Festival riots: A timeline of carnage

Crowds at Ben and Jerry Sundae on the Park 2011 by Shirlaine Forrest
Crowds at Ben and Jerry Sundae on the Park 2011 by Shirlaine Forrest

London's burning and Joe Strummer is dead. The city woke up to scenes of wanton destruction and vandalism this morning as the full extent of a riot that has now spread as far as Birmingham and Manchester gripped the nation.

These incidents aren’t entirely new to London, a city plagued by mob violence in the early eighties, it’s also a phenomenam that has decades of history in music festivals.

Here we look back through the four worst cases of violence and find out what caused some of the ugly scenes. Virtual Festivals also wants to remind you that they thoroughly deplore any kind of violence or illegal behaviour and suggest people thinking about doing such things think about making love not riots.

Red Hot Chili Peppers at Woodstock Festival, 1999

What started as a commercially lucrative attempt to recreate the most world-renowned festival of all time would turn quickly sour. It had less free love than Ann Widdecombe and ran into trouble early on as reports of violence and looting during Limp Bizkit’s Saturday night set were downplayed by organisers and police.

On Sunday, the final day of the concert, the heat escalated and for a Red Hot Chili Peppers headline performance the trouble in the crowd overflowed as there was wild fires and a number of reports of sexual assault. The band would later compare it to a scene from ‘Apocalypse Now’ and defend their cover of Hendrix’s ‘Fire’, saying it was not provocation to start the fires.

Download Festival, 2006

Traditionally a peaceful metal festival set at the maternal home of metal, Donington, this year was to be the most explosive of its short history. Triggered by a late arrival from Axl Roses’ Guns N Roses on the Sunday night, fans were left disappointed after a short set full of interruptions and with that they welcomed the end of paradise.

The campsite went up in flames and riot police were called in the early hours to support fire engines and calm crowds. Twelve people were arrested and thankfully the festival has never again seen such scenes.

Altamont Free Concert, 1969

The daddy of the concert riot, Altamont Free Concert pretty much invented the term. It ended in one homicide and three accidental deaths: two caused by a hit-and-run car accident and one by drowning in an irrigation canal. Coming to a head with a Rolling Stone‘s set – the band had, with some naivety, booked the Hells Angels as security, feeling they would be safe hands. Recorded for prosperity for the documentary ‘Gimme Shelter’ the footage remains one of the finest pieces of band documentary  as Jagger can be seen looking over the carnage in fear and uncertainty.

Glastonbury Festival, 1990

What ended up as the final farewell to the new-age travellers, who had regularly made Worthy Farm their home, began as a pleasant enough weekend of The Cure, Happy Mondays and Sinead O’Connor. But there was no happy monday for the travellers who clashed with police in the early morning. The Battle of Yeoman’s Bridge, as it’s come to be known, was a result of security reportedly tackling a single traveller who was drunk and destroying the site. In retaliation the travellers attacked security across the site with home-made weapons whilst security tried to hold their own with petrol bombs. The clash was enough to persuade Michael Eavis that the free travellers field entrance would be scrapped and in future many would be banned from the site all-together.

Every riot has a soundtrack, from Bob to Rage, and every disenfranchised youth needs to learn his or hers so click here for our festival riot soundtrack on Spotify.