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Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Patrons, Venues Share Responsibility for Concert Safety

By Liesel Sharabi, senior, Eldorado High School
For the Journal
    Nobody ever expects a night of music to turn deadly. But recent tragedies at clubs in Chicago and Rhode Island have raised awareness about concert and club safety.
    So, how safe are you at local music venues? Most club and concert venue managers say they take the obvious precautions like security and obeying fire codes. But when it comes to other activities, like crowd surfing and mosh pits, patrons have a lot to do with how the evening goes.
    Damian Lopez-Gaston, director of events and facilities for Tingley Coliseum, says his staff strictly obeys fire codes and maximum capacities designated for their building. Besides having a combination of security contractors, state police officers and emergency medical personnel on hand at all concerts, Tingley's events staff also performs searches on attendees at large-scale shows, Lopez-Gaston says.
    The Launchpad is located 120 yards from a fire station. After the tragedies in Chicago and Rhode Island, a fire marshal reinspected their property, according to manager Joe Anderson.
    Anderson says the club provides one security guard for every 30 patrons at all-ages shows. However, there are certain hazardous activities that searches and fire codes don't prevent, such as moshing, crowd surfing and their various counterparts.
    Pamela Fallon, director of public relations for Clear Channel Entertainment, gave an official statement: "Our first priority is the safety of our audience and our artists."
    At Clear Channel venues such as Journal Pavilion, safety procedures are regularly restructured, but Fallon said she isn't permitted to go into specifics.
    Still, many a music fan has a story to tell about some concert somewhere.
    "I've seen people get hurt crowd-surfing, when people get dropped," says Brian Dyea, a freshman at Laguna-Acoma Jr./Sr. High School.
    He also described the downside of mosh pits. "If you get elbowed in the ribs, you don't feel it until you get in your car."
    Jaylon Aragon, also a freshman at Laguna-Acoma Jr./Sr. High School, told of similar incidents. At an Insane Clown Posse show, he literally met the band.
    "(A member of the band) jumped off the stage and his head hit my face," says Aragon.
    A crowd's behavior doesn't necessarily have a lot to do with the genre of music being performed. Intense conditions have been known to exist at unlikely shows, such as a No Doubt concert.
    "I was surprised to see a mosh pit so intense that people had to be dragged out," said Lisa Wallhagan, a senior at Eldorado High School.
    However, she says the staff was right on top of things.
    "They did a good job of getting people out of the pit when they looked like they were in trouble," she says.
    Venues such as Tingley Coliseum recognize the problems that arise from mosh pits and crowd surfing, but they also realize that they are part of the concert experience.
    "Moshing and crowd surfing are responses to music, just as dancing may be a response to some other types of music," says Lopez-Gaston. "One might suppose the movement in a mosh pit may be somewhat more inherently risky than, for example, dancing at a club, but I think kids who participate are out there to enjoy themselves, not to hurt others around them."
    At the Launchpad, moshing and slamming are discouraged, and crowd surfing and stage diving are strictly prohibited. However, says Anderson, "If there was an instance when a pit should develop, most of the time, it's started by kids just trying to have fun. Some people have fun doing it, although I think it's weird. But I will admit, I used to do that when I was younger and going to shows."
    It isn't just the show's patrons who take pleasure in mosh pits.
    "It's not so much that artists request a pit area than they expect it to naturally occur at that kind of show and so everyone prepares accordingly," says Lopez-Gaston.
    "In many cases, bands object to us preventing these activities," Anderson says. "They obviously want their fans to have fun, but at the end of the day, we are more liable than they are. If the bands don't abide by our rules, they know where the door is."
    Moshing and crowd surfing can be exhilarating or horrifying, depending on the person and the situation. Fans want the option to participate in those activities, even if they aren't always safe.
    "They're fun it's an incredible rush," says Dyea.
    In many instances, club owners say, it isn't the venues that are unsafe; it's the people. Most clubs have restrictions in place; it's just a matter of getting patrons to abide by them.
    "I think there should be rules, but I highly doubt anyone would follow them," said Eldorado senior Wallhagen. "When people get excited or wired up, they don't pay heed to those around them, much less a set of rules."