9 of the Worst Music Festival Disasters in United States History

Not all music festivals are filled with joyful revelry.
Recent decades have witnessed too many music festival disasters.
Recent decades have witnessed too many music festival disasters. / Slavica/E+/Getty Images

Music festivals have surged in popularity over the past few decades, evolving from counter-culture classics like Woodstock to mainstream spectacles such as EDC in Las Vegas. As with any large gathering of people, injuries and even death aren’t inconceivable. Add in factors like drugs and alcohol—which are very popular at festivals—and you’re going to increase that risk. Keep reading to learn about some of the U.S. music festivals that have ended in tragedy.

Route 91 Harvest Festival // 2017 

Not only was the tragic shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas the biggest fatal event at a U.S. music festival, but it was also the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Ultimately 60 people were killed and hundreds more were injured; around 413 were injured from the shooting, and roughly 867 total injuries were sustained from the panic that ensued. Many people are still recovering physically and mentally from the massacre.

Astroworld Festival // 2021 

Memorials to those killed at the Astroworld crowd crush
Memorials to those who died. / Brandon Bell/GettyImages

The 2021 Astroworld concert shocked the nation when a crowd crush incident left 10 dead and over 700 injured. During Travis Scott’s performance, a surge of people pushed toward the stage and literally crushing some attendees to death. The medical term is called compression asphyxia, which is when an external force prevents the body from breathing. Despite efforts to alert staff, by the time people were aware of what was happening, it was too late.

As of May 2024, all 10 victim’s families had settled wrongful death lawsuits with Live Nation and Scott for an undisclosed amount.

South by Southwest // 2014 

Just outside the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, pedestrians and drivers stared in horror as a car turned the wrong way down a street, plowed through a barricade, and tore through a crowd before eventually crashing. The driver was 21-year-old aspiring rapper Rashad Owens, who is now in prison for life. He was driving drunk and evading police when he killed four people and injured around 20 others.

Tragically, in 2024, another drunk driver was evading police outside the SXSW festival when he struck and killed two pedestrians. One, a local chef, died at the scene; the other passed away later at the hospital.

Faster Horses Country Music & Camping Festival// 2021 

Luke Combs performing at the 2021 Faster Horses Festival.
Luke Combs performing at the 2021 Faster Horses Festival. / Erika Goldring/GettyImages

Five people were camping at this country music festival in 2021 when a sixth person found them all unconscious in their trailer. Their portable generator had been set up close to the camper and was letting out exhaust underneath it. A compartment to the camper was unlocked—and therefore unsealed—allowing the fumes to enter the vehicle.

Despite some members of the group noticing an odd smell and another complaining of a headache, the campers did not figure out the cause in time. Three people died from carbon monoxide poisoning while the other two were transported by helicopter to a hospital and ultimately recovered. 

Beyond Wonderland // 2023 

Tragedy struck this SoCal festival put on by Insomniac Events in 2023. James M. Kelley, an active military member, had taken hallucinogenic mushrooms when he began to believe the world was ending. He opened fire on a crowd of people, ultimately killing an engaged couple who was walking by and injuring his girlfriend and two others.

Kelley later pled not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, and one count of first-degree domestic violence assault. His trial is set to begin in August of 2024. The families of the deceased also filed a lawsuit against Live Nation because their policy states no weapons or illegal drugs are allowed inside the festival.

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival // 2013 

Macklemore performing at the 2013 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.
Macklemore performing at the 2013 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. / Erika Goldring/GettyImages

In 2013, an eight-vehicle accident occurred just outside the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival on Interstate 24 when a big rig driver was unable to stop in time as it approached traffic. The vehicle crashed into several cars and a tractor-trailer; both the trucks flipped onto their sides. A couple cars caught fire, and although some people were rescued in time, two people died when the vehicles exploded. The driver of the big rig faced charges that included failure to exercise due care. 

All Good Music Festival // 2011

A pickup truck lost control and rolled down a hill in the camping area of this West Virginia music festival in 2011, striking vehicles and tents. The driver claimed he was told to park on the steep grassy hill; when it came time to leave the festival, he lost control of the car and it slid down the wet grass.

The truck ran over a tent where three friends slept inside and ultimately stopped on top of one of the women, who died from the compression on her chest. Her two friends, both injured, were flown to a hospital and ultimately survived. No charges were filed against the driver of the vehicle, but he was sued by the deceased’s father and one of the injured friends. 

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass // 2015

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell perform onstage during Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, 2015.
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell perform onstage during Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, 2015. / Scott Dudelson/GettyImages

Hardly Strictly is a free annual music event in San Francisco that appears fairly wholesome. But in 2015, 23-year-old Audrey Carey, a backpacker from Canada, was found dead at the festival. She had been murdered by three people who befriended her; it appeared that they had all been using drugs together before the group robbed Carey and left her for dead. They were also accused of killing another woman just days later and are now in jail.

Once Upon a Time in LA // 2021 

Drakeo the Ruler, an up-and-coming rapper, was waiting backstage to perform when a large group of around 40 people ambushed him. He was fatally stabbed during the attack. The rapper’s family filed a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit against Live Nation, claiming the lack of security measures led to the murder. A judge rejected Live Nation’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit in early 2023.

Read More: