegic.
Nearly six months earlier, on Feb. 23, Dallasite Donald Carpenter, 28, had driven to Fort Worth to attend a White Zombie concert at the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Hall. He, too, was in the mosh pit and was dropped to the ground; his leg was broken.
Both men have filed civil lawsuits, and have become part of a disturbing trend in the concert industry.
Mosh pits have become the norm at hundreds of shows each year, and the number of mosh pit injuries - said by one industry insider to be in the thousands - is rising, as is the number of lawsuits arising from same.
The result is that concert promoters and their insurance carriers are looking at ways to cut down on mosh pits - or at least make them safer.
Libby is suing nine defendants, including Lollapalooza, the promoter, two security companies working the show, and the Boredoms.
On Feb. 23 of this year, Carpenter filed suit in Fort Worth, naming five defendants, including the city of Fort Worth and the show’s co-promoters, Dallas’ 462 Productions and Houston’s Pace Entertainment Corp.
Both lawsuits boil down to allegations that the defendants did not ensure that the concert was a safe place - that, in effect, precautions weren’t taken to guard against injuries in the mosh pit.
Representatives of both 462 and Pace declined to comment.
Numerous concert industry insiders agree that this is, and will continue to be, a serious problem.
“Eventually, this is going to become a real crisis - a point of no return. There will be more of this down the road,” says Paul Wertheimer, head of Chicago-based Crowd Management Studies, a consulting firm that publishes an annual survey of injuries at rock concerts.
According to Crowd Management Strategies’ annual survey, the first death caused by moshing was at a Motorhead concert in England in 1993; that same year, according to the survey, two other fans died due to mosh pit injuries. Wertheimer says there were three mosh pit-related deaths in 1994. Each year, he says, thousands of people are hurt in mosh pits.
“And that’s a conservative estimate. That’s just based on the kids who seek medical attention, and a lot don’t.”
Several concert promoters around the country have begun filming the action in the mosh pits, both to manage the crowd - and to ward off potential lawsuits.
In the case of Maryland’s Upfront Promotions, security personnel use two hand-held cameras to spot moshers who are “out of control,” according to President Don Wayner. Sal Nocifero, vice president of Reliance National Insurance Co.’s entertainment division, says several American promoters currently film mosh pits. Some promoters will ask a “problem” fan not to go back into the pit, and film the request.
Other measures promoters have taken include posting signs at the auditorium warning against moshing and printing warnings on the actual concert tickets.
Most concert promoters buy insurance policies on an annual basis; the more money an insurance company has to pay out - through claims, court costs or both - the higher insurance rates are.
One major concert insurer says filming mosh pits is the most effective pre-emptive strike against legal action.
“It’s simple - what attorney is going to go against a film?” says Walter Howell, owner of Entertainment Insurance Agency, a Florida-based company that insures about 50 American concert promoters.
Howell says he began asking the promoters he works with to film mosh pits two years ago.
“If you can prove the kid was there bodysurfing all night and he gets hurt at 11 p.m., near the end of the show, hey, there goes the claim,” he says.
Wertheimer of Crowd Management Strategies says the problem lies not with the fans, but with the promoters and security firms. His analogy is that movie patrons don’t have to check to make sure the fire exits are unlocked when they enter a theater.
“Many of the fans who go to these shows are minors,” he says. “Young men are risk-takers - young people think they’re going to live forever. So you take extra precautions - and it’s not being done. Most of the things they see tell these kids that moshing is cool and sexy and fun - the whole idea of death and danger is played down.
“You start with the people who create the environment - the band, the security, the venue, the promoter. Promoters are playing Russian roulette with concert safety - they just hope nothing happens at their show. It’s the Wild West out there.”
Promoters and insurers don’t see it that way.
“Most of the kids that get injured know you can get injured,” says Nocifero. “It’s a badge of courage. If you tell kids no mosh pit, they’ll create one.”
Wayner says he and other promoters are trying hard to ensure fans’ safety - and bands are also beginning to discourage moshing.
“Their attitude is changing,” he says. “They see if a fan gets hurt at a show he may not buy product, or he may not tell his friend in another city that he had a good time. Bands are trying to look after their fans.”
Maureen Krislov, a Los Angeles attorney who has written on mosh pit liability, says that moshers have to assume responsibility.
“Even though they’re very young, many are experienced moshers and they do know what they’re doing,” says Krislov. “People say, well, do you hold a 13-year-old to the same standard as a 30-year-old? Well, what if the 13-year-old has been to 50 concerts?
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter
Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.