Tahlequah Daily Press

Columns

March 3, 2012

On Eagles concerts, campouts and rampant chaos

In December, I got an email from Diane (Stotts) Yarnell, who’s been a friend of mine for 40 years. It said, “We’ve got to go!” and had a link to the New Orleans Jazz Fest. I looked at the lineup and got it immediately: The Eagles. My favorite band of all time.

We’ve seen them before. Both Diane and I were at the Myriad in Oklahoma City on Valentine’s Day 1980. I was front row center, she was behind me to the left. Another friend, Hugh Tullos, was a few seats away, and he took the best concert photos I’ve ever seen.

It didn’t take much convincing. A group of us will fly down in May, fighting crowds and enjoying steamed crawfish, boudin, raw oysters and everything else about the Big Easy. We won’t get close to the stage, but at least we don’t have to camp out for tickets. I’m too old for that, although 32 years ago, we did camp out.

In 1979, tickets were to go on sale on a Saturday, and I’m ashamed to admit we I decided to blow off class at OU to camp out for them. Well, sort of ashamed (though I don’t know why I bother dissembling, since it’s 32 years on, and my parents – who would have been the only ones who cared about skipped classes – don’t read my column). So the previous Tuesday, three of us drove to Oklahoma City to Carson Attractions. (Diane’s mom, Doretta, doesn’t read my column, either, but in case she does, I will truthfully say Diane was not with us.)

We were crestfallen to learn about 25 people were already camped out, and they were each buying the maximum number of tickets. One guy, with whom I’d had a class, took me aside and told me he heard from a friend, who worked for Carson, that Lloyd Noble in Norman would have tickets, too. Since we hadn’t thought to bring a change of clothing, anyway, we took our chances and drove back to Norman, slating frequent drive-bys to espy any early-bird campers.

Thursday evening, we got a report that people were showing up. It turned out to be a Kris Kristofferson/Willie Nelson concert, but we decided to roll up a couple of blankets; stuff our backpacks with underwear, shirts, and snacks; and claim our spot. As people started trickling in for Kris and Willie, we brazenly unloaded our blankets and parked our posteriors to play backgammon and cards. As other kids passed us, they’d ask, “Who you camping out for?” When we told them, most said, “Wow! We’ll join you after the concert.” Just before midnight, there were around 20 – with my group hugging the doors.

As Friday dawned, word leaked out, and more Eagles fans began to make pallets on the concrete. Soon, there were a few hundred. Law enforcement on drugs and alcohol wasn’t quite as rigid then, and many “minors” were openly imbibing. We heard the first sound of retching around 2 p.m., and watched a guy 15 yards back stagger to his feet and barf all over his friends and other campers, who didn’t appreciate his contribution to the cause. Another dude punched him in the face, and down he went.

We heard rumors that some campers were “tripping on acid.” I knew what that meant, because at a Supertramp concert the previous year, I had seen a girl trying to pluck spots from the air every time the stage lights got bright. Sure enough, a long-haired dude nearby began to jitter and jive and guffaw. Ultimately he threw up, flopped on the ground, and began convulsing. EMTs pushed through the crowd, plucked up the victim, put him on a stretcher and carted him away. Later, a wise-looking older man of about 25 came by to advise, “If you’re offered any acid, don’t take it.” No kidding.

At around 9 p.m., it began to get colder, and near midnight, it started to rain. Moments later, someone from the back of the crowd tried to rush the door, which sent a mass of several hundred bodies surging forward. From that point, no one could sit. Intermittent fights broke out, but because everyone was so packed in, none of the aggressors had swinging room. We watched several assaults wherein the men involved were reduced to pounding each other on the top of the head. During one duel, a guy shrieked, “You broke my #@!*! glasses!” and struggled to turn so he could drive his elbow into the mouth of his opponent, who lost two teeth. The cops began a vigil; every 15 minutes or so, we’d hear shrieks and curses, a siren whoop and a bullhorn, and someone would get dragged away.

After midnight, the gender makeup of the crowd began to change. As competition for proximity to the doors escalated, so did hostility; boys lifted girls, carried them off, and dumped them unceremoniously on the ground a distance away, just to get their places in line. By 3 a.m., we fell into the crosshairs; the four girls in our group were the only ones even close to our enviable pole position. Not only were we by the door, we were under the building’s overhang, where we were somewhat sheltered from the rain. Guys next to us began to threaten to “get rid of these b--ches.” Fortunately, Hugh and one of his buddies stuck close by. Hugh issued a few frank threats to our would-be assailants, who discussed it and decided tussling with a big, mean-looking guy with a long, blond ‘fro might not be in their best interests.

When the doors opened at 9 a.m., I was the first to the window. “What’s the best you’ve got?” I asked breathlessly. “Front row, center,” said the agent. It was one of the few times in my life luck was on my side, and it was worth every bit of trauma. To this day, I rate it as the best concert I’ve ever seen.

Jazz Fest will be a little like that. There will be crowds on a huge field, with blankets, lawn chairs, booze and paper trays with crawfish. There will be drunks and fights, and probably some low-quality acid. But the music will be good – of that I’m sure.

Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press. Check next Sunday’s column for more on concerts and campouts.

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