Tragedies at past California events: Rolling Stones concert stabbing; Madonna incident with similarities to Astroworld

Mick Jagger signs autographs for fans at the Altamont Race Track on Dec. 8, 1969.
Mick Jagger signs autographs for fans at the Altamont Race Track on Dec. 8, 1969. Later, the Roling Stones gave a concert where one fan was stabbed to death by a Hells Angels member.
(Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Nov. 11. I’m Justin Ray.

Finger pointing has continued after eight people were killed and at least 25 injured during a crowd surge at Houston’s Astroworld music festival while rapper Travis Scott performed.

Officials estimated about 50,000 people were attending the outdoor event when crowds began to “compress toward the front of the stage,” Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said. “That caused some panic and it started causing some injuries.”

Multiple lawsuits have been filed against Scott and Astroworld organizers by those injured in the melee as questions have arisen over why the crowd surged and why it wasn’t contained during a day of unruliness.


California has seen its own tragedies at entertainment events. They include a recent death at a Phish concert, an infamous stabbing at a Rolling Stones concert, and an incident involving Madonna that echoes the recent Astroworld tragedy:

  • A man who attended a Phish concert in October plunged to his death at the Chase Center in San Francisco. Ryan Prosser, 47, of Athens, N.Y., died after falling from an upper deck and landing atop empty seats below, and authorities say evidence suggests he may have jumped. About an hour after the first fall, officers were alerted about another incident in which a man had fallen from a different upper-level section and landed on a concertgoer below. They were taken to a hospital and treated for their injuries, authorities said.
  • A fire ignited in a Bay Area warehouse during a dance party in 2016, leading to 36 deaths. The fire moved so quickly that victims were trapped on the illegally constructed second floor. Prosecutors said the victims received no warning and had little chance to escape down a narrow, ramshackle staircase. Coroner’s officials determined each victim died of smoke inhalation. The master tenant of the warehouse pleaded guilty to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in exchange for a 12-year sentence.
  • The Altamont Speedway Free Festival — which was meant to be the West Coast’s answer to Woodstock —took place in December 1969 in Northern California. During a performance by The Rolling Stones, Meredith Hunter, 18, was stabbed and beaten to death in front of the stage by Alan David Passaro, a member of the Hells Angels (the motorcycle club was serving as security for the event). Passaro was eventually acquitted of murder charges in the teen’s death.
  • In 1987, Madonna was playing at Anaheim Stadium when she invited 55,000 fans to swarm around her. After the event, four people filed claims against the city, which owns the stadium, saying they suffered injuries like “bruised ribs, twisted ankles and, in one case, complications leading to a miscarriage,” The Times previously reported (three days prior to the Anaheim event, she had done the same thing in Seattle without incident). The following year a fan at the Anaheim show sued the pop star herself.

There are other instances of injuries at entertainment events listed here.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Inside California ethnic studies classes. Every California high school student will be required by 2030 to take an ethnic studies class to graduate. At a time when schools throughout the country are under siege for how race and history are taught — with at least 12 states passing legislation to limit the discourse — California is barreling in the opposite direction, becoming the first state to create such a mandate. The studies encourage students to think more broadly about history by considering the perspectives of other groups, races and cultures. What exactly will be taught to students? Reporter Melissa Gomez explains what students can expect. Los Angeles Times

Students discuss topics in their ethnic studies class at Culver City High School.
From left, Riley Lewis, Khaila Corona, Adriana Walters and Anabelle Koff-Gilmore discuss topics in their ethnic studies class at Culver City High School in October.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)


Will L.A.’s 2028 Olympic agreement address homelessness and jobs? Seven years from now, the 2028 Olympics are on track to arrive in L.A. It could cost the city billions — an L.A. City Council committee in 2019 estimated a $6.9 billion public expenditure. The city has been asking various constituencies where investments should be made. But the question is, will funds help address the city’s housing crisis? “These Games should transform Los Angeles into an Olympic city where people can live with one job, with housing they can afford,” says Kurt Petersen, co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11. Capital and Main


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Kamala Harris, the incredible disappearing vice president. Whatever happened to Kamala Harris? She shattered all kinds of ceiling glass when Joe Biden made California’s junior senator his running mate and Harris was elected vice president. Since then, she’s largely receded from Washington’s daily doings and the cliff-hanging drama that’s surrounded the fight over the president’s agenda. Part of the answer is simple: What happened to Harris is she became vice president. Los Angeles Times


12 years after this teen was locked up, the prosecutor who convicted him changed his mind. Though criminal justice reforms have emphasized rehabilitation over long sentences in recent years, for those convicted in harsher eras, second chances are hard to come by. In 2018, California passed a first-in-the-nation law that effectively gives prosecutors the power to undo their own harshest work if they believe the outcome no longer serves justice. Under the law, only about 100 people — nearly all men — have seen their time cut so far. In this article, we hear the story of Renwick Drake Jr. who was put behind bars at the age of 15, and how he was eventually released. Los Angeles Times

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California farmworkers struggle to find affordable housing. Agricultural workers are forced to endure hardships such as overcrowded dwellings, living out of cars, or subletting garages and backyard sheds. These issues stem from the inability to find affordable housing. At the peak of the pandemic, these dwellings turned into COVID-19 clusters, hitting the workers disproportionately hard. “These are the living conditions you would find in a third-world country, not the fifth largest economy, such as ours, here in the State of California,” said Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Salinas). Peninsula Press

‘Nightmare’ IVF mix-up leaves L.A. couple giving birth to other family’s baby. When Daphna Cardinale gave birth to her second daughter in September 2019, she and her husband, Alexander, were immediately puzzled by her appearance. The baby girl, while healthy, didn’t resemble either of her parents and looked to be of a different race. A home DNA test roughly seven weeks later confirmed a nagging worry both hoped could not be true: The child was not related to either of them. That moment began a troubling, months-long ordeal in which the Cardinales ultimately learned their embryo had been switched with that of another couple during in vitro fertilization. Los Angeles Times

Video screenshot of Alexander Cardinale holding his biological daughter, Zoe.
Video screenshot of Alexander Cardinale holding his biological daughter, Zoe, after she was reunited with Cardinale and his wife Daphna.
(Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane & Conway)


A series by Commonweal Magazine explores Catholic religious communities. One covered by the publication is a tiny community of Camaldolese monks at Incarnation Monastery in Berkeley. It has attracted hundreds of oblates — lay people who make formal promises, which they call vows, but who live outside the monastic communities they’re vowed to. “The monastery overlooks the sweep of the Bay Area and its millions of residents,” Kaya Oakes writes. “There is no sign outside, no indication that this is a religious community. What looks like any other house in the area offers a place where people can heed Jesus’ advice about prayer.” Commonweal Magazine

What it was like to spend a day with Dean Stockwell, one of Hollywood’s kindest stars. The former child star and Oscar-nominated actor who turned his back on Hollywood again and again only to earn cult status in “Blue Velvet” and “Married to the Mob,” died early Sunday at age 85 of natural causes. For The Times, a costume designer for “Quantum Leap” remembers a Melrose Avenue shopping trip with Stockwell: “Throughout the five years I designed the series, Dean proved to be the most professional actor I would ever work with.” Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: Sunny, 73 San Diego: Sunny 78 San Francisco: 67 San Jose: Sunny 72 Fresno: 68 Sacramento: Sunny 67

Something extra: I enjoy a podcast called “Cheat!” that asks the question: is it ever justifiable to cheat? Hosted by storyteller Alzo Slade, it explains stories such as heists over stolen artifacts and the medical fraud that fueled an anti-vax movement. One of their newer episodes was an astounding tale about a man who was jailed for trying to sell flowers. It is a whopper of an episode.


Today’s California memory is from Tori Bors:

It was hard being without my parents and brother’s family when mine relocated from the East Coast to the West. Dad, a retired engineer, was reinventing himself, “discovering” for the first time all the classic rock artists I’d played on the radio as a D.C. disc jockey that he knew nothing about. As I was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway by Big Sur (the very Left Edge of the country!) he called, asked if a had ever heard of the song “Hey, Jude.” “Whaaaa?” I thought, shocked. He then began plunking it out on one of his new guitars, singing along with all the jubilance of a child learning to sing the ABCs. He began regaling me about Lennon-McCartney and I remember tearing up, being in the moment with him as the golden hour ahead of sunset came on and I was simultaneously cruising one of the world’s most epically gorgeous coastal drives in the world.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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