Concerts: Hot Fun in the Summertime

Steven A. Adelman

At long last, the summer concert season has arrived, a time that should strike fear and wariness into the heart of every venue manager and security provider.

I will spare you the parade of horribles. Instead, here is a non-exclusive list of risks that are reasonably foreseeable at general admission events, along with some suggestions how to limit your exposure to disaster and litigation.


The biggest risk for a general admission event is the GA floor itself. It is entirely foreseeable that people will push towards the stage, particularly as a major act is about to perform. The crowd managers must carefully consider security deployments and barricade configurations to limit crowd density and to provide safe egress. For this reason, the NFPA Life Safety Code, §, prohibits festival seating in crowds greater than 250 people unless the venue has conducted a formal life safety evaluation.


There are relatively few surprises regarding crowd behavior. Even if the floor is at less than the fire marshal’s maximum capacity, the occupant load can become excessive at the barricades separating the crowd from the stage. Just a few people into the crowd, individuals become virtually invisible once the house lights go down. Through countless crowd disasters, it is well-known that people can be lifted off their feet or asphyxiated by the bodies of other patrons. Because excessive crowd density is a problem inherent in any GA event, there are few good excuses for this reasonably foreseeable situation to turn into a disaster.


Most of the time, the biggest risk of moshing isn’t to the moshers, who generally know what they’re doing and how much pain is consistent with their idea of a good time. Instead, the risk is to patrons who aren’t paying attention until someone crashes into them. If you have enough security to intervene wherever people start moshing, you may be able to prevent most of it. If you don’t want to spend your crowd management resources that way, you will need to warn patrons what moshing is and what to do if they don’t want to be near it. The more ways you help non-moshing patrons make informed decisions where to stand, the less liability your venue faces from a moshing injury.


Unlike moshing, which requires enough space for moshers to get a running start, surfing generally takes place where people are packed tightly enough to make it unlikely that a surfer will be dropped. Assuming the surfer chooses a location with a high enough occupant load to stay aloft, the greatest risk will again be to the innocent bystander who gets kicked in the head or has someone fall on them. And again, your primary options are prevention and warning.


Warning signs are important and necessary, but in a crowded concourse or vom or on a dark GA floor, a written message may have little impact. Your event staff must be posted where patrons can easily ask questions, and event staff training must address your reasonably foreseeable risks. Also, make sure you keep a copy of your pre-event briefing in case it becomes an issue later. Your hourly minimum wage event staff might be long gone by the time a lawyer starts taking depositions, but your notes will be a lasting record of what your venue told patrons about the risks of that evening’s event.


When people get hot, they either drink, or they don’t. Both carry risks. On a warm Summer evening, many people’s refreshment of choice exposes them to more dangers than drinking nothing at all. Soda and alcohol tend to dehydrate a body, and some drugs, such as Ecstasy, have a similar effect. Conversely, patrons who drink too little water for an evening of dancing and close contact can pass out and get trampled before anyone notices. Event staff and security must be trained to recognize signs of intoxication and heat-related distress, and water stations should be easily accessible to GA patrons.

None of this is rocket science. If it were, the law would not require you to solve these riddles. It is precisely because this is reasonably foreseeable to a competent venue operator or security provider, and the solutions are reasonably available, that the law imposes a duty to address the risks of holding GA events. If you fail to adequately protect your patrons, then your venue may join the next parade of horribles.