All Aaron Clowers wanted to do was enjoy the mosh pit near the Gas Monkey Live! stage. The New Orleans band Goatwhore planned to devastate it this past Friday night with death metal as part of the Metal Alliance Tour with The Casualties, Black Tusk, Great American Ghost, Morethereon, Bad Blood and Steel Bearing Hand. It was going to be a nightmare show.
A prospect for the Pit Bulls, a local moshing organization whose roots reach into the early '80s, Clowers, 27, had been learning the ins and outs of safe moshing from his sponsor and childhood friend Zakk Librach. They’ve known each other from their days at Garland High School and enjoyed metal. Librach had joined the Pit Bulls in 2015 because he wanted to be part of a brotherhood that offered protection in the mosh pit.
“In your life, you meet a small group of people you consider family that’s not blood,” he says. “In the Pit Bulls, I have 30 to 40 people in my time of need. If I fall, they will help me back on my feet and vice versa.”
The local moshing organization promotes the mosh pit etiquette:
- If you knock someone down, you immediately pick ‘em up and make sure they’re OK.
- No crowd killing or slamming the crowd trying to injure them.
- No tripping or attempting to slam someone from the sidelines; if you want to be slammed, be in the pit.
“Moshing is more than pushing and shoving,” Librach says. “It’s dancing with physical contact, but that contact is not done with the intention of hurting, if that makes sense.”
But not everyone follows the mosh pit etiquette.
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At the Goatwhore show Friday night, an unidentified assailant grabbed Clowers from behind and threw him to the ground like a wrestler executing a suplex. Known as the second best move in professional wrestling, it basically involves a wrestler wrapping his arms around his opponent’s waist from behind and falling backward to the mat with him. Brock Lesnar used it against John Cena 16 times in a row at WWE’s SummerSlam 2014.
Except Cena’s shoulders absorbed the fall each time he hit the mat. Clowers’ didn’t. The sound of his head hitting the floor could be heard over The Casualties’ street punk music, claims Clowers’ older sister Vanessa Frannea.
“He bashed his head on the ground,” Frannea says. “It knocked him out, and people thought he was dead. Blood was pouring out of his head. His eyes were wide open, and he laid there on the floor for 10 minutes before the ambulance got there.”
He’s spent the last three days in ICU at Parkland Hospital before being moved to the hospital's progressive care unit Tuesday. He suffered a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain. The injury is near his brain stem. A Gofundme account has been set up to help him cover medical bills. The campaign has raised more than $1,200.
Candace Alvarez had seen Clowers shortly before the wrestling move occurred. She noticed him singing along with the crowd at the front of the stage as The Casualties delved into the second song of their set. Then he disappeared into the mosh pit.
Not long afterward, Alvarez realized people behind her were no longer moving with the music. She turned and saw someone on the ground. As she moved closer, she noticed Clowers’ Pit Bull shirt and thought, "Oh man, it’s a Pit Bull."
When she realized it was Clowers, Alvarez and her friend rushed to his side. His head was shaking, and his eyes weren’t blinking but were rolling back in his head. His breathing wasn’t normal. Another concert attendee happened to be a nurse and began checking him.
“When we were by his head, the kid who did it knelt down right next to me,” Alvarez says. “[The nurse] was making sure that [Clowers’] neck was OK and explained [to the kid] that you don’t do this in the mosh pit. This is the reason why the Pit Bulls are here. You don’t mosh like this. And he was like, ‘Well, he shoved me.’ We were like, ‘You don’t do wrestling moves on concrete.’”
Warbeast guitarist Drew Shoup IV witnessed the commotion from the VIP area above. He didn’t know Clowers personally, but he knew he was a fan of Warbeast. Clowers recently had his photo taken with Warbeast lead singer Bruce Corbitt. Shoup’s wife called 911.
“I saw a guy mopping that spot after they took him away,” Shoup says. “I’m assuming it was blood.”
Alex Mendonsa, general manager of Gas Monkey Live!, says that they stopped the show when they realized what happened. It took 13 seconds for his security team to respond and eight minutes for the ambulance to arrive.
When The Casualties stopped playing, band members came down from the stage to check on Clowers. They held back the crowd until paramedics arrived and carried him away on a stretcher. Alvarez says The Casualties and Goatwhore put together a care package for Clowers that included a few concert T-shirts, a poster and patches in a handmade box.
“That really impacted me, that show of love from the metal and punk rock community,” she says.
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Dallas police questioned Alvarez and other witnesses and spoke with the other mosher but didn’t arrest him. Clowers’ family is seeking charges.
“I know mosh pits,” Alvarez says. “It’s throwing elbows and breaking teeth. But not this.”
Mendonsa says they are making the Gas Monkey Live! stage available free of charge for a benefit concert Clowers' family and the Pit Bulls are planning to host in the near future to help with Clowers' medical expenses.
"The most important thing is the safety of the fans," Mendonsa says. "We put on a lot of metal shows for fans and 99.99 percent of the time never any issues. It is such a sad situation whether it was an accident or on purpose."