On Jan. 18, 1991 tragedy struck during an AC/DC concert in Salt Lake City.
The band had barely launched into its opening song – “Thunderstruck,” the hit single from 1990’s The Razor’s Edge – when a sea of fans rushed towards the stage. The venue, the Salt Palace, had booked the show as a general admission event with no assigned seating. More than 13,000 people were in attendance that night, and the free-for-all for premium spots led to a mad dash for the front row. The stampede quickly got out of control with bodies crushed against one another.
“I was telling the security guard for AC/DC to shut off the music, to turn off the lights, people are hurting, people are screaming,” venue security guard Scott Carter recalled to MTV the day after the concert. “All I can remember is feeling helpless because I was being ignored. Nothing was being done.”
Indeed, even as the mayhem in the crowd was unfolding, the band initially played on. Exactly how long the group continued performing was a subject of debate – some said 15 minutes, while others estimated it was more like 45. Three teens died as a result of injuries sustained during the chaos – one that night, two in the hospital days later.
“Terrible night. I’ll never forget it for as long as I live,” recalled Brian Johnson years afterward on Behind the Music, insisting he and the rest of AC/DC had no idea the magnitude of what was going on in the audience. “I was shattered,” the singer remembered of the moment word finally reached the band. “Angus was beside himself. I could see he was welling up. Mal was trying to hold it together as best he could.”
At the recommendation of authorities, who feared a cancellation could result in rioting, AC/DC finished their show following a 15 minute pause. Beyond their own struggles to comprehend what had happened, the band was infuriated by how the tragedy was reported in the news.
“I think what hurt most was, the next day in the newspapers they were saying ‘band played on while kids died about them’ and they had a photograph of me with a smile on me face,” Johnson recalled. “It was just journalistic opportunity that went beyond the bounds of decency. I was so angry and hurt.”
The parents of the victims – 19 year-old Elizabeth Glausi and 14 year-olds Curtis Child and Jimmie Boyd – would sue AC/DC and Salt Lake County for their involvement in the deaths. Additional suits would come from survivors who experienced injuries and trauma during the ordeal. All cases were eventually settled out of court.
The tragedy stuck with the band for years afterward. Malcolm Young was reportedly so distressed by the disaster that he refused to ever discuss it.
As a result of the death’s at AC/DC’s performance – as well as the similar tragedy during a concert by the Who more than 10 years prior – many venues either completely got rid of general admission shows, or adopted strict security guidelines to ensure fan safety.