Adventures in Crowd Surfing: GWAR

Article by: Josie Stahler

As a kid, I was not allowed to go to concerts. 

In fact, my mom forbade me from ruining my ears until I was about thirteen when I begged her to let my dad take me to see Panic! At the Disco. How the times have changed! Ever since I began serving as WLUW’s Program Director, I’ve been going to concerts as if my life depended on it, taking every opportunity to have that sweet sweet concert experience. It’s as if all these shows I had been told I couldn’t attend had been piling up, waiting for the day I could walk in and jam. Out of all the shows I’ve been to in my short-lived concert career, the one that would probably make my mother’s head spin the most would be when I saw GWAR at Riot Fest 2021.

If you aren’t familiar, GWAR is an intensely gruesome heavy metal rock band that claims to be interplanetary warriors hellbent on killing the human race. They’re often recognized for their grotesque outfits and wild attitude. During performances, they like to spray fake blood and slime onto their audience. I couldn’t be more obsessed. As soon as I heard they were playing Riot Fest I knew I had to be there.

Now, as I shared earlier, previous to this I did not have a lot of concert experience. I’d maybe seen videos of people moshing and crowd surfing, but never had I seen it up close and in person. The crowd gathered tightly in front of the stage, with the September sun beating down on us. People wore their coolest band tees, and I distinctly remember one guy walking around shirtless offering people the chance to punch him as hard as they wanted for five bucks. At this point, I realized I might be a little over my head. Maybe I should have listened to my mother! As soon as GWAR made their big entrance, the energy was pulsing and all my reasonable thoughts went away. GWAR delivered an absolutely disgusting performance, acting out beheadings, and playing so loud I thought the whole world could hear. I loved it. 

The thing about crowds is that they are constantly moving. I had started out near the back, and as the songs progressed and people danced, I suddenly found myself pushed close to the pit. People were going crazy, but what I appreciated most was people were being respectful of each other. If someone fell down, someone was always glad to lend a hand and pick them back up. Strangely enough in this crowd of sweaty, angry people much older than me, I felt at home. My friend and fellow co-worker, Emily Schwarz, was standing next to me and made sure I was having fun. They encouraged me to get into the crowd, to get covered in GWAR’s gooey green slime. “Do you want to crowdsurf?” Emily yelled over. Before I could say anything, two guys in front of us turned around and repeated the question. “Do you want to crowdsurf?” Absolutely terrified, I nodded my head.

It happened so fast. I stepped up, and with the help of the crowd, I felt myself getting lifted into the air. Hand after hand-launched me closer to the stage. What they don’t tell you about crowd surfing is the intense rush of adrenaline running through your body. I couldn’t tell you who was moving me or what song was playing, but I knew I was on top of the world. As soon as I got to the edge of the stage, a security guard picked me out of the crowd’s hands, practically holding me like a baby because I was so disoriented. I screamed THANK YOU with delight and started running back. I was yelled at multiple times for running, but that was my fault. My heart was racing so fast I hadn’t even realized I was running. 

I got back to my friends after the set with a feeling of absolute euphoria (and a little motion sickness, I had to sit down for a good half hour after). Though Riot Fest was months ago, I still think back on that moment with the same excitement as I had when it was happening. While most concertgoers who lifted me just did it out of concert solidarity, I will always look back on this moment as one of the most memorable in my concert career. That’s what’s nice about concerts, you will always be creating memories every time you go. You can listen to the band and instantly be brought back to a time when you were having fun, and making the most out of life. These are the songs and stories we carry with us every day.

Much thanks to GWAR for their absolutely horrifying performance, my friends who joined me at GWAR’s set, Riot Fest, and the strangers who helped make my first time crowdsurfing a memorable one. With any luck, it won’t be my last!

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