Stevie Wonder concert had crowd control issues

Looking down Jeanne-Mance from Sherbrooke. That distant point of light is the stage.

Looking down Jeanne-Mance from Sherbrooke. That distant point of light is the stage.

Last week, some guy came to town and performed a free concert. Most of the people who attended couldn’t see him, which I suppose is somewhat ironic because the performer in question was Stevie Wonder.

A giant screen near Clark Street was a couple of blocks away from the stage, but still part of the concert.

A giant screen near Clark Street was a couple of blocks away from the stage, but still part of the concert.

Fans at the Place des Arts plaza watch Stevie Wonder on two big screens, their view of the stage blocked by a building.

Fans at the Place des Arts plaza watch Stevie Wonder on two big screens, their view of the stage blocked by a building.

Organizers, to their credit, planned for the fact that there was no way they could fit 200,000 people into the new Place du Festival or whatever they call it across the street from Place des Arts. So they setup a bunch of giant screens at key locations in the surrounding areas. The crowd stretched from Bleury to St. Laurent, from Sherbrooke to below Ste. Catherine.

Stevie Wonder piggyback

The crowds were so huge, people were literally climbing over each other just to get a view of one of those screens.

Fans sit on a ledge at Place des Arts to watch Stevie Wonder on a giant screen.

Fans sit on a ledge at Place des Arts to watch Stevie Wonder on a giant screen.

Giant screens come with giant projectors

Giant screens come with giant projectors

Others weren’t so impressed:

Some bozo plays with his cellphone instead of watching the concert

Some bozo plays with his cellphone instead of watching the concert

Though in his defence, he did blame the faulty screen:

Stevie looks a bit greener than normal due to a malfunctioning projector at Ste. Catherine and Jeanne-Mance

Stevie looks a bit greener than normal due to a malfunctioning projector at Ste. Catherine and Jeanne-Mance

There were also some cute touches:

Stevie Wonder's image is projected on a building next to his concert.

Stevie Wonder's image is projected on a building next to his concert.

Another projection, this time on the Hyatt

Another projection, this time on the Hyatt

But the crowds kept growing, and that’s where organization started to fall out the window. It wasn’t quite the “EPIC FAIL” some blowhards made it out to be, but there were some significant issues that didn’t seem to be handled in any sensical manner.

Police tape between two vans provides for rather flimsy crowd management

Police tape between two vans provides for rather flimsy crowd management

Sherbrooke Street quickly became obstructed with people trying to get down Jeanne-Mance to watch the show. Police had to improvise to clear a path for emergency use, because the crowd’s density would have made emergencies very dangerous.

But the bigger problem was on the west side. For some reason that was never made clear, nobody was allowed in via Bleury St. (which is where the only open exit to the Place des Arts metro station is). Those who could get close enough to the barriers to hear the security guys clearly were told to enter via Sherbrooke or René-Lévesque, requiring detours of between 400 and 700 metres, where they’d run into shady characters like these guys:

Capitalizing vendors sell Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson T-shirts just outside the Jazz Fest zone

Capitalizing vendors sell Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson T-shirts just outside the Jazz Fest zone

Some decided not to make the trek and were left enjoying this view of the concert:

From a guarded barrier at de Maisonneuve and Bleury, you can barely make out a screen showing Stevie Wonder's face.

From a guarded barrier at de Maisonneuve and Bleury, you can barely make out a screen showing Stevie Wonder's face.

What got me was a few things: there weren’t any signs directing people where to go, the security guards seemed not to know why they weren’t letting anyone in, leaving thousands of people confused (and potentially disappointed thinking they wouldn’t be able to get in anywhere).

A barrier at Ste. Catherine and Bleury allows people out but not in.

A barrier at Ste. Catherine and Bleury allows people out but not in.

But mostly that on the other side of the barrier was this:

Sorry, we're full?

Sorry, we're full?

If there was a good reason to keep a few dozen people from entering the Jazz Festival from here, it wasn’t apparent to me.

Even firefighters had to enjoy the concert from outside the barrier.

Even firefighters had to enjoy the concert from outside the barrier.

Photo JPL has a cool 360 panorama of the concert next to the actual stage.

Where do you hold a concert for 200,000?

The usual crowd-control screwups aside (this was, after all, a special occasion, and those are bound to happen), the event showed most clearly that the brand new addition to the Quartier des Spectacles is far too small to contain the kind of mega crowd someone like Stevie Wonder will attract. Yeah, people can watch the concert on giant screens elsewhere, but what’s the point of going to a live concert if you’re just watching it on TV when you get there?

Montreal has a strange problem with finding the right location for popular events. Our largest stadium sits unused by any of our three major sports teams (if you count the CFL and USL as major leagues). Instead, Olympic Stadium sits empty for all but a few special occasions like a CFL playoff game or a monster truck rally.

The Bell Centre, meanwhile, seats a third of the people of the Big O but routinely sells out. Getting tickets to Habs games is incredibly difficult, and getting tickets to major rock concerts incredibly expensive.

All of that is irrelevant to my question though, as the Stevie Wonder crowd would have required more than three Olympic Stadiums.

So where do you hold a crowd of 200,000 for an event in Montreal? Maisonneuve Park? Mount Royal Park? Turcot Yards?

13 thoughts on “Stevie Wonder concert had crowd control issues

  1. Jean Naimard

    Remember the early 1970’s St-Jean Baptiste celebrations on the Mountain around Baveux Lake? That’s where you crowd more than 200,000 people…

    Reply
  2. Frank H

    How about inside one of the quarries? You could build a parking garage inside the quarry with a lawn on top that slopes down from the edge of the quarry down to the stage. Then in winter it can be transformed into a fairly short ski slope or a large sledding hill.

    Reply
  3. David Pinto

    Yes, Jean, I do remember the St. Jean Baptiste celebrations on the Mountain.
    Actually, what I most remember was the end of the celebrations, when the people I met did not have the foggiest idea of how to get out of there. They were totally lost. They had clearly never been to the Mountain in their lives — what the hey, they lived east of the Mountain.
    Of course, this is nothing new — I can well remember, back in the 1950s when I was growing up, my father would often comment when we were on the Mountain that while you could hear plenty of English up there and loads of other languages, there was almost no French to be heard.
    -0-
    Baveux Lake? No, actually it is Beaver Lake.

    Reply
  4. Youppi!

    The CFL and USL are not major leagues. The Alouettes and Impact are not major sports teams – they play in minor leagues. Montreal only has one major league team now, the Canadiens. It’s a shame, but it’s true. This city doesn’t have the money or the will to be major league any more.

    Reply
  5. Vincent Stephen-Ong

    “The usual crowd-control screwups aside (this was, after all, a special occasion, and those are bound to happen)”

    I disagree here. They’ve been doing this for YEARS. And yet, still, every year, there are NO signs indicating people where to go to enter or exit the concert area, there are giant largely empty areas that no officials seem to be able to tell folks how to access, except that, yes, people are allowed in, etc, etc. It’s really piss poor. The argument that “oh well it’s huge, they did their best” I don’t think is true. I’m absolutely convinced that a better job can be done. Simply *informing* people what direction and how the crowd traffic is supposed to flow in and out would be worlds better than turning them away after they’ve spent 30mins slowly moving up to what turns out to be an impasse.

    Reply
  6. Jim J.

    I see an estimate that there are 1.85 million people who live on the Island of Montreal. That means that approximately 1 in 9 people living on the Island decided to attend the concert, if you assume that the 200,000 figure is accurate.

    You can’t possibly control for that, I don’t care how many police or volunteers you have assigned to crowd control. The SPVM has 4,200 sworn officers. So if you took 1 in 9 of those, you’d have…about 470 officers. To control 200,000 people? Yeah, right. Even if you took every single SPVM officer, you’d still have 1 officer for every 50 spectators.

    One commenter thinks it’s as simple as putting up ‘adequate’ signage. It’s not a matter of putting up signage. Once you have a crowd that large, all the signs in the world won’t do any good. (Remember, signage for this event will be, by its very nature, temporary signage, which is going to be less effective than permanent signage.)

    How could you possibly put up sufficient signage to direct 200,000 individuals, who are arriving at a discreet point by many different methods? (i.e., metro, bus, car, foot, bicycle).

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The signs were perfectly fine directing people out of the metro. Then they disappeared when people got outside.

      And if signs were impossible, all it would have taken is some guy on a megaphone telling people where to go. Instead they had over a dozen security guys just standing next to barriers.

      Reply
  7. caspian

    The signage question is simple enough- FJM organizers already have the site set up in the same place every year. It’s not that hard to look at a brochure or the website (or effin’ google) to find the relatively central location of the festival. Temporary signage, in this case, is far more effective than none. In fact, if there was ANY signage that was properly placed (above crowd height, indicating exits, entrances, etc) that would allow the 1:50 ratio you suggested.

    Additionally, crowd control in this situation isn’t supposed to require police or civil defense personell. It’s a concert, not a riot. All you need are well briefed security staff. I’ve even seen it done with volunteers for smaller events (gay pride, for example, where the parade route is primarily secured by volunteers, and police provide police services). Security, in this case, is nothing more than the direction of spectators. That doesn’t require a police charter. What would have helped was giving the security staff a thorough briefing prior to the show, and having a much better command and control structure (including police liasons that actually communicated). While I wasn’t on the inside of the show, I saw what was going on on the edges, and it’s pretty clear that the various agencies that provide civil services were operating in silos, as usual. This is the sort of situation where that behaviour is really ineffective.

    So, sufficient signage? That’s totally possible. Treat all of the spectators as pedestrians (because they are, regardless of how they arrived). The number of entrances to the area is limited to the number of intersections on the map that were going to be used as overflow from the site- all you’d need to do then is indicate where they were, and tell your security guys how to handle the crowd. You could even use the projectors and screens as signs (hotels and convention centers show the location of their events on screens because they are easy to see and easy to change). The only other major thing to think about then is the Metro and Bus accesses. It’s pretty clear the STM thought about it, but the FJM organizers didn’t.

    It should be noted that most of the parades in Montreal garner about the same number of spectators as the Stevie Wonder show did- the difference is that they’re spread out, they’re better organized (they SPVM handles the crowd control, along with well briefed volunteers, usually) and they aren’t run in a construction site.

    That said, it went off pretty well.

    Reply
  8. Neath

    It all depends on what you expect I guess. I’ve been doing the Jazz fest since year one and, honestly, this was excellent. Considering that 200,000 does not happen all the time,if ever. What do people want? To be sitting comfortably with waiter service? It is what it is and the Jazz fest is well set up. I think they did a good job and give Montrealers a lot of credit for being determined to make this a great event. I haven’t seen such a slow moving crowd in the Metro since Expo, I swear!

    Reply
  9. Neath

    Youppi makes a good point about local sports. I am one of those that believed a downtown ballpark would have been great and saved the Expos. You don’t have to be a sports fan to understand what losing a major league franchise means. And the Grand Prix is gone now too, perhaps not his fault directly, but both losses have come on Tremblay’s watch. We have gone from the promise of a supercity to being Buffalo North with one mayor. Thank God for the Jazz Festival!!!

    Reply
  10. Jim J.

    I’m not certain you can compare the Wonder concert to, for example, the St. Patrick’s Day parade. For the sake of disclosure, I wasn’t at the Stevie Wonder concert, but have been to plenty of other mass events.

    (1) For the St. Patrick’s Day parade, you have many, many people. (200,000? Maybe. Let’s just say so in order to compare apples to apples.) Those 200,000 people are going to be stretched out from about Atwater to Phillips Square; they’re going to be 4 or 5 deep, and if any spectator doesn’t like his/her spot, they just move to a spot that they do like somewhere along the 2 km parade route.

    Contrast this to the concert, where the 200,000 people each wanted to be, more or less, in pretty much the exact same area – anywhere within about 75 to 100 meters from the soundstage – and not in a pure circle, but rather in about a 150-degree arc. There is no possible way to safely pack 200,000 into a space that small.

    The photographs do indicate lots of open space where people could go, but were prevented from doing so by barriers. That may have been, in itself, an attempt at crowd control. I’m not a professional; neither is anyone else here, I imagine, so I won’t speculate beyond that.

    One analagous example is New Year’s Eve in Times Square; estimates range from 700,000 to 1 million people each year. However, that space is about 2.5 times larger in surface area, and they have (I imagine) a lot more police working the crowd, and the crowd is incredibly tightly controlled – Montrealers would never accept that level of control for any event, let alone a free Stevie Wonder concert.

    (2) In a sufficiently large crowd, one person with a megaphone isn’t going to do squat. That’s because, for example, if you take 2,000 people trying to go through one space – let’s say, any given metro exit portal – the guy with the megaphone will actually be heard by about maybe 25% of them, comprehension will impact on about maybe half of that, and about half of that number will actually follow the directions (assuming the directions are correct and easily understood in the first place). Even if you had a megaphone-wielding volunteer at every possible access point (and think about how many of those there are), it still would not be sufficient.

    (3) I will concede that you can erect temporary signage – or create permanent signage that you erect on a temporary basis – but again, my statement in (2) above applies. People mostly don’t pay attention; they don’t read, and when they do, it’s oftentimes like writing on glass with a pencil – it just doesn’t register. Also, they have devoted whole fields of study to what makes ineffective vs. effective signage – you can make a 3-meter tall sign, but if no one reads it, or if it’s unclear, or it’s not placed such that it smacks people right in the face, figuratively speaking, it will end up being ineffective (at best) or counterproductive (at worst).

    Crowds rarely pay attention to people in brightly colored T-shirts that have the word “security” stenciled on the back. Just doesn’t happen. If they want to be over there and they see what appears to be an easy way to get there, they’re not going to listen to some guy who tells them to go some other way.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      There were only three access points – all along Bleury – where entrance was restricted. And the vast majority of people arrived by metro, which funnelled everyone through a single exit.

      Reply
  11. David Pinto

    One person with a megaphone?

    Ah … one question … which language is that person going to speak in?

    Remember … Bill 101 f–ks up everything!

    Reply

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