|Rolling Stone August 22, 1991
ROCK & ROLL
Fans Riot at Guns Show
By Kim Neely
A GUNS N ROSES CONCERT ON JULY 22ND AT the Riverport Performing Arts Center, in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights Missouri, ended in disaster after some 2500 fans, angry that the band had abruptly halted its show after ninety minutes, staged a full-fledged riot. Sixty people were injured and sixteen were arrested in the melee, which resulted in an estimated $2000,000 in damages to the new amphitheater and the loss of most of Guns n' Roses gear.
From what was apparent to most of the audience, the trouble started when Axl Rose asked venue security to confiscate a camera he saw near the front of the stage. (Like most bands, Guns n' Roses don't allow cameras to be brought inside venues.) When the guards failed to comply, Rose dived into the crowd. Following a scuffle he was pulled back onto the stage, announced, "Thanks to the lame-ass security, I'm going home." and disappeared. The other band members played on for a few seconds, then left the stage as well.
The riot started about ten minutes later, when the houselights were turned on. Sporadic fights broke out, and then concertgoers went on a rampage, hurling bottles, destroying seats, pulverizing shrubbery, setting fires and laying waste to the band's equipment. Police officers used fire hoses and CapStun (an aerosol cayenne pepper similar to Chemical Mace) on the mob to no avail and were forced to retreat; according to one fan, the carnage continued for an hour before officers in riot gear arrived and got the situation under control. Though Rose has been roundly criticized in the media for his actions - the most widely quoted contention being that the riot occurred because 'Rose didn't want his picture taken - he says that the camera was simply "the final straw" and that he decided to halt the show because of a series of events, all of which stemmed from lax security.
Rose says he began feeling uncomfortable about the venue's security staff early in the show. "I could see bottles, I could see cameras, and I could see that security really didn't have a clue what they were doing," says Rose. "I remember watching this one security guy shove somebody around and then beam up at me like 'Look how powerful I am."
As the show progressed, Rose says the problems mounted. Fans, unchecked by venue security kept grabbing his ankles. Bassist Duff McKagan was hit twice by bottles. Through all of this, several members of a motorcycle gang called the Saddle Tramps were making their presence known in the first row, allegedly intimidating other concertgoers., Rose claims that the G n' R staffers tried to have one of the bikers ejected and were met with indifference by the venue's security staff.
"I found out later that these guys ere all friends with local security" says Guns n' Roses' manager Doug Goldstein, "which would explain why security wouldn't deal with the problems they were causing." Both the police and Steve Schankman, the president to Contemporary Productions, the concert's promoter confirm that the Saddle Tramps are regulars at arena shows and are indeed known to the venue's security staff but deny that the bikers were causing any problems and say that they hadn't caused problems in the past. However five of the concertgoers interviewed by Rolling Stone, who attended St. Louis area shows regularly, say otherwise. One fan, who asked not to be identified, says: "They always cause problems. I see them at every show. They're always pushing people around. And the thing is, the security guards are intimidated by them. They security guards have never, at least in my experience, gone in and said, 'Listen guys, calm down' " Early in the show, Rose says, another of the bikers, who the promoter says goes by the name of Stump, began bellowing to get Rose's attention. "You have people yelling and screaming during the whole show," says Rose, "but this guy just wouldn't stop, and he was loud - almost as loud as my monitor. He's holding up a card, and I'm like 'Okay, yeah, that’s great.' But he still won't stop yelling."
Rose finally stopped and asked the biker what he wanted; Stump handed over a card bearing his name and affiliation. (Lee Phillips, Guns n' Roses' attorney, says the exchange was captured on videotape by a member of Guns n' Roses crew. Daniel Durchholz, a reporter for the Riverfront Times who was there to review the show says, "I did see somebody hand him a card.")
"I read his card," says Rose, "and I said, 'Okay, your Stump from the Saddle Tramps - was that worth interrupting the show for?' " Rose says he asked what he was supposed to do with the card and that Stump told him to 'remember it."
Unfortunately, Rose did - a few minutes later, when he spied the "fan" with the camera - Stump.
Rose claims he asked venue security guards to take the biker's camera three times. When they did not, Rose decided to take matters into his own hands.
Though it has been widely reported that Rose began pummeling Stump, Rose says that he dived in, hit the chairs and "got a hold of the guy and wouldn’t let go of him," and that the only person he remembers striking was a venue security staffer; he adds that several guards hit him Most of the fans interviewed by Rolling Stone say they saw some sort of fight, but could not describe what took place.
Babu Brat, 24, editor of a local pop-music tabloid, who witnessed the incident from the floor, says: "He never hit the guy. I saw him hit a security guard, but he didn't hit the guy. It didn't even look like he made it to the guy when he initially jumped. He looked like he just grabbed him and held on to him." Stump could not be reached for comment.
"When I got back on the stage," says Rose, "I'd lost a contact, and I couldn't see. My first thought was 'I'm out of here. I'm paying these guys' salary, I don't need to be treated like that by them.'
"I went backstage," Rose continues, "and found a new lens. It was getting crazy, and we decided we were going to go back out and try to play, because we didn't want people to get hurt."
Though various reports have quoted the Maryland Heights police as saying that Guns n' Roses "snuck out of the venue" during the melee, Chief Neil Kurlander says he never made that statement and confirms that the band did offer to play a few more songs to calm the crowd. "By that point," says Kurlander, "it was too late, and it was too out of hand."
Guns n' Roses' management says that the band left the amphitheater on the orders of the police and the promoter. Kurlander wouldn't confirm that, but he did say that the band's leaving the venue "was probably a wise thing for them to do."
Contemporary Productions and the owners of the Riverport Performing Arts center have filed a lawsuit against Guns n' Roses, accusing the band of violating a contractual agreement to refrain from "provocative" and "dangerous" conduct. But Phillips says he feels that the lawsuit is a good example of "the best defense is a good offense" and that appropriate legal action against the promoter for numerous breaches of contract - among other things, the lack of adequate security."
A representative for B&D Security, which handled the event, declined comment. Kurlander and Schankman both deny that security for the event was inadequate. Schankman claims that the venue's staff was told before the show that the band's security would handle any crowd problems near the front of the stage. (The promoter also goes so far as to compare the inside of the facility prior to the camera incident to the inside of a church, and say that "the only bottles we saw were bottles that were backstage that the crew had brought onstage".) But other witnesses say that security was particularly lax at the venue.
"As we went into the amphitheater, I was not frisked at all.", says Melodee Lang, 24, "To me, that was unusual because at every other concert I've been to, I have been frisked," Lang says that she saw numerous patrons with bottles and cameras in the venue. Daniel Durccholz - who says he and his associate were not frisked before entering the venue either - claims to have given his business card to at least three amateur photographers during the concert, on of whom had managed to smuggle a camcorder.
Lee Phillips has indicated that even without taking into account the alleged breaches of contract on the part of the promoters, Contemporary Productions may not be able to hold Guns n' Roses liable for any damages, since alcohol was sold at Riverport and the first page of Guns n' Roses performance contract contains a clause indemnifying the band from damages at a venue where alcohol is sold. Kurlander says that the police will not make a decision on whether to file charges against Rose until a thorough investigation has been completed and that he has not reason to believe that Guns n' Roses will not cooperate fully.
"This is not a witch hunt," Kurlander says. "We will not be stampeded by people who would like to have seen Axl Rose arrested immediately. It is not the intention of this police department to charge people for what is reported in the press."
Rose says he had no idea that his decision to abort the show might prompt fans to riot, adding that it is not something he would like to see happen again. But he denies that his leaving the stage was an irresponsible act.
"I didn't have a choice," Rose says, "I couldn’t' even see, and was injured, and did not feel safe on the stage. I was concerned that people didn't get more of a show. But some fans don't take responsibility that they should take. There's a lot of people not taking responsibility for the damage they did at that place."
Kurlander agrees with Rose. "The people that rioted are ultimately responsible for their own actions," Kurlander says. "No matter what Axl Rose did, they cannot escape the fact that they violated the law. They were the ones hitting people and throwing chairs, and bottles and whatever else they could get, I don't think there's any excuse for their behavior."
Transcribed by Eva.