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When the Music Stopped : Sporadic fighting forces an early halt to the 'Summer Jam' concert at Irvine Meadows; promoter vows the annual event will resume next year

August 13, 1996|CHEO HODARI COKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The general manager of radio station KKBT-FM on Monday vowed not to let a series of isolated fights Sunday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre threaten the future of the station's annual "Summer Jam" benefit concerts.

"We're going to do it again next year and every year," said Craig Wilbrahan of the annual R&B and rap showcase. "We're going to continue to stress positivity and racial tolerance and show people that we can have fun together. We're not going to let these idiots stop that."

The third annual "Summer Jam," which raises money for various charities, was called to a halt around 7:40 p.m. Sunday by Irvine Meadows officials and the station after several fights broke out among the 18,000 fans.

Irvine police responded to requests for backup from a private security firm soon after sporadic fighting broke out about 6 p.m. Though only about a dozen people seemed to be actively involved in the initial fight, some of them ran into the crowd before security guards could catch them. They appeared to start other skirmishes, causing an escalating tension.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 14, 1996 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 4 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Irvine Meadows--In Tuesday's report on violence at the "Summer Jam" concert at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, the surname of KKBT-FM general manager Craig Wilbraham was misspelled. Also, a photo caption said that LL Cool J was the last artist to perform before the concert was halted. In fact, Montel Jordan and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony performed after LL Cool J.

But no injuries or arrests were reported and Irvine police on Monday said the incident has no bearing on future events at the facility as far as the department is concerned.

"It hasn't even been a topic of discussion here," said Sgt. Scott Cade, Irvine police watch commander, who said the department and city have no authority over Irvine Meadows' bookings. "Those decisions are made by [amphitheater] management."

Randy Brogna, operations vice president of Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, says that the incident "will not affect the booking policy." But he says that it will be evaluated in terms of changes that might be made in security and scheduling.

"As far as security, we are always redefining and fine-tuning the measures with every show, irrespective of the kind of show," he says. "These all-day shows give us occasion to review the length of shows and the best ways to suit them."

The City Council did ban the Grateful Dead from playing in Irvine in 1989 after fans outside the amphitheater clashed with police and members of the group's Deadhead fans were deemed a nuisance. But Cade said the two situations are entirely different.

"This time it was just a few rowdy concert-goers who caused a problem," he said. "The Grateful Dead attracted this moving entourage that camped out for three or four days and caused problems in the community."

By the time Sunday's concert was stopped, it had already been running for more than eight hours, featuring music by such best-selling acts as D'Angelo, the Tony Rich Project, MC Lyte and LL Cool J. There were only two more acts scheduled to perform: Ice Cube and SWV.

"This is our third 'Summer Jam' and the first two were totally successful," Wilbrahan said. "We had convinced a lot of people who were doubtful that we could get a crowd together for this type of show and pull it off successfully.

"What happened this time is that a few people, for whatever purpose, chose to be disruptive--and I mean a very few people. When an incident began on stage right, security attempted to extract them from the crowd, and they split up and flew all over the place. They'd crop up in another spot and create another problem.

"We huddled with the police and amphitheater officials and concluded that since 95% of the show had been completed and that the situation wasn't getting any better, it would be best to shut down the show while there was light because, after dark, it could be more difficult to control any problems. And, there was a very peaceful exit."

This incident comes at a time when the rap industry is feeling optimistic about the future of live hip-hop, thanks to the success of the high-profile, House of Blues-sponsored "Smokin' Grooves" tour, which ends its 34-city trek on Sept. 2 at Irvine Meadows.

*

Though rap music generates nearly $800 million annually in record sales, it has been virtually shut out of the nation's lucrative concert business in recent years, partly because of concern over security at concerts.

The "Smokin' Grooves" tour, which included two nights at the Universal Amphitheatre last month, has been doing well at the box office and getting positive reviews for everything from the music (including such acts as the Fugees and A Tribe Called Quest) to production standards.

"Summer Jam," too, was well organized and the audience seemed to be having a grand time until the isolated outbursts. The station spent an estimated $40,000 on added security, which included metal detectors at the entrances.

Ironically, rapper LL Cool J, in keeping with the theme of the day, had just congratulated the crowd--whose ages chiefly ranged from the teens to mid-30s--on its positive spirit.

"Peace," he said. "Save the children, they are our future. Stop the violence, and fighting among brothers and sisters. Love one another."

The cheerful crowd screamed loudly, and young girls squealed with glee as the rap, television and movie star removed his sweat- and water-soaked black tank top and threw it into the audience.

"Everything was so smooth," one teenage girl said on her way out of the amphitheater. "It's a shame that all it takes is one person to spoil the whole thing."

Freelance writer Steve Hochman contributed to this article.

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