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Safety Scuffle Over Polish Woodstock

02:01 PM Friday 8/12/11 | |

A potentially life-threatening crowd crush was narrowly avoided Aug. 6 during a Prodigy show at Przystanek Woodstock, considered to be Europe’s biggest free festival.

A row has erupted regarding crowd barriers, with the act’s production team saying there weren’t enough for an event that claims to have had at least 500,000 on site.

The festival says the pit barrier it provided at Prodigy’s insistence was the cause of the crowd crush, which left up to 100 fans suffering injuries.

Festival organiser Jurek Owsiak has been on Polish TV complaining that the act ruined the event because of its demands, while Prodigy manager John Fairs says Przystanek is “the most unsafe festival” he’s seen in 25 years.

“They seemed to think we wanted the barrier for the band’s protection but that wasn’t a problem because the stage was 20 feet high,” Fairs told Pollstar. “It was for the crowd’s protection. I don’t know how many were injured but it could have been worse because a lot of people were passed over that barrier.”

Fairs says he doesn’t want to be critical of Owsiak but he feels the provision of safety barriers is acknowledged as an essential practice at all festivals in Europe.

“We all have nothing but respect for the great work Mr. Owsiak does for charity, which is why the band came out to support him and the Polish people, but the crowd safety situation does need to be thoroughly re-addressed ahead of any future events,” Fairs said.

The festival is part of Yourope, the European festivals’ association, but Fairs is concerned that it doesn’t follow Yourope’s guidelines on crowd safety.

Przystanek Woodstock – translated as “Bus Stop For Woodstock” and started in 1995 as a tribute to the famous American festival – contractually agreed to provide barriers April 4. But none were in place when the act arrived, Fairs said.

“I insisted on a barrier at the front of the stage or we would have to have pulled the show,” Fairs explained. “We still had to stop the show four times for crowd safety reasons and I was also worried by the amount of lateral movement in the audience.”

He called for all European festivals to adopt the UK Health & Safety Executive’s guide, which stipulates that safety barriers must be placed in front of the stage at all times.

“In reality, an event of this size should and must have several barrier lines,” he said.

The HSE guide says that if audience pressure is expected a front-of-stage barrier will be necessary. Factors to be taken into account include audience density, the likely behaviour and size of the audience and the nature of the venue. For most concerts, some form of front-of-stage barrier will be required.

The other acts appearing at Przystanek Woodstock Aug. 4-6 included Helloween, Airborne, Gentleman, Heaven Shall Burn, Donots, and Dog Eat Dog.


  1. Magiluk1 wrote:

    11:45 AM, Aug 29, 2011


    The Organizers have 17 years of experience of running this festival that reached 0.5M attendees in 2009 and 2010 with no history of barriers in front of the stage. (see for yourself: Papa Roach, no barriers, huge crowd; www.youtube.com/watch)

    Personally, I think the Prodigy's statement was a retaliation for Organizer's unprofessional and frequently chastising behavior towards the band before the concert. Safety issues are easy to pick on and very hard to defend and even 17 years of experience does not convince people that maybe the Organizers are doing it right. Either that or it's an extreme luck that nothing terrible happened... for 17 years ...to millions of people. I hope you realize that the barriers appeared only around the Prodigy's concert and has not been there for most of this year's edition and 16 previous editions of the festival.

    It works: high stage (3.5m up), most people get close to the stage to see the artists so they keep 3m away from the stage to see them at all creating a natural passage between the stage and the front of the crowd. If anyone is tired he/she walks along the natural passage in the very front of the stage to the sides where's plenty of space. There is no chance of a physical contact with artists 3.5m above you so you don't push ahead. No pushing forward, no barriers needed. No barriers, no people being smashed onto them by 700K crowd, no need to stop the concert to ask people to move back (like during the Prodigy's concert). Drawback: the artist are far away, no way to high-five them.

    I felt safe there this year and I am going back for the amazing atmosphere since it's 'the most beautiful festival on Earth'!

    @Southern Boy

    You made me realize why this Festival keeps its low profile - they want to create a unique atmosphere like during Woodstock '69 and not only to invite some big names and become popular. Awesome! Also I think you can have equally great moments with semi-famous (or used to be famous) artists that are more experimental, more interesting, less mainstream than the big names. Thanks!

  2. Southern Boy wrote:

    07:17 PM, Aug 28, 2011

    @ Evster  The lineup makes me think of Woodstock 99, which on the saturday of that festival had Limp Bizkit, Rage Against The Machine, and then Metallica one after another.  Doesn't make one think of Woodstock with all of the aggressiveness.  We all saw how that one ended.

  3. DeltaSigChi4 wrote:

    06:18 PM, Aug 28, 2011

    I do not know how a crowd of that size can be safe without barriers. I have been to A LOT of festivals of all genres. Of course I can be enlightened.


  4. Magiluk1 wrote:

    12:33 PM, Aug 28, 2011

    Hi All,

    I hope all of you who read that article feel its narrow-mindedness.

    Please consider the following facts:

    1) It was 17th Woodstock Bus Stop festival which has successfully managed a slightly smaller crowds for 17 years WITHOUT ANY serious accidents

    2) The barriers led to people just next to them being crushed by the crowd (!) - there were too many people for the barriers to be effective and safe at that setting

    3) The festival's HIGHEST PRIORITY is SAFETY (!) and don't let anyone say who was there for a short time that it is not (!). The organizers have developed a barrier-free security system. First of all, it's not a barrier maze and people can move relatively freely through this huge unfenced area even in worst case scenario; there is a buffer between crowd and a stage (the stage is 4m high so people push back a leave a 2-3m zone to rest or for help if needed); they use a lot of lights so people know what's going on around them and to avoid panic (!); they monitor the crowd behaviour to be able to prevent dangerous situations; they sprinkle crowd with water to reduce the heat of an event and prevent panic

    4) It was said that the group agreed to no-barriers strategy during one of the meeting, but without amending the contract. Why? It was not the first time a group asked for barriers but then dropped the claim once they reached and saw the festival. NO BAND IN 17 EDITIONS OF THE FESTIVAL INSISTED ON HAVING BARRIERS. On the contrary, many bands were impressed by the atmosphere of safety on the festival. Have a look at videos from the festival:


    Woodstock Bus Stop festival is a great event, promoting stop violence, stop drugs philosophy combined with rock'n'roll. It creates a great atmosphere and The Prodigy have interfered with the safety strategy by delaying the start of their concert by 40 min (mind the heat and the crowd) and dimming the lights. Though it was the biggest performance the Woodstock Bus Stop Festival has seen, it has hosted huge crowds throughout its history - Papa Roach, Guano Apes, Die Toten Hosen, Killing Joke, The Stranglers and knows how to manage people and care for their safety. Come and see for yourself.

    Evster  - it's an event that combines folk, ska, punk rock, metal and reggae music. It's not only hippie oriented but opened to any kind of music like the bands that you mentioned.

  5. Evster wrote:

    10:56 AM, Aug 15, 2011

    Does anyone else see the irony of a festival claiming solidarity with Woodstock having acts named "Heaven Shall Burn" and "Dog Eat Dog"???