Safety Scuffle Over Polish Woodstock

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.