Fans of the Grateful Dead rock band launched a petition drive this week urging the Ventura County Fair Board to reverse its decision to cancel a three-day concert scheduled for June at the fairgrounds.
Calling themselves the "Coalition to Keep the Dead Alive in Ventura," the fans said Wednesday that they had collected 800 signatures as a show of support for the annual concert, which last summer drew 56,000 people to a three-day show.
"We can make it work, and it can be all right," said Storm Miller, one of about 20 dedicated followers of the band who are organizing the protest. "They didn't even give us a chance to show our support."
But Jeremy Ferris, general manager of the fair, defended the decision of his board of directors last month to cancel the concert because of complaints that some fans were intoxicated, urinating in public and camping in downtown Ventura.
'People That Spilled Over'
"The concert inside was extraordinarily well-produced and controlled," Ferris said. "What we couldn't handle was all the people that spilled over into the community. I think the fair board just felt it wasn't fair to the community to put them through that again."
The band, known for its embodiment of '60s culture and its colorful followers who call themselves "Deadheads," has played at the county fairgrounds every year since 1980, except for 1986 when lead guitarist Jerry Garcia was ill.
In 1985, the band sold 22,000 tickets for its two-day show. Last year's attendance set a record, and with the success of a 1987 Grateful Dead album, fair officials were concerned that the number might grow even higher.
"This is not Anaheim Stadium," Ferris said.
The promoter of the Grateful Dead's concerts, however, said he was dismayed by the fair board's decision, especially after he had traveled to Ventura from San Francisco on several occasions to work on security and parking problems.
Bob Barsotti, a concert manager for Bill Graham Presents, said he is still leaving open the dates of June 10 through 12 for the Ventura concert in the hope that local fans can persuade fair officials to reconsider their decision.
"We've had tremendous success with Grateful Dead fans," Barsotti said in a telephone interview from his San Francisco office. "Once you tell them what the problem is, they try to cooperate. . . . It surprised me that the fair board reacted the way they did."
Fans said their support also includes many downtown merchants who enjoy the economic benefits of having thousands of visitors in town. The concert last year generated $100,000 in revenues for the fairgrounds alone.
Greg Bennett, general manager of the Ventura Holiday Inn, said he neither supported nor opposed the fair board's decision, but he conceded that the extra dollars would be missed.
"There was a good amount of revenue generated. We'll miss that, and I think most businessmen in this area would agree," Bennett said. "When you bring in 56,000 people, they will spend their money."
While residents of other cities across the United States have also been miffed by the Deadheads' spirit of abandon, city officials in the small Colorado mountain town of Telluride gave rave reviews to the band's ability to control a crowd of fans 20 times larger than Telluride's entire population of 1,200.
Telluride Mayor Chip Lenihan admitted that he was "scared to death" about fallout from a two-day concert in his town last summer but he said his fears were assuaged by Graham, who even distributed garbage bags at the show urging fans to clean up behind them.
"They left the town cleaner than when they got here," said Lenihan, adding that he is writing an open letter to Ventura fans expressing his satisfaction with the band and its followers. "They came into a tiny mountain community and were incredibly respectful," he said.
Grateful Dead fans said they will appear at the fair board's April 25 meeting at 4 p.m. to protest the cancellation.