Kimberly Meyers, a middle-aged mother of three, went to hear live music at a Philadelphia club and did not know that Fishbone, a punk-funk-ska band, would be performing. She was standing in the audience, when suddenly, to her surprise, band members hurled themselves from the stage and into the crowd. Meyers was flattened. Her skull and collarbone were shattered, her eardrum ruptured. The band played on as she was taken by ambulance for emergency care. She since has undergone three surgeries and is expected to undergo more because of her continuing pain, loss of motion, cognitive loss and subsequent development of both lupus and arthritis. And, in a later deposition, what did the musician who slammed into her have to say? “[W]hen you’re performing, . . . you don’t want to have anything stepping in your way of — of you expressing your true feelings and your true art . . . .” remarked Fishbone frontman Angelo Moore.
U.S. District Judge Jan DuBois recently had her say about the indie band’s antics and the dangers of the practice known as stage diving, issuing a default judgment against Moore and John Norwood Fisher, Fishbone’s bassist. The court awarded Meyers $1.1 million in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages solely against Moore for inflicting life-changing injuries on the New Jersey businesswoman in a case that also spotlights other instances where concert-goers have claimed great bodily harm after raucous performers have cannon-balled themselves from stage into crowd.
In the court ruling, it is clear that neither Moore nor Fisher paid much heed to Meyers’ suit, failing to answer the complaint properly served against them; nor was there much remorse shown by members of Fishbone, a West Coast band that predates the rise of better-known ska performers like No Doubt or funk rockers like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Fishbone has achieved some notoriety for its “unique sound, hyperactive live shows … magnetic stage presence,” and fervent fan base, notes MotherJones.com. In depositions taken in Meyers’ case, Moore claims the need for artistic freedom in explaining why he gives no warning to his audiences before plunging into them, saying, “that gives away the whole . . . theatrics or the spontaneity. People want to be on the edge when they go to a Fishbone show.”
But DuBois found that Fishbone, and Moore in particular, “exhibit little remorse or impetus to change conduct” because they have been stage diving at almost every one of their concerts since the 1980s. The band is fully aware “that stage diving poses a serious risk of harm to audience members” because “every couple of months an ambulance is called to the concert venue.” Moore said he regularly sees security personnel surround areas at his concerts where someone has been injured by his leaps; before Meyers’ injury, Moore was sued by an audience member hurt when he was dove from the stage during a Seattle concert.
The court said Moore cares only for his own safety and noted that he and his band mates kept playing without second thought or inquiry about those hurt at concerts, whom he often characterized as ” ‘predators’ out to steal his money.” The court also inferred that Moore might have been under the influence of illicit drugs when he did his stage diving, further adding to the danger of harming others.
The Hollywood Reporter carried a Fishbone statement after the court’s decision: “Due to legal circumstances, we are limited in our response to the recent court ruling. We do not endorse or encourage disruptive behavior that results in injury. We do endorse self expression and feel strongly that self expression is a powerful form of artistic release, as it defines the punk rock subculture we, and hundreds of bands have been a part of since the late 1970’s. We do not encourage people to come forth and participate in, for example, a mosh pit, if it is not something they are familiar with or beyond their comfort level. Our many fans are familiar with our show. The claim against us outlined what was a very unfortunate and accidental circumstance experienced by someone who had never been to a Fishbone concert. We’d like to encourage a discussion by fans, nonfans, the venues and promoters about artistic expression at concerts and how to move forward from here.”
For purposes of the discussion, here are a few headlines about other stage diving incidents: