400,000 people descended upon a town about 200 miles from Buenos Aires on Saturday (March 11) to see a single artist perform; one that most of the world has never heard of. Twice the amount of expected spectators crushed to see El Indio Solari, a 68-year-old Argentine indie rock icon with Parkinson's disease, in what could have been his final concert. Two people died and 11 were injured in a stampede to get close to the stage. The show went on.
"This does not exist anywhere in the world," Solari said near the end of the show, referring to the hysterical massive crowd, Billboard Argentina reported. "I don't know what to call it."
Others have frequently described Solari's concerts as a religious experience. Solari is the former frontman of the band Patricio Rey y Los Redonditos de Recota, who were leaders of a rebellious indie scene that exploded in Buenos Aires at the end of Argentina's 1970s military dictatorship. His infrequent concerts with his current band Los Fundamentalistas del Aire Acondicionado (The Fundamentalists of Air Conditioning) are infrequent, and promoted through word of mouth, two factors that have only increased his popularity and mystique through the years.
As news of Saturday's concert spread among the fans, cars and buses choked the roads to Olavarría, whose population is about 100,000. The town's mayor told press that the number of residents was equaled by the number of vehicles that arrived in town for Solari's concert.
People came to Olavarría up to a week before the show. By Saturday, the drive, a little over 200 miles, took up to 11 hours, according to a reporter for Billboard Argentina who was at the scene. Traffic was so slow many concertgoers got out and walked. Many others ended up hiking about six miles on unmarked roads from the nearest available parking to the outdoor site where the show took place. Dozens of tents popped up in local parks, and the smell of roasted meat was in the air as the fans made fires in the street for makeshift barbecues. Residents sold beer and sandwiches from their front porches. The invasion caused chaos in the town, collapsing the mobile phone network.
"For those who have never been to one of his concerts it is difficult to describe or imagine the physical dimensions of many of the venues where Indio has performed," Billboard Argentina's Agustín Vázquez explains. "La Colmena [where the concert took place] is similar to a horse racing track or autodrome: you can walk 300 or 600 feet from the back of the venue and still feel that the stage is very far away." There were 15 sound towers set up around the field, which was surounded by darkness.
Still, the field was so crowded that those closest to the state were crushed. Early in the show, Solari stopped and asked people to step back so that those who had fainted and were laying on the ground could be removed.
"Be careful," he warned. "We knew what this was going to be like. We were talking all week about how a lot of people were going to come. There are more than 200,000 people here and there are ten who are causing the problems." [The local prosecutor later confirmed that there were 400,000 in the crowd.]
The concert continued. When it was over, the multitude pushed toward an exit to begin what witnesses described as an odyssey. There was only one way out, and when they did get out of the venue, they began navigating a long walk in the darkness to their cars and the buses. Without access to their cellphones, few were aware that lives had been lost inside.
Early Sunday morning, the artist's Twitter feed published lists of people who were hospitalized, and others who were ok, and related messages for families of missing concertgoers. One Tweet from the account said "All I am getting are insults. I am not El Indio, I am just trying to help and let you know people's whereabouts!"
Lo único que recibo son insultos. No soy el Indio, lo único que estoy haciendo es intentando ayudar y dar con los paraderos!
- Indio (@CarlosASolari) March 12, 2017
According to Clarín and other media, Argentine federal police on Tuesday acted on a warrant to search the offices of the concert promoter, En Vivo, owned by brothers Matías and Marcos Peucovich. The police were reportedly looking for evidence on how many tickets had been sold. Accounts of Saturday's show described a scene in which security was almost non-existent and people were easily able to enter the venue without tickets, creating the uncontrollable mass.
Solari gave testimony to police from his hotel room in Olavarría. While his quotes were not released to the public, Argentine news web sites reported that the singer told police that he had tried to keep control of the situation, noting that he stopped the music several times during the show to restore calm, and to stop the fights and pushing that he saw in the crowd.
The musician was photographed leaving Olavarría in a private plane on Monday.