Here's a tip about Arizona for visiting Deadheads: Local authorities are very uncool about pot smoking at big rock concerts. Here's another tip: Don't plan on enacting your usual tailgate-Woodstock ritual this weekend.
The preceding public-service announcements were brought to you because the Grateful Dead, one of the world's oldest rock bands, is scheduled to play concerts at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Compton Terrace, a large outdoor amphitheatre located about fifteen miles south and east of downtown Phoenix. (See related feature in Sun Tracks.)
The group's fans call themselves Deadheads. Trailing scraps of tie-dyed fabric, energy crystals and reefer nubs, Deadheads travel far and wide to follow their beloved combo. They are gentle people, but prone to dope smoking and erratic dancing. They also tend to scarf mushrooms, peyote and LSD. And they do it with little regard for public opinion or pesky legalities. They do it because it is their "bag."
According to a spokesperson for Evening Star Productions, local promoter of the shows, both concerts are likely sellouts. Tickets for Saturday's show were gone two weeks ago, and only a few thousand general-admission seats remained for Sunday's event as New Times went to press. Compton Terrace holds about 22,000. It's estimated that some 6,000 tickets for each show were bought up by traveling Deadheads, through the band's mail-order ticket service. Most of those fans will arrive from out-of-state expecting a mind-bending good time. When the Dead last played Compton Terrace three years ago, hundreds of Deadheads arrived two days before the actual concert and set up a camp just outside the amphitheatre's gates. For most of the band's 25-year history, the pre- and postconcert Deadhead party "scene" has been a major component of the Grateful Dead Experience. "You'd go to any particular city, and it would be like a flea market outside the shows," says Tony Victor, local music promoter and longtime Deadhead. "Tee shirts, clothing, jewelry, crystals. They all have their little booths, selling stuff. People trading, people looking for tickets."
Victor followed the band through Europe this fall, along with about 4,000 other American Deadheads. Even in Germany, the group's upcoming Arizona stand was a hot topic. "In Europe there was a lot of excitement," Victor says. "People--the travelers--really like Compton Terrace. Maybe because it's in the middle of nowhere. . . . Everybody I talked to was really psyched to come to Compton Terrace and see the show."
Hence the need for the above warnings. Interestingly enough, the first warning--the one about the marijuana--may not be necessary, due to the second--the one about the preshow party. Steps have been taken to ensure that local law-enforcement meanies interested in flashy drug sweeps have fewer sitting-duck targets. "The news this year is that there ain't any party before or after," says John Dixon of Evening Star. "No vending. No camping. That's a story that has to get out."
Deadheads who do arrive at the site early--the parking lot will open at 9 a.m. before each concert--will be handed a letter explaining the new no-preparty philosophy. The letter, which also contains recommendations on local campgrounds, motels and restaurants, concludes with the suggestion that concertgoers "please get in your car and leave" right after the shows, Dixon says.
The tough-love approach is not Evening Star's idea. And a spokesperson for the amphitheatre is quick to say that Compton Terrace digs the Deadheads. The lockout isn't even the result of local pre-emptive paranoia over the possibility of an undercover dope sweep like the one that ruined last spring's Paul McCartney concert for several concertgoers. Strangely enough, it's the Grateful Dead's idea.
Burned by unfavorable publicity after concerts in several American cities, the band has been trying to discourage its best fans from doing the camp-in, swap-meet, do-your-own-thing thing at concert sites. According to Bob Barsotti, a concert manager for Bill Graham Presents in San Francisco (the company that produces the Dead's tours), the policy is old news. "It's been almost two years now, and things have mellowed considerably on the outside prior to shows," Barsotti says. "It was becoming such a great scene outside, it was attracting thousands upon thousands of people who had no intention of going to the concert. The traveling road show was making it so that people with tickets couldn't get parking. Shows were starting late because people couldn't get to the show. It was creating lots of problems logistically, and the police started to complain about the various problems that occur when that many people are gathering in parking lots at night."
To Deadheads, Barsotti says, change comes slowly. "They didn't like it at first, but they realized that the whole scene was starting to come into jeopardy," he says. "We were losing cities that would allow the show to go on."
Because of hassles with administrators, the group won't play again at either Stanford University or the University of California-Berkeley--two campuses on the group's home turf, the San Francisco area. In Eugene, Oregon, city fathers and campus officials flipped out over perceived Deadhead debauchery after a recent concert at the University of Oregon. Cities all across the country get skittish when the Dead comes to town. The band's reputation is considerable. The reputation of its drug-toting fans is bigger still.
"It's a fact that a lot of Deadheads go to the show with some form of psychedelic experience in mind," local Deadhead Tony Victor confirms. "That's part of it."
If the local fuzz considered Paul McCartney a good draw for pot-sucking rubberheads, they must be doing the Pee-wee dance over the perpetrator possibilities of the Arizona Dead shows. The Maricopa County Demand Reduction Task Force, a notorious squad of undercover narcs, made a splashy event out of busting thirty-some woeful tokers at Paul's Sun Devil Stadium concert last spring.
Even with elimination of the preshow bender and its accompanying temptations (bong-a-thons, microdot lickoffs, vegetarian stir-fry eating) there is reason for Deadheads to fear some trouble from the Man. For sure, a high-profile drug sweep of a standard Deadhead confab would make for stirring footage on the TV news. It's happened here before. As an additional hospitality gesture to visiting Deadheads, here's a rundown of the security measures planned for the weekend. The more paranoid among you will no doubt take some of this info with a grain of Spike. Good for you. Compton Terrace is located on the Gila River Indian Reservation, which is federal land policed by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and local tribal police. Law enforcement for concerts usually comprises a few tribal cops and a small army of private security guards. The tribe's police officers usually have their hands full directing traffic. Compton Terrace, located just off I-10 next to the Firebird Lake speedboat-racing facility, is notoriously difficult to get to--especially when there are 21,999 fellow stonies trying to get there with you. "Primarily what we're concerned about is the flow of traffic, making sure everybody comes in safely and goes out in a safe manner," says Richard Armstrong, a supervisor and criminal investigator for the Bureau of Indian Affairs-Pima agency. "We also provide the reporting service for vehicles that have accidents and thefts that occur within the parking lot. As far as the concert is concerned . . . we're not really expecting any problems because it's a daytime concert."
Armstrong says he has scheduled only thirteen officers for each show. John Reese, president of V.I.P. Event Services, will supplement that force with more than 240 beefy troops of his own. They will be your typical crowd-control dudes in tight tee shirts, muscular but for the most part mellow. The real Pothead Patrol, if one should materialize, will operate under the command of Jim Watson, a lieutenant with the Phoenix Police Department. He oversees the crimebusters from the Maricopa County's mean 'n' clean drug-fighting machine--you know, the goons who crashed the McCartney show. Technically speaking, Watson has no jurisdiction over the reservation. "The only way we could be involved in an incident at Compton Terrace is if we were to be invited by Indian police," says Watson. "You could be 100 percent sure that we're not gonna have any operation at Compton Terrace, unless there's an invitation."
Inquiring Deadheads want to know, Lieutenant: Have you received any such invitations? "I personally am not aware of any."
Would you tell us if you had? No, he says.
So be cool, you Deadheads! "It's kinda like easy pickin's for the police, if they want to bother Deadheads," says Deadhead Tony Victor. "I sure hope that they realize that allowing it to happen the way it's happened for 25 years is a lot better than going in there and making ridiculous, petty busts."
Crowd-control scene setters at Compton Terrace certainly aren't expecting any trouble. "It's a fun-loving crowd," says security boss Reese, speaking of the Deadheads. "If somebody gets sick or hurt, they all try to help each other. As far as the crowd is concerned, it's one of the easiest crowds to work, because they care about each other. It's not like a Motley Crue or a Guns n' Roses crowd. If they get pissed off, they beat the hell out of each other."
Ironically enough, the ban on the Deadhead bazaar apparently comes as a great disappointment to officials at the amphitheatre, who happily marked off five acres of ground for preshow campers and venders before the Dead concert three years ago. When final word came down on this weekend's battle plan (it came early last week, via a conference call among reps from the band, the promoters, the venue and the security company), Compton Terrace had to cancel an order of portable toilets made in preparation for the parking-lot preliminaries. Also killed were plans to provide the thirsty Deadhead throng with preshow water. "It's probably the easiest crowd of concertgoers that there is," confirms Bob Heiser, Compton Terrace general manager. "Compton Terrace loves to have 'em. They just do their own little thing. They go out and smoke their little pot and dance around and have a good time."
"It's not like a Motley Crue or a Guns n' Roses crowd. If they get pissed off, they beat the hell out of each other."
"It's a fact that a lot of Deadheads go to the show with some form of psychedelic experience in mind," a local Deadhead confirms.
Trailing scraps of tie-dyed fabric, energy crystals and reefer nubs, Deadheads travel far and wide to follow their beloved combo.