After what happened at the Fyre Festival, there’s been a lot of talk about how it ended up becoming one of the worst concerts of all time. Typically, concert producers can avoid most disasters through the proper application of logistics (learn more about that here). But the producers at Fyre Fest managed to screw everything up without the help of any drunken rockstars.
The fact is that there’s always some risk involved when putting on a live show. Especially when the show involves anyone named “Axl.” Counting down from five, let’s take a look at the worst concerts of all time.
5. Sex Pistols at the Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, 1978
It might be shocking that the most famous performance from one of the most important bands of all time would be on this list. But true to form, the Sex Pistols never failed to shock. Prior to the San Francisco gig, the Pistols had been causing near riots on most of the stops of their first (and last) US tour. In Dallas, bassist Sid Vicious was punched in the face, mid-performance, by a female fan. By the time they arrived in San Francisco for the last show of the tour, the band was pretty worked over. The show was plagued by feedback, lousy sound and a performance by Sid Vicious that exposed the young heroin aficionado as a completely incompetent musician, even by punk standards. Lead singer Johnny Rotten heckled the audience throughout the set and closed the show by delivering one of the most famous lines in rock n’ roll history: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” It was their final performance.
4. Guns N’ Roses at the Warfield, San Francisco, 2006
When Axl Rose and a bunch of dudes who aren’t named Slash, Izzy, Steven or Duff played San Francisco’s Warfield Theater in 2006, it had been 13 years since Guns n’ Roses’ last Bay Area show. To show his appreciation for the long-suffering fans, Axl started the concert two hours late. They opened the show by firing off massive pyrotechnic explosives inside the intimate theater. While this sounds cool on paper, every hard rock fan in America was still painfully aware that the band Great White had accidentally burned over a hundred people to death doing the same thing at a club gig only three years earlier. Six songs into the set, Axl ordered his band to stop playing as they were halfway through “Sweet Child O’ Mine” so he could have security eject a fan for giving him the middle finger. Shockingly, the show went further downhill from there. At one point, Rose sat down at the piano and just noodled around for about five minutes before standing up and throwing a tantrum at one of the sound engineers. He removed his wireless in-ear monitor pack and hurled it at the man, berated him for “ruining” the show. Still, for a show riddled with tantrums and even the threat of being burned alive, the most disappointing thing about it was having to see a guy named “Bumblefoot” try to fill in for Slash.
3. Kanye West at the Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, 2016
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Kanye West is what a truly great creator he is. Because, if it wasn’t for that, it would be very, very easy to dislike the guy. Case in point: his 2016 “Saint Pablo” tour. It had a groundbreaking set design, emotional performances and featured music from his latest album, The Life of Pablo. By all accounts, it should have rivaled “Watch the Throne” as the greatest tour in the history of hip hop. But that wasn’t meant to be. After disappointing fans earlier on the tour when he cancelled a show at the LA Forum just 40 minutes into the performance, ‘Ye decided to improvise some new material at his Sacramento gig. And by “new material” I mean he decided to go on a bizarre, 17-minute rant. Instead of performing music for the paying audience, he rambled on about his support for Donald Trump and aired a list of petty grievances he had toward Jay Z and Beyoncé. West played only three songs before walking out and abruptly cancelled the remaining dates of the tour.
2. Amy Winehouse at the Tuborg Festival, Serbia, 2011
On June 18, 2011, Amy Winehouse was at the height of her career. Sadly, she was also in the depths of her struggle with substance abuse. It was on that night that Ms. Winehouse took the stage at the Tuborg Festival in Belgrade, Serbia. Instead of coming out and wowing the crowd of 20,000, she showed up drunk, incoherent and unable to perform. For the next 90 minutes, she slurred and stumbled her way through the set. The audience reacted with a mixture of anger, disappointment and concern as they witnessed the doomed singer coming undone before their eyes. In attendance was the musician Moby, who described the scene by saying “Amy was just standing there, swaying back and forth and mumbling occasionally… the band was playing quietly and looking uncomfortable and the audience was looking on in disbelief.” Even Serbian Defence Minister Dragan Sutanovac weighed in, calling the show “a huge shame and a disappointment.” It should have been a wake up call for the troubled singer. Sadly, she failed to take the call. Amy Winehouse passed away just one month later.
1. Donald Trump’s Inauguration
To millions of Americans, the fact that this concert even took place is a massive disappointment. But I’ll stick to the musical reasons for this particular failure. Following the most divisive national election of the modern era, it was up to President-elect Donald J. Trump to perform his first job as the leader of the free world. And that job was to put on a show for his inauguration. Unfortunately for Mr. Trump, he had managed to alienate most of the entertainment industry during his campaign (with the notable exception of Kanye West). When it came time to book the show, organizers realized they weren’t going to be able to get the sort of A-list talent who would usually consider this gig an honor (this was even after offering princely sums of money to perform.) Instead, they were forced to settle for “Red Solo Cup” singer Toby Keith. Sharing the bill were 3 Doors Down (a band that has an upcoming gig at a water slide park in Baton Rouge), The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (who had a member quit in protest rather than perform) and “America’s Got Talent” runner-up Jackie Evancho. Regardless of where you stand politically, the concert featured a lineup more suited to a county fair than to the inauguration of the President of the United States. Fans and foes of Mr. Trump can agree on one thing: this concert sucked.
If you’re in the live music business, you definitely want to avoid ending up on a list like this one. While you can’t control everything that can go wrong, proper preparation can help you avoid most of the common disasters that plague concert producers. If you’d like to learn more, join us for our free webinar on Tuesday, May 16, Festival Logistics: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You.