As thousands of revelers traverse the thick mud trapping them at the Burning Man celebration in Nevada, another iconic music festival in New York is dealing with issues of its own, with concertgoers sounding the alarm over what they say were dangerous conditions and lackluster management.
Electric Zoo, a three-day electronic dance music (EDM) festival, takes place annually on New York City’s Randall’s Island, attracting tens of thousands of people. Last year, a staggering 100,000 people from all 50 states and dozens of countries came to partake in the festival over Labor Day weekend.
This year, Electric Zoo, also known as EZoo, was mired in controversy, as festival organizers announced unusual setbacks and technical difficulties.
On Friday, festival organizers abruptly decided to close doors just hours before gates were set to open, attributing the sudden cancelation to “unparalleled challenges” and “unexpected delays” in construction. That night, artists like Kx5 (Deadmau5 and Kaskade), Galantis, and The Chainsmokers were expected to headline.
On Saturday, the second day of the festival, organizers suddenly announced that doors would open to the public two hours after initially scheduled. When the crowds arrived, the stages were still not done and the screens did not properly function, two concertgoers told The Messenger.
Broken Screens and Incomplete Stages
Organizers posted photos of the festival all weekend, but social media users say the photos don’t accurately depict what actually went on. One photo, for example, shows thousands of people staring ahead at eight lit-up screens. One Facebook user asked if the screens in the photo were doctored. Another said, “Weird, I counted 3 screens working of the 8 all night.”
The same photo posted to Instagram garnered dozens of similar comments from angry festivalgoers.
One female concert guest spoke to The Messenger about her experience at the festival on Saturday and shared photos of the main stage, adding that about half the screens were off.
She said some screens had light beams going down vertically, which indicated to her that the screens were broken or not functioning correctly. She also said what appeared to be error messages were appeared on the broken screens.
Photos of the screens reviewed by The Messenger showed what appeared to be numerical screen labels, like SR 2 and SR 3, displayed instead of the performance.
“It was an absolute disaster and an embarrassment,” she said, adding that the screens would sometimes show the performing artist, and then just suddenly shut off without warning.
A male partygoer who also went to EZoo on Saturday said he was surprised to see that multiple stages appeared to be incomplete after he entered the festival grounds about an hour and a half after doors opened.
He said stages had “missing panels” and broken displays.
“It was very clear that they didn’t finish constructing the stage, but they put the show on anyway,” he said.
For him, it was especially disappointing that the screens didn’t work properly, because, he said, a big part of the EDM experience is watching the visuals on screen.
Large, Unmanaged Crowds
During the actual performances, there were little to no staff managing the crowds, the male concertgoer said. In previous years, like in 2022 and 2021 when the man went to EZoo, he said he noticed “people with flashlights walking around, looking for people on the floor.” This year, he said he didn’t see any of that.
“It didn’t seem like there was anyone trying to manage the flow of people,” he said.
The crowds only got worse as the night progressed, eventually closing with what the two EZoo attendees said could have easily erupted into a terrifying scene at the end of day 2.
While it is common knowledge that leaving Randall’s island after a major music festival is a crowded affair and takes time to maneuver, the concertgoers said that this year lacked any of the safety measures or security staff provided in previous years to get people off the island safely.
“We were just standing shoulder to shoulder with like 10,000 people squeezing into this thing,” the male concertgoer added.
The situation could have quickly gotten out of hand if festival goers did not remain calm the whole time, the woman said. She said that while trying to get off the island, she couldn’t shake the feeling that the crowd would get unruly and escalate into a crowd surge or stampede. The deadly crowd crush at Travis Scott’s Astroworld two years ago rang in her mind.
She said at one point she heard someone in the crowd shouting for a medic. She said someone appeared to have passed out. No medic showed up, and crowd members took care of the individual themselves by passing out water and making space.
“If someone panicked, this would have been a disaster,” she said.
Still, some people were frantically searching for an exit. They tried to climb fences. The woman said she felt the burden of crowd control fell on her at those moments, as she directed festivalgoers to follow the path and avoid climbing over the fences.
The woman said it took her 2.5 hours to make it off the island. In previous years, it took about an hour.
The male concertgoer said he heard at least three different people shout for a medic at three separate points while exiting the island. It’s unclear why those people were asking for a medic.
EZoo did not immediately return The Messenger’s request for comment.
The festival proceeded on Sunday. But the female concertgoer said she believes festival organizers shouldn’t have opened the doors — and she wants a refund.
“What they promised they did not deliver,” she said. “And they should have not opened yesterday.”
She said that her Saturday experience at EZoo turned her off so much that she plans to never return.
2,600 Miles Away, More Unsafe Conditions
EZoo participants are not the only ones contending with safety concerns and difficulties.
Thousands of people at this year’s Burning Man in Nevada are stranded as heavy flooding rips through the desert.
The festival this year was anticipated to run between August 27 and September 4. But near the close of the festival, most operations have been entirely halted or “significantly delayed,” according to the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office.
Officials are urging people to “avoid traveling to the area.”
Burning Man attendees are scrambling as they remain stranded at their campsites. People are unable to use portable toilets because vehicle access has been cut off.
Organizers urged attendees to conserve food and water, saying closures could be lengthy.