Music festivals. Worldwide there are thousands. Varying in size from small and boutique to medium and mega, most of us have been to at least one in our lifetime to emerge either having loved it or loathed it.

We hear ‘music festival’ and predominantly think of rock, blues or country and western, but in the Indian Punjab province of Jalandhar City, in the last week of December every year, hosts Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan, a festival of Hindustani classical music. It is a 3-day vocal and instrumental celebration where prominent artists from India and Pakistan gather at the sacred seat music to honour saint and classical vocalist swami Baba Harballabh.

It has been held every year since 1875.

In that sense it makes 1969’s Woodstock move aside as the first music festival ever held, and dwarfs the biggest music festival in the world  –   Vienna’s eclectic Donauinselfest  –  with its 1983 start date. Since then, a one-day festival swelled to three, and an initial 160,000 people to more than 3.2 million. Its venue is an island of the river Danube, and this free summer festival has more than 200 performers across eleven stages and pumping hip-hop, country, rock, electronic, indie, and folk to enthralled audiences.

It’s a huge stage set up, and safety is paramount.

Just a year and a month after the US gave us three days of Woodstock, and the day after Jimi Hendrix died, the UK had five days of contemporary artists at Glastonbury and so began the usual thoughts we have of any music festival implying an overall good time that days of sound and dancing denote.

Amid its history are dark days.

Electrical disasters extend from structural defects to all that nature brings and although you can sue your electrician for compensation it’s cold comfort after catastrophe.

Belgium’s Pukkelpop Festival already has a grim legacy beginning in 2010 when Charles Haddon, frontman of London synthpop trio Ou Est Le Swimming Pool committed suicide at the event. Tragically he hung himself in the backstage parking lot hours after thinking he had seriously injured a young girl after a stage dive. She was later to make a full recovery from leg and vertebrae damage.

It may have been a sign for what was to come the following year. Eminem, The Foo Fighters and Odd Future were to perform, but festivities were interrupted by an unexpected storm. Winds were so strong trees were uprooted and stages and tents collapsed. The grounds were entirely destroyed and emergency medical services were scant. When the rain, hail and wind finally cleared, five were confirmed dead and over 140 were injured.

Literally tonnes of electrical equipment connected by multitudes of wires and cords required to bring a concert or festival to life, add to it outdoor conditions and thousands of people and it’s a potentially lethal mix. 

Online reputation management means nothing if someone dies through your neglect.

On stage with the rest of the Rolling Stones in ’65 as they (ironically) launched into ‘The Last Time’ Keith Richards flew through the air backwards in a spark of blue light and ended up an unconscious heap on stage. His guitar had accidentally made contact with his mic stand, normally not an issue, but this metal was live. The surge sounded like a gunshot and concert promoter Jeff Hughson thought Richards had been assassinated.

Thick rubber-soled shoes made it a lucky lesson, rather than historic tragedy, in the combined wattage of a rock concert. 

1976 brought Ace Frehly of Kiss the similar experience of a whisper from death; so profound for him that it was the inspiration for ‘Shock Me’. All in good company, George Harrison, Moby, Kesha, and Nick Lowe have each felt a power on stage they didn’t want, and all remained incredibly lucky.

Not so for Stone the Crow guitarist Les Harvey in 1972, when he was killed on stage by his wet hands on his electric guitar. Or 21-year-old Argentinian rock star Agustin Briolini in 2014. Three years later, critically acclaimed 35-year-old French singer, Barbara Weldens became the victim of malfunctioning electrical equipment due to storms in the area of Gourdon, during a local festival in France. 

Poignantly, it was a church in which she died performing. 

American singer-songwriter, record producer and one of the greatest influencers of African-American music, Curtis Mayfield, suffered a freak accident during an outdoor concert in Brooklyn, 1990. A storm brought a hurricane-force wind that threw the first two rows of fans from their seats, huge speakers tumbling and lighting equipment dropping to crack his neck.

A double inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as well as both a Grammy Legend, and Lifetime Award winner, this incredible soul, funk, R&B and psychedelic vocalist, guitarist and keyboard artist struggled as a quadriplegic for nine years until his death. 

Skilled tradesmen are a must, whether it be for a massive concert or the building or maintenance of your home, and trusting a competent electrician starts with the standard of their website.

Electrical disasters can destroy not only a festival, but a life.