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ROCK 'N' ROLL 'N' CROWD CONTROL : Injuries at Concerts Raise Questions

October 11, 1987|ALLAN JALON | Times Staff Writer

On July 18, Madonna was playing the siren: When she invited 55,000 fans at Anaheim Stadium to swarm around her, thousands surged forward. Four since have filed claims against the city, which owns the stadium, saying they suffered injuries in the crush--bruised ribs, twisted ankles and, in one case, complications leading to a miscarriage.

Less than two months later, at a concert by Echo and the Bunnymen at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, three men were stabbed in a fight over a spilled beer. One was hospitalized with a slashed liver. A 20-year-old man was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

The summer of 1987 has not been otherwise notable for rock-related violence in Orange County, where stadiums held about 80 concerts with a combined attendance of close to 1 million. And even these two incidents are hardly the worst examples of what can happen whenever thousands of people gather in any one place.

But local officials, security managers, fans and parents certainly were reminded of bloodier incidents: a stampede at a 1979 concert by the Who in Cincinnati, where 11 fans were trampled to death; the death of a fan stabbed at the Altamont Speedway near San Francisco in 1969 during a concert by the Rolling Stones; gang violence in the summer of '86 at a Run-D.M.C. concert in Long Beach that resulted in about 40 injuries.

Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 14, 1987 Orange County Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 6 Column 4 No Desk 2 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
The number of concerts to be held in 1987 at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre and Pacific Amphitheatre was incorrectly listed in a chart accompanying a story in The Times Sunday Calendar about security at Orange County concert facilities. In fact, Irvine Meadows will have held 40 concerts and the Pacific Amphitheatre 36 by the time their seasons conclude in November.

Most arrests at Orange County rock concerts this summer have been for "victimless" crimes: drinking in the parking lot, taking drugs, etc. Still, the number of arrests at Irvine Meadows alone is already up to 247. And the question remains: Are the three stadiums in the county that are used for rock concerts--the third is Costa Mesa's Pacific Amphitheatre--as safe as possible?

Scott Noble, an 18-year-old from Orange who works in a record store, says he hasn't "felt any real danger at all" at concerts. "In fact, when I go I don't think about safety at all. When I go, I might see a fight or two break out, but I don't ever get into them."

But on the other side of the coin, Lt. Mike White of the Irvine police, who has done duty at Irvine Meadows, says he "certainly would be very careful before letting one of my kids go to one of those hard rock concerts. I would not let them go without asking around as much as I could about the kind of group they were going to see. Every group draws a different crowd."

And music is just one source of a crowd's character. Other safety-conscious questions posed by White and fellow officers include:

-- Is alcohol served?

-- Is seating reserved?

-- How large a security force is on hand?

-- What's a stadium's track record?

-- How have the musicians interacted with crowds before?

"Parents know about as much about what goes on at a rock concert as they know about what happens on Mars," says Irving Goldaber, a Miami-based sociologist who advises stadium officials on crowd behavior. "When people go to a rock concert, they enter a different society. They are a separate nation-states, with their own rules and their own kind of behavior. People are going there to express themselves, and they're unpredictable."

Stadium managers around the nation have been learning lessons about crowds and concerts since large outdoor rock gatherings began 20 years ago with the Monterey International Pop Festival.

In Anaheim, they're still learning.

Madonna also called fans--32,290 of them--to the stage in Seattle on July 15, but that time without incident. Carol Darby, deputy director of Seattle's King Dome, had learned to press musicians for details about their acts ahead of time.

"I watched and learned that once a group gets up on stage you're at their mercy," she says.

Madonna's managers "told me that she wanted to call people down and I said 'no'," Darby says. "I took that position when I negotiated the contract. They said again that this was what she wanted to do, and I said we could negotiate on it. I proposed a compromise--that we would stage it in a very controlled fashion." Five hundred fans in the first 10 rows were told in advance to run forward when Madonna began her encore.

"It went very smoothly," Darby says.

Greg Smith, operations manager at city-owned Anaheim Stadium, says the first time he learned about Madonna's planned gesture was the night of the concert--after ink on the contracts was long dry. He says he tried to stop her, but nobody listened.

Madonna's personal representatives have either declined comment about the Anaheim Stadium incident or have failed to return telephone calls.

"From now on, we are going to stipulate in the contract that we have rights of approval for anything that the act does," Smith says. "This whole thing has caused us to recognize that not only do we have to control the fans, we have to control the act. We will ask many more questions."

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