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‘Totally Helpless’: A Dad and Daughter’s Experience When a Concert Turns to Chaos

Hysteria at the Global Citizen Festival comes just ahead of the one-year anniversary of Las Vegas' Route 91 Harvest massacre.

Ray Andersen, who moonlights as popular children’s entertainer Mr. Ray, was born into a love of music, having grown up in the iconic Pleasant Valley Way home immortalized in the Monkees’ 1967 hit “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by previous owners, and award-winning songwriters, Carole King and Gerry Goffin. No wonder his 13-year-old daughter also caught the pop bug — particularly for one Shawn Mendes.

This Saturday, Andersen surprised his daughter by taking her to the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park. While there among the throngs of tens of thousands, they experienced the sort of mass panic one hopes to never see — incited by a “popping sound,” according to organizers, and barrier fences tipped over, per eyewitness reports. On the one-year anniversary of the Las Vegas massacre at country music festival Route 91 Harvest, it’s become an all-too-common occurrence. What’s a dad to do? Andersen shares his thoughts, as told to Variety contributor Michele Amabile Angermiller. 

On Saturday, September 28, I attended the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park with my 13-year-old daughter. I surprised her by taking a mystery train ride to the city from our home in Highland Park, New Jersey to see Janet Jackson, The Weeknd, Cardi B, Janelle Monáe and, her favorite, Shawn Mendes, and to make her more aware of important social causes such as poverty and women’s rights.

We were about 300 feet from the stage, and having a great time together, until approximately 7:45pm, when all of the sound went out. Hugh Jackman, one of the speakers, was talking when his microphone went dead. This lasted for almost a half-hour. Things like this can make such a large crowd, especially at an outdoor event, get restless.

As a musician — I’ve played in venues like London’s Wembly Arena and Austin City Limits’ Zilker Park as a member of Meat Loaf, Chuck Berry’s backing band, and as Mr. Ray — there is a fragility on both sides of the stage that becomes evident the instant something goes wrong.

The sound eventually came back on, and as we waited for The Weeknd and Janet Jackson to taker the stage, a wave of people came barreling towards us. It seemed like a slow motion scene from a movie with no sound, then suddenly… real-time kicks in and the sound abruptly returns with the screams of thousands rushing and about-facing. A human tsunami ensued.

There is not a moment when you think to ignore what is oncoming and choose to stay put. I grabbed my daughter as tight as I could, both of our left hands clutching each other’s, my right arm holding and propping her up as she kept her head down. I was in instinctive, protective-parent mode, forging ahead like a bull, through a hyper-anxious high-speed cattle frenzy. She was hysterical as we navigated through this utter stampede of human panic.

I kept thinking, just one instance of some rogue pack of people, coming full-force to try to get past all of the rest of us, would send this mob into a reckless, even more dangerous overdrive. All around us as we ran we could see shoes, Gucci bags and phones scattered on the grounds. People who were sitting on the grass just chilling must have been trampled, too.

It was a totally helpless feeling. I hope no parent reading this ever has to experience anything like it.

Barrier CollapseGlobal Citizen Festival, New York, USA - 29 Sep 2018
CREDIT: Adela Loconte/REX/Shutterstock

Thankfully we made it out to the street, where groups of teens were openly weeping and hysterical, calling their parents, but that feeling of uncontrollable chaos never left, until we did.

By Sunday, my daughter had slept over twelve hours… long even for a soon-to-be 14 year old. She was emotionally drained from crying, watching her musical crush (who was great), to being hysterical, squeezing me and repeating, “I wanna go home, daddy, I wanna go home.” Thankfully, she seems fine for now.

On Sunday I got an emailed apology and a clarification on what caused this hysteria, from Hugh Evans on behalf of the Global Citizens organization:

“NYPD quickly determined that the noise was not gunshots, made an announcement on stage, and worked alongside FDNY, event security, and Global Citizen to ensure public safety. While NYPD originally advised that a fallen security barrier caused the noise, NYPD informed us today that it was the sound of an attendee(s) stepping on and popping a drink bottle(s). “

Who knows what actually caused it, but the sense of feeling less safe has tainted concerts, the very place we’re supposed to go to escape the stresses of our daily lives with music, sweet music.

The experience won’t stop this dad from attending shows, but it’ll be a long time before I let my daughter go to a festival without me.

Andersen’s song, “Make the World Safe,” is a staple on Sirius XM’s KidsPlace Live, and he has performed with a chorus of children at the United Nations for the event, “A Season for Non-Violence.”

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