September 9, 1994. 65,000 people descend upon the Esplanade in Boston for a free show with Green Day and all hell breaks loose.
Before we dive into the pit with Green Day, let’s go back in time a few months, to February of 1994. Green Day released their major-label debut, Dookie, on the first of that month. By June, lead single “Longview” was Number One on the Billboard Alternative chart. Follow-up single “Basket Case” would hit Number One in mid-August, and stay in that spot until mid-September. You could make the argument that Green Day was the biggest alt-rock band of 1994.
So it was a boon, then, for legendary Boston alternative station WFNX to book the band for a free back-to-school show at the Hatch Shell, right? Sort of.
The crowd began to gather during an opening set by The Meices and it didn’t take long for their numbers or behavior to begin overwhelming the 40 Massachusetts State Troopers who were on hand for crowd control. By the time Green Day took the stage at 8:15 p.m., the mosh pit was raging and numbers had swelled into the tens of thousands. The band did attempt to restore some order, but by what would have been the midway point of their set, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong was joining revelers in front of the stage, ripping up flowerbeds and stoking the flames of the riot. The Boston Herald summed it up thusly:
“Requests for the crowd—estimated by State Police at 65,000—to disperse failed to move a hardcore group of about 5,000 people, who taunted police and began throwing bottles at officers and concert staff. At 9:30 p.m., a line of approximately 100 state troopers and Boston police officers formed a human wedge and drove the crowd out of the Esplanade and into the Back Bay. Calm was restored by 10 p.m. More than 50 people were arrested and roughly 50 more were treated for minor injuries—from sprains to drug overdoses—suffered during the concert and the hour-long fracas between police and the crowd, police and medical personnel said.”
In the 25 years hence, the legend of Green Day on the Hatch Shell has grown to the point that the gig has become one of the most legendary concerts in Boston rock history. I’d argue it’s because of the numbers. No, not the 65,000 people who actually showed up: the approximately 10 million that have since claimed they were there when you know that they weren’t.
Here’s some footage of the band performing:
Here was Hype TV’s coverage:
And here’s a segment on the event from the WFNX documentary We Want The Airwaves.