For the second straight year, Saturday at Tempe’s Summer Ends Music Festival encountered an unexpected issue.
At least this time they didn’t force everyone up the street into the Marquee Theatre.
About two songs into Rebelution’s 7 p.m. set, the music stopped and an announcement came from the festival’s other stage, where Big Sean was scheduled to play at 8:15.
For the next 45 minutes, the only sounds coming from either stage were the instructions such as “Everyone take two steps back to give the people up front some room,” and “team security to the stage.” Most of the crowd followed the orders, although telling people not to push forward at a concert didn't seem like a high-probability suggestion.
EMTs and security personnel carried almost two dozen people out of the crowd, including at least a few on stretchers, as the rest of the crowd mulled around in disappointment and confusion while watching ambulances pull up to Tempe Beach Park. Staff members also began heaving bottles of water into the crowd, in a strange-looking attempt to hydrate the fans.
When asked, a couple security guards said there was "a medical situation" and had no further information.
Approximately 20 people were transported by fire departments to surrounding hospitals, says Tempe Fire Department's Acting Fire Marshall Deems Shepard. The department ended up getting assistance from the fire departments of Phoenix, Mesa, and Scottsdale.
People actually began dropping to the ground during Pepper’s 5 p.m. set (possibly before), but apparently the front rows of the audience waiting for Big Sean (8:15) took a turn for the worst during Rebelution’s set. Tempe Police Department Sgt. Damon Despain said that people rushed the front of the stage, which caused injuries that necessitated stopping the concert.
The Arizona Republic reported that festival organizer Tom LaPenna issued the following statement:
“Unfortunately, a few overzealous fans began pushing towards the stage causing the people closest to the stage to have their space compromised. We paused the music for 30 minutes allowing security and medics to assist those wanting to leave the area closest to the stage and assist anyone needing medical attention. Unfortunately, the actions of a few affected many people.”
By the time the world’s premier (living) white reggae band took the stage again just after 7:50, there were only 25 minutes left of their allotted time, which wasn’t extended despite the extenuating circumstances.
In what was arguably the perfect song to play following the alleged overcrowding/dehydration/exhaustion/can’t-hold-liquor-and-drugs ordeal, the band kicked off the second portion of their set with “Feeling Alright” before playing a few more tunes and retiring in time for Big Sean to begin his overall unimpressive set.
Before the show’s delay, Pepper’s hour of music was as much a party with the self-described “three drunk Hawaiians” as it was a concert. Sped up and inebriated versions of their hits like “Ashes,” “Stormtrooper” and “Give It Up” gave the festival’s reggae fans their first sing-alongs of the day, while G-Eazy’s performance gave the robust ASU portion of the crowd something to get excited about.
The festival was certainly in need of help after the buzz-killing moments of medical attention, as Big Sean’s set stirred a good portion of the collegiate crowd, but failed to do anything beyond what’s expected from an average festival hip-hop set. The performance itself wasn’t terrible, but it was simply an uninspired rendition of many of his hits (ranging from “My Last” to “One Man Can Change the World” and a version of “Blessings” that desperately needed Riley Curry).
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After Slightly Stoopid played their usual brand of bro-tastic reggae rock (possibly shortened in solidarity with Rebelution), thousands of Tempe’s finest mobbed around the night’s hip-hop stage for one final act.
Roughly 20 minutes later, J. Cole took the stage, and with it the crowd and all of Tempe Beach Park. By the end of the second song (“Wet Dreamz” off of 2014 Forest Hills Drive), everyone from the 18-year-old Sun Devils to the thirty-something reggae fans was entranced by the rap pride of North Carolina. Frankly, it was the kind of performance that could take the audience's collective mind off of the chaos that occurred earlier in the evening.
Cole promptly shared his gratitude for the fans’ appreciation and rhetorically asked permission to play most of his latest album. As the crowd roared their agreement, the rest of Cole’s powerful set featured highlights from 2014 Forest Hills Drive (such as “Apparently” and fan-favorite “No Role Modelz”). Featuring a cappella moments, a live drummer and guitarist (along with his DJ) rather than relying solely on backing tracks, and plenty of crowd participation, the rapper mixed in a handful of verses from singles from Cole World: The Sideline Story (“Nobody’s Perfect,” “Can’t Get Enough,” and “Work Out”), Born Sinner (“Power Trip” and “Crooked Smile”) and even a track from his Friday Night Lights mixtape (“In the Morning”).
Overall, it was one of the better festival-sized hip-hop sets in recent memory. The only thing Cole’s set was missing was a guest appearance from one of the many artists he’s worked with, but that’s wishful thinking even for Phoenix’s biggest music festival to date. Actually, it was more fitting that way (Cole even performed some of the other artists’ parts), since 2014 Forest Hills Drive is known for going platinum without having a single feature on it.
If you're going to the festival today, it's important to safeguard yourself against the heat, as the temperatures are forecast to be in the triple digits. Hydrate early and often, wear a hat and sunscreen, and drink alcohol responsibly.