We'd waited for hours, but, finally, way up ahead, at the front end of the long queue of people, a door swung open.
I took a tentative step forward hoping to nudge out anyone who might try to butt in line. Then, it was as though the earth moved. I felt a strong surge from behind, and before I could stop, I found myself pressed against the person in front of me. I struggled to keep on my feet and to hang onto my partner as we were buffeted along like scraps of paper in a windstorm. I knew if we fell, those behind us could not avoid trampling us.When we reached the opening, my heart was pounding. I handed my tickets to the worried doormen, and they motioned me through.
With some effort, I extricated myself from the mass of bodies and made it through the doorway. But my friend was stuck in the human conglomerate, and only her hand, which I still gripped tightly, was protruding from between the mass of bodies.
I looked angrily at the people blocking her way, but they gave me a helpless look, and I realized they were packed in so tightly they simply couldn't move.
Finally, after several seconds of squirming, my partner made it inside, and we started to run toward the arena, slowing only when we passed security personnel who told us to walk. It was festival seating, and we wanted to be as close as possible.
That was 15 years ago. It wasn't the Salt Palace. It wasn't an AC/DC concert. No one was hurt. No one died.
And while the faces and fashions change and the names of the bands grow ever more outrageous, one maxim remains constant: Rock concerts can be hazardous to your health.
Nothing could underscore that maxim more painfully than the tragic deaths of three teenagers who were crushed when a mob rushed the stage during last Friday's AC/DC concert. In the wake of such a catastrophe, there will be charges and countercharges, lawsuits and legal maneuvering. There will be a lot of name-calling, lots of rhetoric. There will no doubt be those who will call for abolishing what will amorphously be defined as "hard rock" concerts.
These concerns are understandable and legitimate. Based on the bizarre things I've seen at rock concerts during 10 years of reviewing popular music for the Deseret News, I can sympathize with those who are appalled at the excesses.
Rock concerts might be best described as controlled mayhem. It's hot, smoky. Many people are intoxicated. Everyone is standing, so you have to stand if you want to see. You're jostled, poked and, if you're close to the stage, battered.
After that description, you may wonder why anyone would pay money to be trapped in such an inferno. But in all honesty I have to admit that I enjoy rock concerts and I tend to think that, on the whole, they are - aside from some obviously tragic exceptions - benign.
I believe that the vast majority of those who attend such shows - even when the band is AC/DC or the like - are basically good kids who go to rock concerts for the same reasons they go to movies or basketball games. They go just to have fun, and most of them emerge unscathed.
Still, it is undeniable that rock concerts differ substantially from what may be regarded as more acceptable adolescent activities. Emotions run high as fans revel in the opportunity to commune, however distantly, with people they regard as celebrities of the first order.
Highbrows scoff at the inane pretentiousness of pop, but it's hard to dispute the power of musicians to speak to their fans in ways that are personal and moving. For many adults, it's merely high-decibel barking; but as a teenager, I sometimes found the music of The Who, Jethro Tull and Yes to be as vital as poetry, as true as scripture.
When possessed by this strange muse, people do strange things. I've seen fans - and sometimes musicians - perform back flips from the stage, trusting their lives to the throngs of fellow celebrants who have never yet failed to provide a human safety net. And then, of course, there's "slam dancing," a truly weird ritual in which participants bang into each other at sometimes high speed.
Given the activities that go on at rock concerts, the only real surprise is that more people aren't seriously injured. In fact, it's probably not possible to prevent all injuries, but I believe there are some things that could be done to avoid serious harm.
The first and most obvious step would be to eliminate festival seating at the large arenas. At smaller venues, such as the State Fairpark's Coliseum or at the now defunct Speedway Cafe, open seating isn't a problem and makes for a much more intimate atmosphere. But 4,000 people on the floor of the Salt Palace are simply too many.
And festival seating is, after all, new to the Salt Palace. In the '70s, all the shows I attended had reserved seating, which didn't entirely eliminate the crowding around the stage, but it did prevent the kind of mad dash that apparently caused last Friday's deaths.
Doubtless, many hardcore concertgoers will complain that the seats prevent them from dancing. But you have to wonder how much dancing they can do when they're packed in like sardines anyway.
One problem with this plan is that the seats on the floor of the Salt Palace are folding chairs, which are easily removed by fans. But better-trained security guards could prevent that from happening. And with the presence of chairs, ushers and security people would have a basis for removing fans from an overcrowded area. If someone didn't have a seat, he could be told to go find one.
In fact, better-trained security personnel would solve a lot of problems at the Salt Palace. In my experience, Salt Palace ushers and security guards simply don't do enough to keep people from accumulating in aisles and around the stage. Nor are they able to keep fans from jumping the guard rail that separates the upper dress circle from the floor.
It's a tough job. Kids are determined, and many of them are tireless in their efforts to get closer to the action. But it can be controlled. Security personnel at McNichols Arena in Denver, for example, kept the aisles and the area around the stage clear of people throughout a frenetic U2 concert three years ago. Even the United Concerts shows at ParkWest are much better controlled than most Salt Palace concerts I've attended.
I also believe the musicians themselves can do a lot to control an unruly crowd. A few years ago, the punk band X played to a boisterous crowd at the Coliseum. As the show was getting under way, fans surged forward, collapsing a makeshift barrier and decking a security guard who was on the other side of it. In response, X simply refused to play until everyone moved back. Although it took awhile, fans eventually retreated, and order, or some semblance thereof, was restored.
I believe these steps would help prevent the kind of senseless tragedy that occurred last week. But I want to stress that in making these suggestions, I'm in no way suggesting that the Salt Palace or the band or the promoters were remiss. That question will likely be resolved in court.
But I do want to say that something should be done. In the last analysis, it goes without saying that no one should die at a rock concert.