After three days of confusion and more than a few headaches, Rolling Loud 2019 has come to an end.
The fifth-annual iteration of the massive rap festival brought more than 140 hip-hop artists to Hard Rock Stadium, but as evinced by the number of complications that arose over the weekend, it might have bitten off more than it could chew yet again. Pains are to be expected when a festival grows as quickly as Rolling Loud has, but in 2019, the event’s organizers and attendees just couldn’t seem to catch a break.
The troubles began Friday, when a false threat of an active shooter marred the first day of arguably the nation's biggest live hip-hop event of the year. It’s unknown how the panic started, but once it took hold, there was no stopping it. Festival-goers sprinted from the main stage in fear for their lives, knocking down fellow attendees and fences in an effort to evacuate. A voice blared over the main-stage PA, repeating the words, “Please calm down,” as police lights flashed and a helicopter circled overhead. If that sounds pretty alarming, it’s because it was.
On Saturday, a similar false threat occurred during Travis Scott’s headlining set, though it was smaller and more isolated, and panic didn’t snowball like it had the night before.
The issues weren’t isolated to just the crowd, however: Difficulties with scheduling and logistics were a plague throughout the weekend. Set times consistently ran later and later as each day progressed, with headliners consistently taking the stage more than an hour past their scheduled slots. The festival also endured numerous artist cancellations, including one of the weekend’s biggest names — Lil Wayne — and Kodak Black, whose arrest prevented him from performing.
Massive crowds became unruly during long waits as artists consistently showed up late — at least one fight was documented in the crowd at the Loud stage Friday afternoon. At times, the crowds at the main stage were asked by artists and organizers to back up to alleviate pressure on the first row of fans, who were being squeezed against the barricade.
Thankfully, the only major drawback Sunday was a short weather delay that suspended the proceedings around 5 p.m. Rain fell for about two hours, and after a period of palpable confusion about set times, it was finally announced from the main-stage PA that the schedule had been updated and posted. The move was a big win for the organizers, because set times had often been tweaked, changed, or missed entirely during the first two days without ticket holders being informed.
Like last year, the free water stations set up by event organizers were ill-equipped to handle the needs of the sun-baked crowd — lines to refill water bottles seemed to go on forever. The two stations were overrun throughout the festival, driving many fans to concessions to drop $5 for a single bottle of water.
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The biggest and most inescapable issue of Rolling Loud 2019 was the convoluted process of arriving and departing the festival grounds. There’s no getting around the brutal traffic surrounding a venue like Hard Rock Stadium, but the way organizers chose to arrange the main entrance did little to alleviate the stress of coming and going. After fighting traffic and forking over $40 for parking, attendees had to walk around the stadium and through a fenced-in corridor to get through security and enter the show. Though this setup might have been semi-effective when fans were arriving, even if it made them walk much farther than necessary, the real issues arose upon leaving. With thousands of attendees exiting at the same time, the corridor became a claustrophobic nightmare, with crowds compacted together and herded along at a snail’s pace. On Friday night, the trip from the main exit to the parking lot took more than 25 minutes.
Despite all these issues, Rolling Loud 2019 was far from a train wreck. The sound was mostly great at all three stages despite quick turnover in sets; all the big moments and surprise guest appearances fans hoped for were there; and, most important, most attendees seemed to truly enjoy themselves.
Yet throughout its three days, Rolling Loud 2019 felt like a festival hanging on by a thread, threatening to unravel completely if one more thing went wrong. It’s hard to enjoy a music festival with that sense of volatility. Let's hope the event organizers learn from these setbacks and make improvements so next year's attendees don't feel lucky to have made it to Monday morning.