Recapping the nastiest moments Lollapalooza has yet witnessed during its four years as a reinvented destination festival in Grant Park, here's what happened as Rage Against the Machine performed in the headlining slot at the southern end of Hutchinson Field Saturday night, pieced together by myself and the Sun-Times freelancers on the scene, fellow reporter and critic Anders Smith Lindall and photographer Marty Perez, from what we saw ourselves and two dozen interviews with security and medical personnel and eyewitnesses.
Bodies pulled from the front of the stage during the set by Rage Against the Machine. A C3 staffer in the photo pit with the photographers and S3 Security personnel tried to discourage shots of the turbulence in the crowd, at one point grabbing a photographer's lens and redirecting it. Photos by Marty Perez for the Sun-Times
Hardcore Rage fans began positioning themselves near the AT&T Stage even before the start of Lupe Fiasco's set at 6:30 p.m., and numerous casualties from heat and exhaustion were passed over the barricade in front of the stage during the long wait.
By the time the wailing sirens signaled the start of Rage's set at 8:30, things were ready to boil over, and they did.
The crowd surged forward with a violent energy unusual even for a high-octane show such as this: Several longtime photographers and veteran security guards used to the wild ways of the pit said it was as bad as they've ever seen it, and they estimated that more than three dozen people in danger of being crushed were hauled over the barricades to safety during the first two Rage songs, "Testify" and "Bulls on Parade."
Sun-Times freelance photographer Perez emerged battered and bruised after the three songs the press was allowed to photograph, and in the chaos of one body coming over the security barrier, he lost a $2,000 lens.
After that third song, "People of the Sun," singer Zack de la Rocha started urging the crowd to calm down and "please take four, five, six steps back."
"We got enough problems out there in the streets with these f---ed up politicians and cops. Save that s--- for the streets," he said.
The set resumed, but things broke down again for nearly five minutes after "Know Your Enemy," with de la Rocha saying Rage would have to stop its performance unless people calmed downed immediately.
"We've already had a few people hurt. Unless we get together and help, we're going to cut it short."
The long breather that followed seemed to somewhat subdue the more boneheaded elements of the crowd, and the band started to play again, with de la Rocha announcing, "This one is called 'Bullet In Your Head.'"
Within those first four songs, security was reporting two fans forcibly ejected, with one of them riding away in a squad car. Medical personnel said they were treating "a lot" of people for bruises and dehydration but could not give an exact number.
As Rage performed inside the park, a huge crowd of people listened while standing or sitting on the grass across Columbus Drive; police and security were not allowing anyone on the eastern side of the street closest to the park.
Throughout the day, countless people jumped the fences to gain free admittance; the Sun-Times photographed some of them, reports were plentiful from many other journalists on the scene and Perez even saw a whole family--a man, a woman and their toddler--jump the fence before the Rage set.
Shortly before 9:30 p.m., about two-thirds of the way through Rage's show, a crowd that one festival security guard said was "500, minimum; easily 500, probably a lot more" and another said was "2,000, no doubt about it" formed a flying wedge that ran across Columbus Drive and through a guarded access gate south of Balbo Drive.
NEW: Just found this image of the surge (or the tail end of it) from Getty Images, posted on Idolator.com.
The opening for this mass surge came when the gate opened to allow the CTA bus that had been parked in that area to leave. Throughout the festival, buses were parked around the perimeter with their engines idling to provide cooling stations for the overheated concertgoers, even though Saturday was the most pleasant day Lollapalooza has yet witnessed, with a high of 80 degrees. As the bus pulled out, people stormed in, overwhelming security guarding the gate.
New details emerging from additional reporting onsite Sunday morning:
According to security personnel who were on the scene, the incident happened some time after the CTA bus pulled out. What prompted it was a C3 staffer ordering security to open the access gate to ease a bottleneck in the crowd already in the park. Concertgoers were jammed on a stairway leading down to Hutchinson Field, and some wanted to leave the crowd.
Security initially resisted opening the gate, believing "It was a bad call, bad judgment" by the C3 employee to open an access point that was not supposed to be unlocked until after Rage's performance ended. But when the C3 staffer insisted, security complied, and as people began to leave Grant Park, the crowd across the street seized the moment: "They bum-rushed the gate like they were in Korea protesting the Olympics."
The flying wedge of gate crashers entered the park and broke into two contingents, one simply rushing down the stairs and into the field and another hopping a high fence to gain access to the field through the V.I.P. areas and luxury cabanas.
Below: Scene of the crime on Sunday morning: The camera is positioned in front of the access gate that was crashed; the path leads toward the stairs on the right down to Hutchinson Field. On the left in the foreground is a small wooden fence that half of the gate crashers stormed over; on the left in the distance are the V.I.P. cabanas that the rest of the uninvited guests decided to visit. Photo by Anders Smith Lindall
One eyewitness said several police officers were near the gate and initially tried to stop the flood of crashers. One officer was struck by a gate crasher, and at that point, his supervisor ordered officers out of the park and onto Columbus Drive.
At another point during the show, security personnel said, a similar surge of fans--either gate-crashers (most likely) or suddenly over-excited concertgoers who had tired of Wilco's set in the north--stormed past Buckingham Fountain in the center of the park and rushed onto Hutchinson Field en masse in the south.
During both of these crowd surges, people in the already packed field "got trampled," shoved and knocked over as the newcomers stormed in.
On his way south from the Wilco show, Lindall witnessed the surge from the bus gate and ran toward the gate to see what was happening. "You've got to get out of here; they're running over people," he was told by a security guard.
Shortly after the surge, I interviewed several people who had witnessed it, including a second security worker and a freelance photographer who shot it all and showed me dozens of images of the incident from start to finish. (Time Out Chicago has some images of the aftermath and more reporting posted here. The Windy Citizen has another report here.)
The influx of non-paying customers through the gate was only stopped after about 10 minutes when 10 Chicago Police officers and two ranking officials all appeared on horseback. "The horses scared everybody and finally it stopped so we could close the gate," a security guard said.
"It took horses and trucks to close this," another added.
Numerous police vehicles also rushed to the trouble spot, and Columbus Drive was sealed off.
By 9:45 p.m., the situation on Columbus was once again in control. To their credit, police did not hassle the remaining crowd of about 500 people on the western side of the street who continued to listen to Rage from that distance.
Speaking to the crowd late in the set, de la Rocha showed a much more qualified support for Barack Obama than is otherwise in evidence at Lollapalooza. According to the local blog Windy Citizen.com, de la Rocha said, "We know brother Obama. But I tell you what, if he comes to power come November and doesn't start pulling troops out of Afghanistan, I know a lot of people who are gonna stand up and burn down every office of [the] Senate."
Once the music stopped, the mass exodus of 75,000 from the park once Rage and Wilco finished by the 10 p.m. curfew seemed to take place with no major incidents.
None of the publicists for promoters or key production people with C3 Presents could be found onsite during or after the Rage performance to comment, but the Chicago Tribune is reporting that a security official with concert promoters C3 Presents said there were no major problems: "A lot of people want to see this band. You can't really blame them for wanting to get into the show. But it wasn't anything we couldn't handle."
Sunday morning, the primary promoter with C3 Presents, Charlie Jones, could not be reached because his voice mail was full and not accepting new messages. C3 publicist Shelby Meade also could not be reached for comment.
New: The response from promoters C3 Presents
Reached onsite Sunday morning and asked about the events on Saturday, Lollapalooza spokesperson Shelby Meade said, "The weather's great."
Questioned specifically about the gate-crashing, Meade added: "Things happen. The police handled it beautifully. There were many, many less than you said... It was inaccurate."
Asked if additional security measures would be taken Sunday to prevent further gate-crashing incidents, Meade said: "The police have handled it beautifully. You're going to have some of those things happen but we're all working beautifully between the city and our production, so it's all actually run smooth. Which is cool. Everyone has been working well together."
Meade did not provide specifics for concertgoers given emergency medical treatment onsite, but said fewer were treated Saturday than on Friday.
"The weather's great, which keeps everything to really--that's why it's fewer, you know, last night, 'cause you don't have as many people overheating. We had less than Friday. I don't have exact numbers."
Questioned by Sun-Times freelancer Anders Smith Lindall about the decision by a C3 staffer to open the access gate early, Meade said: "We opened the doors. To allow for flow to come out, we opened these doors, and they just came in. People need to exit, so we opened some of the doors, and they decided to invite themselves in. It's not like they crashed.
"We always have access. We did it with Radiohead. We opened it up to allow traffic flow out. 'Cause normally you come in and [unintelligible], but you have to open some of the exit doors to allow flow, so--but everybody was there, so it was OK. It was fine."
New numbers on medical treatment, updated 1:20 p.m.
Contacted for official comment, management of Safety Service Systems (or S3, the company that handles event security for Lollapalooza and is widely respected throughout Chicago as the class of such providers) referred inquiries to Lolla spokesperson Meade.
The festival's First Aid provider, Medical and Safety Engineering, Inc. (MASE) estimated that at least 40 concertgoers were transported to area hospitals yesterday. MASE owner Jake Willens said he believed about 30 concertgoers were similarly transported on Friday.
While the First Aid tents saw few sick or injured attendees in the early part of Saturday, "from 8 to 10 last night, we got served," Willens said. Rage Against the Machine took the stage at 8:30.
"We had six ambulances and they ran non-stop" to hospitals, Willens said. Most of those were "lower extremity injuries" such as twisted or broken feet, ankles, legs and knees that happened people were stepped on by surging crowds or in mosh pits. A nurse recoiled when she told of treating an open fracture last night; "the bone was sticking out," she said.
Even so, Willens said, the number of serious injuries and illnesses his crew has treated this year aren't out of line with previous Lollapaloozas, and certain maladies (such as drug overdoses) have been less frequent so far.
But the weekend's not over. "Every year Sunday is the worst," Willens said. "It doesn't matter what band they put in here. People get to Sunday and they want to get their last partying in."
New numbers on arrests: Updated 3:30 p.m.
Chicago Police Department spokeswoman Monique Bond reports: "Six arrests on Friday, seven Saturday. They're probably disorderly conduct. They're nothing major."
Did you photograph or witness the crowd surge or any of the injuries during the Rage Against the Machine set? Send your pictures and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them here.
More images from the photo pit at the front of the stage during the set by Rage Against the Machine. Photos by Marty Perez for the Sun-Times
Below: A more cheerful moment in the crowd during the hours leading up to Rage Against the Machine.
Below: Fans after the show. The shirt's inscription reads "Rage Against The Machine--The Battle of Chicago."