Remember When: Courtney Love’s Stage Dive Causes Brawl (1995)

Musician/audience relationships can be complicated, with many fans, or hagglers, crossing boundaries at live shows, forcing musicians to determine how to respond (if at all). More often than not, their responses get a rise out of audiences, who cheer to support the artist—or perpetuate the haggling. In Courtney Love’s case, during her solo performance at HFStival in 1995, her confrontation with an audience member seemed unprompted overall, and raised concerns about the singer’s mental health at the time.

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Courtney Love was the lead singer and a founding member of Hole, formed in 1989 on the cusp of the grunge movement. Love dabbled in acting and fashion before establishing the band, only teaching herself how to play guitar a year prior. The band began releasing music in 1990, garnering attention from radio station KROQ in Southern California as well as the punk zine Flipside. Hole’s popularity exploded in 1994 with the release of Live Through This, which contained the songs “Violet,” “Miss World,” and “Jennifer’s Body.”

Love herself experienced a surge in personal fame as well following her marriage to Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain in 1992. His death in 1994 understandably rocked Love, and in fact Live Through This was released just a week after the tragedy, the specter of which permeated her public appearances supporting the record.

HFStival

HFStival was a summertime music festival sponsored by WHFS, a radio station serving the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area. The annual festival showcased primarily alternative-based acts. 

A relatively small music festival, each year’s lineup hosted around 13 acts, split between two stages, until 1998 with the addition of a third stage. Headliners over the years included Violent Femmes, Iggy Pop, Counting Crows, and Foo Fighters. In addition to Courtney Love’s solo appearance, HFStival 1995 was headlined by the Ramones, PJ Harvey, and Tony Bennett. By 2006, the festival would accumulate over 40,000 attendees per year before ultimately discontinuing. 

The Brawl

Courtney Love took the HFStival Inner Stage on June 3rd, 1995, at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington D.C. Several first-hand accounts claim she wasn’t originally supposed to be on the festival bill, and was instead a “surprise guest.” The rest of Hole were not present, leading Love to take on songs like “Doll Parts” and “Softer, Softest” alone, just her and her electric guitar. She stood before a rowdy crowd, who swayed along, crowd-surfed, and tossed beach balls around—with some bouncing onto the stage. 

[RELATED: Where Are They Now?: Courtney Love]

Considering Courtney Love and Hole’s ethos—a grunge-y yet feminine take on punk with very little regard for palatability—nothing about Love’s renditions of the songs seemed out of the ordinary. Her voice was often gruff and unpolished, and therefore raw and candid.

It wasn’t until she finished “Doll Parts” that some alarm bells rang. She walked up to the edge of the stage to examine the crowd, nonchalantly closing the song. She took the mic again, loudly proclaiming, “I fucking hate the fucking summer! Put a sweater on!” She stalled before “tortur[ing] [the audience] with another one,” screaming at them to “shut up” and joyfully greeting someone named Craig.

She performed “Softer, Softest” in full, and then dropped her guitar and jumped into the crowd. She evidently gunned for someone in particular, and seemed to make contact with them, raising a middle finger at them and flashing the audience before security pulled her out. She emerged from the crowd disheveled, with parts of her off-white dress missing. 

Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam

As Courtney Love returned to the stage, she took the mic again and pointed to the crowd. She addressed her target, shouting, “Get rid of that shirt, you fucking sick dickhead! Oh yeah, Kurt really appreciates that. Get up here, I’ll kick your butt!” She waited for the audience member to take her up on the offer, but when nothing happened, she took her leave. 

No existing footage, or primary accounts, from the performance confirm who was wearing the shirt, or what the shirt even depicted, but many suspect it either had Nirvana, or a tribute to the late Kurt Cobain on it. Another speculation is the audience member was wearing a Pearl Jam shirt. Regardless, Love took a personal issue with it, and its connection to her recently deceased husband. 

Pearl Jam is without doubt another forefather of grunge, alongside Nirvana. However, Kurt Cobain himself was never a fan of the fellow Seattle rockers. He once told MTV, “We’ve never had a fight, ever. I just have always hated their band.” His animosity towards the band wasn’t personal, but he believed their music was inauthentic to the grunge movement. Love, however, believed there to be a rivalry between Cobain and other grunge heavy-hitters, a stance she still had in 2016, which might have explained her lashing out at the alleged Pearl Jam fan in 1995. 

Conclusion

Courtney Love continued her string of erratic on-stage behavior throughout the Nineties. She would often flash the audience, and get into both verbal and physical fights with them. Take a 1995 Hole show in Amsterdam, for example, where a girl allegedly kept claiming Love killed Cobain and threw water at the singer. Love retaliated, insulting the girl, the crowd, and the city as a whole. Into the 2010s, she would have explosive reactions to mentions of Cobain at her shows. This was partially owed to the public’s already unsavory opinion of her, and questions surrounding Cobain’s suicide. 

Love’s strange behavior throughout 1994 and 1995, though, was likely a product of her drug abuse at the time, and perhaps some remaining grief. Love told Opie & Anthony in 2013 that she remembers very little from those years due to repeated drug use. Nevertheless, Love was not afraid to call out fans she had problems with during her career with Hole, for better or for worse.

Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

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