Syracuse University: Worst. Crowd. Ever.

Comic Book GuyI’ve been to a lot of concerts in my day. More than the average person. In fact, more than the above average person. I’ve seen shows from Bob Dylan to Skrillex to the Chili Peppers to Jay Z and everyone in between. But today I went to see Childish Gambino at Syracuse University’s Juice Jam and experienced–hands down–the worst concert crowd I’ve ever been a part of.

I had every intention of reviewing the show here, but decided to review the crowd instead. In case you were wondering, however, Gambino killed it.

Opener The Dean’s List took the stage at 1 p.m. and set the bar low with an act that can best be described as hip hop karaoke. But they riled the early bird crowd with their clever catch phrase, “Fuck it, I’m young!”  Following their set, I (along with two friends) seized on the lull and made my way to the front to wait for Childish Gambino. And as I waited, a crowd of increasingly brazen concertgoers stumbled in around me, each drunker than the next.

Just minutes after he took the stage, however, the drunken wobbling of the student crowd culminated in a massive collapse. About 50 people–me included–toppled over like a line of dominoes, one on top of another. As I fell to the ground, I could only think of The Who in Cincinnati, 1979. I had a fleeting moment of terror where I imagined being crushed to death or suffocating under a sea of stampeding undergrads. Fortunately, the only people to fall directly on top of me were a few small females (the bros nearby all toppled the other way).

Mayhem ensued as the panicked crowd struggled to its feet and some tried to flee. I was stepped on multiple times and managed to trounce only one person as I regained my footing. We shoved our way to the outskirts of the crowd and watched a crying girl hobble past us with a broken shoe and what looked like a broken (or badly sprained) ankle. A few others emerged bloodied and frazzled.

I watched the remainder of Gambino’s concert from the peripheries, bouncing along to his off-color rhymes and on-point humor. Behind me, a girl collapsed of alcohol poisoning. I tried to enjoy the show as her hysterical friends screamed and threw water at her. As a crowd formed around her and the EMTs showed up with a cart, I strained to focus on the show and not let her weak liver ruin my good time (I’m sure she’s fine…)

When all was said and done, I had just one reaction: get your shit together Syracuse. I’ve been to Bonnaroo six times. I’ve been to moe.down, Electric Zoo, Mountain Jam, Super Ball and countless other major outdoor concerts and festivals. I’ve packed into unbelievably tight, sweaty spaces for DJs from Skrillex to Bassnectar to Deadmau5 and been squished to the point where it was hard to breathe. I’ve been shoved, punched, yelled at, passed out on, stepped on, spilled on, and even peed on (at the Utica Aud). Raucous concert behavior is nothing new. In fact, I’ve often been a major part of it. And to this point I’ve never minded.

Childish Gambino

A sea of cell phones: Why go to a concert if you can’t record the entire thing?

But the display put on by the SU student body on Sunday afternoon was nothing short of embarrassing. It wasn’t that the crowd was drunker, higher, or rowdier than at other concerts: it was that they were more malicious. People threw full bottles of soda into the masses repeatedly. They whipped sneakers, basketballs, lacrosse balls and garbage high in the air and laughed as they hit unsuspecting victims.

They argued with security. They repeatedly booed concert organizers. They waved cardboard cutouts of SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor standing spread eagle [Correction: the cutout was a picture of her being held up by Shaq]. They were unapologetic as they shoved, elbowed or groped the ladies I was with. Crowd surfers kicked people in the head or knocked them down entirely then fell and asked those same people they’d just clobbered to hoist them back up into the crowd.

At first I thought I’m just getting old and can’t handle the crowd any more. But then I remembered that as recently as January I was crammed into an A-Trak show at Webster Hall with every pill-popping, glowstick-waving degenerate in New York. And I was right in the thick of it, jumping, screaming and sweating along with them.

Alas, Sunday’s show left me with little hope for the fate of my generation.

College students typically have a reputation for being unapologetically self-absorbed and inconsiderate. They’re the people who text during movies and have unnecessarily detailed public conversations about the drunk sex they had last night. They take pictures of their friends’ most humiliating moments then revel in sharing those pictures with the world. They talk on the phone in line at Starbucks about what a jerk their dad is for only sending $500 this month.

The stereotype of the fist-pumping, beer-crushing, skank-slaying bro has, of late, become the dominant characterization of the millennial generation. And in a sea of such sycophancy, it’s getting harder and harder to prove there are those of us in our mid-twenties who are not completely unscrupulous.

There are basic codes of civility that dictate behavior in any situation–hell, even war has rules. Concert etiquette is something I believe very strongly in, and when that’s gone, I see little hope for humanity. If we can’t stand and enjoy good music without hurting or antagonizing each other, then what can we do together?