Back in the day, when going to a punk rock gig was a genuinely dangerous thing to do, were there barriers or security separating the crowd from the band? Of course not. I am sure even the biggest of security guards would think twice about standing in front of GG Allin or Circle One. But nowadays, shows tend to be much tamer, yet we have a barrier and 5 foot gap filled with security guards.
Though, of course, they are placed there in the interest of health and safety by helping kids get down from crowd surfing (often shortly before kicking them out of the venue). However, attending various shows, you occasionally find the bands or venues that don’t enforce these rules. Californian superhero punk/ska band The Aquabats play shows in the UK that are on a small enough scale that there is no need to have security, and this makes the shows a hundred times better due to the increased crowd participation and involvement. [And even after throwing three 12 year old kids into the waiting crowd to surf them back to their parents at the side of the venue there is no worry that they will come to harm. And not to mention punk legends Fugazi led by Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye, straight up refused to play shows if there was a barrier present at the venue as he wanted to be as close to as crowd as possible so he can involve them. In the instance of someone causing trouble at their shows, the band personally escorted the individual out and refunded them. All without using any security.
Although some venues insist that there must be a barrier present, some bands do make an effort to bridge the gap. Most notably are the Dropkick Murphys, who end each and every show allowing as many fans as they can possibly fit to hop the fence and join them onstage. Again helping the atmosphere of the show increase tenfold and making dreams come true for some crowd members.
But then in larger shows and venues, barriers are necessary, especially in stadium shows and festivals due to the increased attendance, causing the risk of fans being crushed and needing assistance to increase, as well. For example, in 1996 when a fan was crushed at a Smashing Pumpkins show despite the heavy presence of security, they could not reach her until it was too late.
So we know that the presence of barriers and security does mean well, but do they really need to be enforced at all shows? The difference between a show with and without a barrier is greater than you might think. Or would they be better suited at just festivals and stadium gigs, as they are often the only cases where there is ever any real danger?