Last weekend’s calamitous Fyre Festival raised the bar for festival failures, from the sweaty cheese and limp salads that were apparently passed off as meals to the quickly disseminated insider reports of the organizers being in so over their heads that they forgot simple things – like requiring workers to sign non-disclosure agreements. But Fyre is hardly the only festival to stumble because of a combination of the elements and human error. The five festivals below all had what can be kindly referred to as rough years as well – some bounced back, while others folded up like tents in a downpour.
The 1990 installment of Britain’s best-known music festival, wrote James Delingpole of the London Telegraph, amounted to “three days of mud, rain, putrid latrines and near-asphyxiation,” thanks to soaked grounds and a then-record-setting crush of people in attendance to hear The Cure, Sinéad O’Connor, and acid-house guru Adamski. But the festival’s immediate aftermath was the real disaster. A group of travelers, roving citizens who had been a constant presence at the festival since its inception in the 1970s, had been given their own adjacent field that year to host free music by the likes of Ozric Tentacles and Hawkwind. After the official show came to a close, they hung around the site in order to forage through the grounds’ plentiful trash supply. Their dumpster-diving eventually led to a clash with security that would later be referred to as the “Battle of Yeoman’s Bridge.” It was a nasty, violent scrape that, according to one observer, “looked a bit like the old Wild West meets Mad Max.” Glastonbury skipped its next year in order to reconfigure its security setup, and the travelers were gradually pushed out of the Glastonbury picture.
Woodstock ’99 was, from the start, more aggro than both its 1969 forbearer and the 1994 anniversary edition – it rode the growing hard rock trend and featured a bill that included thrash titans Metallica, nu-metal upstarts like Korn and Limp Bizkit, and the politically charged Rage Against the Machine. It was, as Jenny Eliscu wrote in Rolling Stone, emblematic of “a generation that might answer the question, ‘What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?’ with a punch in the nose.” But the lengthy list of problems with the three-day festival was almost as long as the porta-potties’ queue: Soaring temperatures on the Griffiss Air Force Base tarmac led to water being even more of a necessity, and those concertgoers who hadn’t brought supplies from home experienced sticker shock when they were told that bottles of water cost four bucks a pop; horrorcore duo Insane Clown Posse (who no doubt learned how not to run their own Gathering of the Juggalos during this experience) tossed $100 bills into the crowd, causing a minor stampede; pre-RFID era fake wristbands meant the grounds were packed beyond what organizers expected; and male attendees were generally gross toward their female counterparts, with sexual assaults reported on the grounds.
The festival was capped off by some showgoers taking it upon themselves to hear Red Hot Chili Peppers’ cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” as a call for actual flames. “Is it entirely surprising that Woodstock ’99 dissolved into senseless, directionless violence?” asked Toronto Star columnist Ben Rayer in his postmortem. “Not really. Nearly every aspect of the festival – a program seething with angry-young-male rage, its location on a former nuclear-weapons storage site, the crass omnipresence of commercial opportunism masquerading as rebellion, the widespread program of alcoholic and narcotic self-obliteration, the Lord Of The Flies-ish final hours of flaming, drum-driven anarchy – was as emblematic of the ’90s as love beads and long beards were of the ’60s.”
The rainstorms that flooded the U.K. during the summer of 2012 didn’t stop more than 55,000 people from trying to attend this three-day festival that featured Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen – but it did impede their trips via car and boat across to and from the island. Concertgoers trying to get to the Isle of Wight via car were stuck in gridlock that lasted long enough to allow for in-vehicle napping – 350 cars became trapped in mud near the grounds’ approach, the Daily Mail reported, resulting in a five-mile jam that led to 10-hour delays. Ferry riders were trapped as well, thanks to problems with docking boats. Once people arrived at the site, they were forced to pitch their tents in a sizeable amount of mud. Yet things were fine musically – “amidst all the chaos, there was a great festival taking place,” wrote James Lachno in the London Telegraph – and there were even some relatively pastoral areas that allowed users to at least take some of their mind off the drenched patches of land.
The two-day Bloc festival boasted an impressive lineup of hip-hop heavyweights like Snoop Dogg and DOOM alongside DJs and producers like Flying Lotus and Ricardo Villaobos, but its execution left a lot to be desired. On day one, people who had arrived at relatively early waited in line for upwards of two hours, causing some to jump the barriers; bars ran out of beer before the clock struck 10:30; tents became impossibly – and unexpectedly – crowded early on. Day one – which one social media user referred to as “the middle of a car crash” – shut down early, and the second day was eventually canceled outright: “We are all absolutely devastated that this happened, but the safety of everyone on site was paramount,” said the organizers. Part of the problem stemmed from infrastructure issues: the fest’s site, London Pleasure Gardens, had told the organizers early on that a 2,800-capacity venue called The Hub would be ready in time for the July 2012 event, but reversed that claim two weeks before kickoff; other areas of the Pleasure Gardens were off-limits to attendees because of pre-Olympic construction. After taking a few years off to regroup, Bloc returned in 2015 to positive reviews, but in 2016 the collective behind it announced that their festival-throwing days were over and that they’d focus on their London nightclub.
While the lineup at the third installment of this 2015 American spinoff of the Belgian festival TomorrowLand boasted big-name EDM DJs like Kaskade and David Guetta – as well as an appearance by Shaquille O’Neal – heavy rain put a damper on the festival’s actual execution. The 8,000-acre Georgia farm place quickly turned into a mud pit; by day two, the organizers had decided to limit shuttle service back to nearby Atlanta. (People who weren’t camping needed to hike home or find available Ubers — whose surge pricing was reportedly as high as 5.9 times the normal fare —in order to dry off.) The festival’s third day was only open to people who were already on the grounds, although that didn’t stop people from trying to brave the weather and broach the gates. TomorrowWorld has not come back to the States since, although the Belgian edition is still scheduled for July.