Several injured during stampede at New Orleans concert
Following a Meek Mill performance, about 15,000 people panicked and ran causing a stampede that injured several during the Lil WeezyAna Fest
By Keith Spera
NOLA Media Group, New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS — Several fans attending Lil Wayne's outdoor Lil WeezyAna Fest in New Orleans were injured during a crowd stampede following rapper Meek Mill’s performance Saturday night.
Large segments of an audience on the grounds of the UNO Lakefront Arena estimated at 15,000 panicked and ran. Police were not sure what triggered the disturbance but speculated that there were false reports of gunfire or possibly a fight.
A medical tent and concession booths near the stage were overrun, and sections of fencing were pushed down. The medical tent was left in tatters on the ground.
Medical tent at Lil WeezyAna Fest a victim of stampede. Some fans now being treated for minor injuries. Show still going on pic.twitter.com/tz7kOEUaP2— Keith Spera (@KeithSpera) September 8, 2019
The wood frames and sheet metal fronts of several beverage booths were destroyed; tables were overturned in a frenzied rush. Some people then took the opportunity to steal, concessions employees said. Cash registers and tip jars were knocked over; money and personal items were taken.
Fearing for their safety, the concession staffers abandoned the booths. Some attendees then poured themselves drinks or took bottles of liquor and other beverages.
Meanwhile, the show went on.
Following the disturbance, rapper Travis Scott performed. Lil Wayne, the five-year-old festival's namesake and headliner, brought out several surprise guests, including the rapper Future, DJ Khaled and local favorites Choppa and Cheeky Blakk.
The first Lil WeezyAna Fest in 2015 coincided with the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and was intended in part as a celebration of the city's recovery. The first four editions were staged downtown at Bold Sphere Music at Champions Square.
By moving to the grounds behind the UNO Lakefront Arena, the festival, which is produced by Live Nation Entertainment's urban music division, doubled its previous capacity of about 7,500.
All VIP tickets for Saturday sold out well in advance. General admission tickets were $75.
The festival site at UNO included a Ferris wheel, the spinning "Sizzler" ride, fair-style game booths, food trucks and other vendors.
Gates opened at 2:30 p.m. on a blazingly hot day. A procession of lesser-known artists performed short sets throughout the afternoon.
By the time Meek Mill arrived onstage at 8 p.m. for his 30-minute show, the crowd was packed tightly in the barricaded VIP area and general admission "pit" area.
As the day and night wore on, some fans succumbed to the heat and crush. Between Travis Scott's and Lil Wayne's sets, the stage emcee called for medical personnel, asking for "a stretcher at the right side of the stage."
At one point, the emcee told the crowd, "I need everybody to be cool. No pushing or we're gonna shut this (expletive) down."
One 17-year-old girl who lost consciousness was treated in an ambulance near the destroyed medical tent. After she recovered, she left with friends.
The initial cause of the panic that briefly caused pandemonium, and injuries, starting at 8:40 p.m. was not clear.
"My brother said to me and my cousin, 'Run. Just run. I don’t know what’s happening,'" local attorney Melanie Melasky recalled. "I turned around at one point to see what was happening, but everyone was running away. No cops were going toward" the origin of the stampede.
No shots were fired on the festival grounds, according to several New Orleans police officers stationed around the site.
Representatives of Live Nation and the Lakefront Arena did not respond Sunday to requests for comment.
During and just after the initial panic, some fans hid, then left the festival early. That no announcement was then made from the stage about what had happened further unnerved attendees.
"I didn't know what was going on," said George Krider, an employee of Bev Inc., the catering company that operated the drink booths. "It was a stampede. The first thing you think is, 'Was it gunshots?' I think it was a fight."
After the beverage booths were initially overrun, and money and liquor taken, Krider and his fellow employees shut down the booths. Many bottles of booze were left behind. A stream of festival attendees quickly moved in to help themselves.
Thirsty fans who tried to buy water later in the night couldn't, as the concession booths had shut down.
In the initial stampede, many fans were knocked to the ground or tripped; some suffered cuts, deep scrapes and bruises, and sought help from on-site medical staffers. Others lost purses, keys or phones in the chaos.
After the concert ended at 11:15 p.m., Kiirsten Boseman was still searching the trash-strewn field for her leopard-print purse.
The crowd was pushing and shoving around her, and then she fell, she said. "Someone helped me up."
Was she scared?
"Of course," she said. "Especially when you don't know what's going on, so you don't know what you're running from."
Melasky said she was "terrified, as many were. I feel like our city failed us at a festival. The security was terrible. This could have been disastrous."
The stampede and the looting of the concession booths "was the worst I've seen," said one member of the festival's production staff, a veteran of many festivals around the country who did not want to be named.
That said, "it could have been worse."
©2019 NOLA Media Group, New Orleans