Street Fighting Men

The Rolling Stones kicked off their Exile on Main Street tour at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver on 3 June 1972, with Stevie Wonder opening. It was not the Stones’ best performance, but it was significant for other reasons. For one thing, it was the group’s first North American show since the infamous 1969 concert in Altamont, California where four people died, one of whom was killed by the Hell’s Angels who had been given beer to do security.

The police were not likely looking forward to the Rolling Stones playing Vancouver. The last time they played here was at the Forum in 1966. At that show, the band started 90 minutes late and the crowd was pretty wound up. In a misguided attempt to calm the fans, the cops pulled the plug five minutes into the show. Mick Jagger responded by pointing his finger and then thumbing his nose at police Inspector Bud Errington, to the delight of the crowd. The show eventually resumed, but only lasted half an hour.

Inspector Bud Errington on stage with the Rolling Stones at the Forum, 19 July 1966. Photo: Vancouver Police Museum

Inspector Bud Errington on stage with the Rolling Stones at the Forum, 19 July 1966. Photo: Vancouver Police Museum

Errington later said that “we are specifically concerned about this group reappearing in Vancouver due to their lack of cooperation.” Police ejected 36 people from that concert, fans attempted to crash through police lines, and an officer’s hat was stolen. At the first Stones show in Vancouver just seven months earlier, seven people were arrested for drunkenness and causing a disturbance.

The band wasn’t the problem in 1972. In some ways (but not others), Altamont sobered the Stones. The Sun emphasized how good natured Mick Jagger seemed during the Vancouver show. Keith Richards was reportedly packing a .38 revolver on the tour because of rumours of an assassination plot by the Hells Angels as revenge for the lack of support the Stones showed them in the aftermath of Altamont. Conspicuously absent from the set list was “Sympathy for the Devil.”

The first sign there might be trouble came more than a month before the show when $5000 worth of sound equipment was damaged at Empire Stadium by a youth gang on the morning tickets went on sale for the Rolling Stones. The show sold out, but on the night of the concert scalpers were outside selling real and fake tickets for between $6 (face value) and $20.

Here Come the Rolling Stones

"Here Come the Rolling Stones," Georgia Straight cover, June 1972

The mêlée started around 8:45 when people without tickets began pushing against the 100 or so police guarding the doors around the Coliseum. Someone set off firecrackers and the crowd began jeering the police. Then someone threw a bottle that broke the glass above one of the doors. About 200 people took off and ran around the building kicking the doors and shouting at police. When they finished circling the building, a line of about 30 police in riot gear were blocking the main entrance. Bottles began flying and police were smashing them with their riot sticks. Sergeant Stan Ziola was the first police casualty when a bottle broke his sternum.

Rioters lobbed projectiles, police charged, and the rioters retreated. This repeated for an hour and a half. There was very little hand-to-hand skirmishing between police and the 2500-strong crowd outside the Coliseum. Seven officers were on horseback, going from place to place as needed.

Rioters outside the Pacific Coliseum during the Rolling Stones concert, Vancouver Sun, 5 June 1972

By 10:30 the riot was simmering. Around 11:00, a Molotov cocktail exploded at the rear of an RCMP cruiser that was driving past on Renfrew Street. It was followed by another Molotov, and the seven mounted police charged at the crowd, which dispersed between nearby houses.

By the time the 17,000 concert-goers streamed out of the Coliseum at 11:30, it was all over. In the final tally, 31 police were injured and of those thirteen required hospitalization. Thirteen people were arrested that night and another nine rioters were identified and arrested in the days that followed. Most of those charged were young men in their late teens or early twenties, including a 16 year-old boy who assaulted Sgt. Bernie “Whistling” Smith with a chain.

Superintendent Ted Oliver, commander of the 285 officers policing the riot, said “there is no way, ever, that I want to have to ask my men to go into a situation like that again.” He was “proud of every one of those bastards I had working for me. They were cool and they were very, very brave.”

Outside the Coliseum, 3 June 1972. From: The Grape, no. 21, 7-13 June 1972.

Despite the injuries they sustained, the Vancouver police ultimately benefited from the affray. Their handling of the Rolling Stones Riot was praised in the media and was contrasted with their performance the previous year at the Gastown Riot, for which they were roundly criticized for brutality. The Stones Riot was thus an opportunity for the Vancouver Police Department to redeem itself, as well as to argue that it needed more riot gear.

Police suspected that the obviously premeditated riot was orchestrated by the Clark Park Gang. At the time, youth gangs based in city parks were a preoccupation of the city police. Using the alias Ken Bell, Constable Ken Doern had infiltrated the Clark Park Gang and warned his bosses three weeks before the Stones concert to expect trouble, including weapons.

While undercover, Doern was part of a contingent of parents and youth from the Clark Park area that brought grievances of police harassment and increased surveillance of youth to Alderman Harry Rankin. “Police may think they are trying to get at the hard core but have succeeded in antagonizing a great number of kids,” Rankin said. A police spokesman denied they were doing anything differently around Clark Park than anywhere else, but acknowledged that “the East End wants us out and the people in Dunbar want more of us.”

Cop injured at the Rolling Stones Riot, Vancouver Sun 5 June 1972

Cop injured at the Rolling Stones Riot. Vancouver Sun, 5 June 1972

Some people suspected that off-duty police officers were moonlighting as vigilantes in order to retaliate for the Rolling Stones Riot. An activist group called the Volunteers was circulating a leaflet describing incidents of harassment and assaults around Clark Park that they claimed were probably committed by members of the police force.

Another target was a house at 1955 Templeton, the headquarters of a revolutionary Marxist group called the Youngbloods, who were suspected of being involved in orchestrating the Rolling Stones Riot. On numerous occasions rocks were thrown at the house. One of the Youngbloods’ slogans was “Today’s Pig is Tomorrow’s Bacon.”

Teenagers cluster around crowded car at Clark Park, Province, 22 July 1972

Province, 22 July 1972

A Province newspaper article entitled “Gangs, Glue, and Mao” includes excerpts from an article on the Youngbloods that appeared in the alternative newspaper The Grape in April. It describes a Joe Cocker concert at the Coliseum where the Youngbloods “were on hand to gauge the possibilities of gate-crashing” and to propagandize the crowd that was mulling about outside because they were unable to get tickets. To the Province writer, it sounded like the recipe that was used at the Stones concert.

They mingle with knots of people outside the red doors, showing them the paper, discussing specific articles, glancing behind doors to determine police strength. The Youngbloods have had some success at helping those without tickets to push their way through a weakly-guarded door, notably at the rock-and-roll revival last fall. It’s just the sort of lesson they wish to teach – that if enough people can pool aggressive energies, small victories can be won. But actions like these tread a fine line – balanced by PNE security on one-hand, mood of the people on the other.

According to the Province, activist groups like the Youngbloods were sometimes seen as radical social workers: “They have tried to switch the traditionally tough neighbourhood groups away from the mind-killing effects of glue-sniffing and have tried to lead youths out of the glue cycle with the more benign marijuana or a revolutionary tract.”

Glue-sniffing was thought to be helping fuel the juvenile delinquency problem in 1972. The Vancouver Health Department issued a report early in the year outlining the anti-social behaviour caused by sniffing glue, including property damage, theft, larceny, shoplifting, rape, homicide, erratic driving, and a “general dissolution of inhibitions.”

Cover of the The Grape, 21-27 June 1972

Cover of the The Grape, 21-27 June 1972, with a cartoon showing police retaliating for the Rolling Stones Riot.

According to Mason Dixon, writing in The Grape, the Youngbloods

regard the youthful ‘lumpen proletariat’ as a strategic key to revolution…Lumpen is a Marxist term taken from German, meaning ‘rags’ as it refers to that impoverished group which is completely outside the economic system of production. It is neither workers nor capitalists, but typically welfare recipients or other marginally or sporadically employed.

By the time the Province article was published in July 1972, the Youngbloods had already disbanded. As for the Clark Park Gang, the police took care of them with a special baseball bat-wielding unit called the “Heavy Squad.”

From its violent beginnings in Vancouver, the Exile on Main Street tour went on to become the most legendary tour in the annals of rock ‘n roll. Violence erupted in several other cities, including a bomb that destroyed a van full of the band’s gear in Montreal. Meanwhile back in Vancouver, City Council voted at an in-camera meeting to deny a permit allowing Led Zeppelin to play here out of fear of more violence.

19 thoughts on “Street Fighting Men

  1. Pingback: Street Fighting Men – Rolling Stones Riot in Vancouver (1972) « Vancouver Anarchist Online Archive

  2. I was one of the oblivious thousands inside the Coliseum at the ’72 Stones concert. “Oblivious”, because we must have been just about the only people in Vancouver who had no idea that the riot was taking place. Inside, in the crowd, there was absolutely no indication that anything was amiss outside and, as implied in the article, when we were leaving we were quite surprised to see the evidence of mayhem around the entrance.

    Of course, I was in the middle of the crowd on the floor in front of the stage. We were so tightly packed in there that World War 3 could have erupted outside and we’d never have known until the roof melted. I remember that a few feet from me there was a very big, very fat guy who’d clearly passed out; his head was lolling and his shoulders sagged. The crowd was so dense that, despite being unconscious, he couldn’t fall over; instead, his arms limply flailed about, forcing people to dodge. It was a potentially deadly situation. Had the events outside spread to the inside somehow– i.e. had the rioters forced access and been pursued in by the cops– there could very well have been a major disaster as people tried to flee. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. I witnessed the riot that took place in the Coliseum at a rock ‘n roll revival show in November 1971 (featuring Bo Diddley and some other acts, including Chuck Berry, who never showed, helping to touch off the riot)– a riot that no one remembers nowadays, but which caused at least $50,000 in damage ($280,000 in today’s money) — a whole bunch of PA equipment, amps, instruments et. al., and much of the stage got wrecked. It was a very ugly experience and I had no desire to see a repeat.

    As for the music, I had by that point pretty much lost interest in what the Stones were doing; I was mostly into jazz, blues and classical by then and was at the gig largely for old time’s sake. As such it does not loom large in my memory as a great musical event. In any case Stevie Wonder’s opening set pretty much blew the Stones off the stage– in my humble opinion.

    • I was there too, got in free as Stevie was kicking off his set prior to the Stones. I got in free as did my boyfriend at the time and 5 others who were living at the same place we were living. We walked in an I was handed a “number” with RCMP standing next us. They didn’t want alcohol inside but toke was ok. One of the best concerts I’ve been to cuz it wasn’t all smoke, bells and whistles, it was the music, the people an we were able to walk around and then get back up to the front of the stage. I saw many bands for free during the sixties into the seventies. Ya gotta love freedom.

    • GMGW, I was also at that November 1971 Rock and Roll revival. What a crazy scene that was. Probably the last time you could go to a concert at that venue without getting a search at the door because it was amazing how many empty bottles of wine went flying through the air at the stage and the police. I remember reading that someone stole Chuck Berry’s original gibson Les Paul junior and as a result he vowed to never return to Vancouver. I agree that no one seems to remember this event and I have tried in vain to find any information about that crazy piece of Vancouver music history.

      • I was at that rock n roll revival! Joni Mitchell was sitting behind me in the stands with a beautiful man on either side, passing joints. I was working with a “free bus” watching out for over drugged people. It’s all a blur but I’ve always told the story about a guy who was completely hallucinating and freaked out. The head guy of the bus got him claimed down and then ambulances screeched up and they strapped the guy on a gurney and I thought “that guy will never ever recover.” All so bizarre considering it was a show with like Jerry Lee Lewis. I was a little 19 year old far far away from my east coast home. No idea how I survived those years.

      • I to was at the revival riot 1971. have told this story to many but true can’t seem to find information archived on the Internet anyways. We had seen the Shirelles, the Dovelles, and Gary U.S. Bonds before the trouble started . People to close to the stage it was a rocking. Announcement that Chuck berry had left the building and then yes so many bottles flying in the air the crowding surging back fleeing the glass. Was scared and fascinated at the same time , fights breaking out a big a riot that problably was not surpassed til 2012 hockey mayhem.

      • I was also there at the concert in Vancouver Nov. of ’71. I remember Bo Diddley asking for the house lights to be on while he performed his set. At one point during this wreck of a concert someone on stage said ” You can all go home, Chuck Berry & Bill Haley just split out the back door. ” Right then & there someone played over the sound system a recording of Johhny B. Good done by Johnny Winters…that’s when I remember the air was soon a sea of flying bottles, countless fights, fires up top being set as the coliseum was being completely trashed…Yeah…the good old bad old days…

      • I was also there at that concert in Nov. of ’71. I remember Bo Diddley asking to have the house lights turned on while did his set. During the mayhem towards the end of the concert, someone on stage said, ” You can all go home Chuck Berry & Bill Haley split out the back door. ” At the moment somebody played Johnny Be Good by Johnny Winters over the P.A. That’s when I remember the whole place erupting into sea of flying bottles, fights, fires being set up top, literally the whole place being trashed…yeah..the goog old, bad old days…

  3. me and mouse started it by grabbing cops hats at the doors ,,,we tried to ram our way in by filling up dumpsters with friends and ramming thru the doors ,,soon mousewas at the gas station filling up pop bottles with gas and throwing them under police cars on renfrew ,,, i saw mouse 40 years later ,,he,s a politician and real estate salesman,,, ,,thats why i don,t vote !

  4. Would very much appreciate if you know, the date of the Led Zeppelin concert that was cancelled.I am the one who created the poster for that concert that never happened and as I do not have a copy of it I have no idea what the exact date was. Am going to post a copy of the drawing to my web site and would like to be able to tag it.

    Many thanks
    Kerry

      • the following week i was at the stones for my grad night lz had busses free to seattle extra concert following week was ten years after at the agro dome what a way to start ur life after high school

  5. Pingback: The Rolling Stones Riot, Vancouver, 1971 « Shrine of Dreams

  6. On the night of the Rock and Roll Revival show on Nov. of 71 I believe it was when Bo Diddley was on stage (headliner was Chuck Barry and he was on next) and he had his daughter who was playing rhythm guitar. It all started when the fire marshal kept telling the organizer that there couldn’t be people standing so close to the stage. Everyone was dancing of course. The organizer guy comes out between songs and tells the crowd they needed to move back because of what the Fire Marshall Bill was dictating. Went ok the first time but real quick people came running back down to the front and carried on doing the boogaloo. After one more warning some of the crowd got under the stage and supposedly started shaking parts of the stage up and down. Well, that was it for Bo and his daughter. They were off the stage and organizer dude gets back on the Mike and starts giving the crowd shit and that Bo Diddley won’t come back and had a bad tone in his lecturing. The next thing you the empty big bottles of wine were sailing through the air crashing on the stage and it went totally down hill from there. Equipment was getting smashed off the stage. Marshal stacks were toppling. Huge brawls started down on the floor among the huge grease ball crowd that were there. All the non grease balls headed up to the stands to watch the massive brawl just like some Roman event. The police attempted to come out from the back of the stage to try to protect roadies trying to salvage some of the gear. When that happened more bottles started flying crashing on the stage. Cops and crew ran back to safety behind the stage. One of the most bizarre things I have ever witnessed in my life and I will never forget it. There were a ton of grease balls there that night because of the musical line up. I can’t understand why this event has not been documented in any form except this blog. I put most of the blame on the fire marshal. He didn’t have to make that call. Happens almost at every concert. Hopefully got demoted because he caused a ton of mayhem that evening not to mention cost. Chuck Berry vowed to never come back to Vancouver after someone ripped off his very old Les Paul junior that was supposedly his first real guitar.

    • That was a crazy night indeed! I’m remember some show boat yahoo with black hair jumping up on the stage wearing a dark t shirt with red printing & a black & white photo of Che Guevara on it. He had a wine bottle in his hand & started flailing away on the piano, all the while the crowd was egging him on. When the cops tried to arrest him, soon there was a sea of flying bottles from the greaseballs thrown in the direction of the cops. They quickly let ” Che ” go & ran for cover back stage. I also remember somewhere during the show the promoter coming out on stage, yelling into the mic. ” This my show & your fucking it! ” Where we were sitting in the upper seats, plastic garbage cans were set on fire & were rolling past us down the aisle. When we made it up to the top, people were smashing & looting the display cases while the cops just stood there watching them do it. When we finally got out of the Coliseum there were a group angry looking cops making there way in our direction. We stopped dead in our tracks & put up our hands as one of the cops said ” Get the fuck out of the way!! ” We quickly did as they angrily shoved passed us into the coliseum. Years later at the Dylan concert Nov. of ’78 a whole different story! We were thoroughly frisked at the door. The security was thick with over the top, body building goons wearing mauve colored t shirts. A friend of mine’s gal had a smuggled in a plastic bag full of Jack Daniels in her crotch…after we drank a fair a bit, Dylan was on a break, we were making our way to the can…I guess we were a being little bit loud…& out of no where an army of goons grabbed us, roughed us up & then literally through us out. Once we were outside, a few feet away from the door…these massive over the top goons started moving in on us…saying they were going kick the shit out of us. My friend & I that night I’m sure we broke records for the hundred yard dash! It was like some sort of weird game they were playing? Targeting guys wearing hats & for virtually doing nothing, something like sitting in the aisle they’d throw you out. I remember talking to some poor guy who had come all the way from Calgary to see Dylan…dressed up in a white Gram Parson’s Nudie suit covered in red roses wearing a white cowboy hat, telling me…according to him…he was just standing somewhere ( I guess where…he shouldn’t of been standing??) & for no reason they grabbed him & threw him out ( just like other guys wearing hats & or having real long hair ) were also thrown out, threatened & roughed up. Yup…nothing like the good old bad old days.

  7. Well, this has turned into an interesting thread— more than four years after I inadvertently started it. A number of people have commented on the November ’71 Coliseum rock and roll riot, so I thought I’d put in my two cents. I don’t remember everything that happened, but I remember quite a bit, and I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing in this chronicle that didn’t happen, although when the memory is a bit hazy I’ve tried to indicate that. It’s a long story but an interesting one— as several people have noted in this thread, it’s a neglected bit of Vancouver cultural history— and I think I can claim a kind of personal connection to the event and its aftermath (read on).

    There were supposed to be six acts, with Chuck Berry and Bill Haley and the Comets topping the bill. I can’t remember all the acts that were billed, but only three appeared. I think the Dovells led off— naturally they did their one and only hit, “Bristol Stomp”. Gary “U.S.” Bonds, I believe, was next; naturally he too did his only hit, “Quarter To Three” (this was long before Bruce Springsteen became a megastar, started playing the song as an encore, and ultimately produced a comeback album for Bonds).

    Now let’s step away from the music for a moment and focus on some other things. I’ve been to many, many concerts of all kinds over the years and I have never seen as boisterous and unruly a crowd as that one. There was definitely a potential for some kind of trouble. One of the big factors in stirring up the crowd even more— that so far no one here’s mentioned— was the MC for the night, an incredibly obnoxious jive-talking black guy— a no-name then and now—who did his level best to work everyone up to a frenzied pitch of excitement. Screaming encouragement, jive-talking, chanting the names of the performers, igniting a firestorm of aggression; the guy never let up. Nowhere was this more apparent than in his intro for Bo Diddley, the third act up. Instead of saying something simple like “And now let’s have a big hand for…”, this wacko speed-raved about Bo non-stop for about two full minutes, climaxing by stomping in place with the mike in his hand and punching the air, screaming ‘BO! BO! BO! BO!…” at the top of his lungs. The crowd went completely nuts; screaming, yelling, surging back and forth. That’s when things shifted from merely rowdy to genuinely dangerous.

    Just about every aspect of the production was substandard. For example, I found out later that the stage was so flimsily constructed that Bo Diddley could feel it shaking under his feet (it was also not high enough, which was a factor in the havoc wreaked later on). Fearing a collapse and seeing the state of the crowd, he ordered the rest of his band, including the gorgeous Cookie V (then early in her long career as Bo’s vocalist, tambourine player and eye candy) to stand as far back as possible while he bravely worked the crowd up front. Probably trying to calm things down, he played a much more low-key set than the amazing performance I’d seen him deliver at the Riverqueen club on Davie two years earlier (I got to sit and have a coffee with Cookie during a break— woohoo! Watch her and Bo really work a crowd at: — the film is reversed, btw— Bo was actually right-handed).

    After Bo’s set, things came to a grinding halt. For a very long time— I’m not sure how long; 30-45 minutes?— absolutely nothing happened. until then there had been only short pauses between the acts. No one came out to speak to the audience or to offer an apology or an explanation. People started to get pissed off. A few bottles got thrown on to the stage (there had been no security check at the doors). Things rapidly went from bad to worse. People were yelling, getting angrier by the minute. It was clear that things were rapidly getting out of control. At about this time I ran into Rick McGrath and his then-wife. Rick was at the time the rock critic for the Georgia Straight, which made him the best-known and most influential rock critic in town (the Straight was a lot ballsier paper in those days). I had had a semi-friendship with Rick since we had collaborated with a couple of other guys on a writing project earlier that year— it was to be a comprehensive history of the Vancouver rock scene. (I had written a few concert reviews for the GS myself a couple of years earlier, mentored by Rick’s predecessor, Al Sorenson.) Unfortunately, for various reasons we never got it together and to this day such a book has never been written. Too bad; it’s a history that ought to have been recorded.

    McGrath, in full journalist mode, was on his way backstage to find out what the hell was going on. His wife— let’s call her T— was a staff photographer for the Straight and they knew a story when they saw one. They invited me to join them. Rick’s press pass got us all through. What we found was complete chaos. People were milling around, clearly unsure of what to do. People who were yelling at each other, having furious arguments (actually, no one appeared to be in charge). There were no performers visible. However, there were a number of uniformed Vancouver police, standing around, looking tense, including what appeared to be at least one senior constable. it looked bad. No one seemed to be in control. The nutso MC, meanwhile, was gazing vacantly down at all this confusion, hanging off the stage behind the partition out of sight of the crowd, jabbering to himself and laughing at nothing in particular; I don’t know what he’d ingested that night, but it must have been a pretty powerful substance.

    Rick tried to find someone who would— or could— explain what was going on but without success. No one wanted to talk. We hung around back there for about ten minutes. We could hear the yelling and aggression out front getting worse. Suddenly two or three empty wine bottles hurtled right over the stage and exploded on the concrete floor, not far from us. Rick grabbed T, who was snapping pictures, and we all got the hell out of there. We climbed quickly up to the concourse level, above stage right, to watch what was going on from a safe distance (relatively safe; from some of the other accounts it appears there was action up there as well, but most of it was happening in the main floor in front of the stage). What happened next was the spark that set off the explosion. As Kim Kondrashoff mentioned in an earlier post, a greasy-looking guy in an expensive-looking hip-length camel-hair coat (who had been nowhere in evidence backstage) strode onto the stage, announced that he was the show’s promoter, and proceeded to harangue the crowd (ironically, I think he was demanding that they calm down), concluding by saying, loudly and angrily, “This is MY show… AND YOU’RE FUCKING IT UP!” Boom. That’s all it took. Someone shouted ”Fuck you!” and threw a bottle, narrowly missing Mr. Promoter. Then the riot broke out. Two uniformed cops in greatcoats came onstage, and the crowd went berserk at the sight of them (cops were not loved in those days). The cops grabbed Mr. Promoter and hustled him off stage, protecting him as a shower of bottles exploded around them (I probably didn’t see it this way at the time, but it was a pretty brave thing those cops did). The promoter’s little speech had been an incredibly stupid thing for him to do. The riot was on.

    Rick and T and I watched, amazed, as dozens, maybe hundreds, of beer and wine bottles shattered on the stage or soared right over it. (How the hell did so much booze get brought into the show? More sloppy organization.) The stage was alive with shattering glass. People were pushing on the stage, trying to rock it or even tear it down. Suddenly we noticed what has to be one of the most bizarre sights I’ve ever seen: There was a grand piano at stage right, and seated at it, hunched over the keyboard and pounding crazily away on the keys, was none other than the wacko MC. I have no idea if whatever he was playing was in any way coherent (it didn’t look it); it was inaudible over the tumult. But the mere sight of him out there, literally putting his life in danger— for what?? It was a supreme act of lunacy. He would frequently duck or dodge as a thrown bottle would nearly connect with his head (they were’t being thrown at him; there were just so many that he couldn’t help being in the line of fire). It was a hell of a spectacle; besides the surreal theatre of the guy at the piano, collective violence was in the air and it made one feel a bit giddy (it would have been terrifying, however, had we been down on the floor).

    Two or three young guys vaulted onto the stage and started smashing equipment, bashing the amps and PA with mike stands. I seem to recall that they tried to push the piano over the side— the wacko MC had finally fled— but they couldn’t get it to move. To my amazement I realized that I knew one of them; he was the younger brother of a girl I’d gone to school with. Let’s call him “M”. At the time he was a familiar figure in what passed for the hip scene in North Van, where he and I both grew up. I blurted all this to the McGraths and Rick’s journo antennae started twitching right away; he asked If I could put him in touch with the guy so he could interview him for a story he planned to write on the riot. I agreed to try, as we watched M carry out his by now one-man rampage. He did a lot of damage. I think the PA stacks were pushed over the side as a sort of grand finale.

    I don’t remember much more, not that there was much more to remember. After a while the bottle-throwers ran out of ammo and there wasn’t much left to trash on the stage. I think more cops were arriving as well; time to split, guys; get off the stage and disappear into the dispersing crowd (nowadays the riot squad would have been called in and tear gas or pepper spray would probably have been deployed). The McGraths headed backstage again to get info for the story and some photos of the aftermath. I went home. And to this day I’ve never seen Chuck Berry in person, dammit.

    I made some calls over the next couple of days and managed to track M down; he was trying to stay out of sight for a few days, but agreed to be interviewed. I set the whole thing up; Rick was to meet M at the home of another North Van friend of mine and no names would appear in print, for obvious reasons ($50,000 in damages, for instance; as I’ve said elsewhere, that’s nearly $300,000 in today’s money). I couldn’t be there for the interview but heard about it in detail afterwards; it was all amusingly clandestine. I ran into M on the street a few weeks later and we had a good laugh about all the spy-novelish overtones. He was heading out of town to go work up North, as I recall

    Rick’s article appeared in the next issue of the Straight. It was that week’s cover story; a good, long, full-page article and an astute analysis of what had happened, with some of T’s impressive photos of the damage. Rick’s interview with M was incorporated into the story— they had agreed to give him a pseudonym: “Ripped-Off Red-Haired Fan”. I remember a couple of points M made: one, that he had come wanting only to hear some good music and have a good time, and he had felt supremely cheated by how things had turned out— hence his anger, and his pseudonym— and two, that while he was up on the stage he soon noticed that every time he would smash something, a mike stand for instance, the watching crowd would whistle and cheer him on. He began to feel like a performer himself, wondering why the hell none of them were joining him (perhaps they just had more sense?). Anyway, he felt let down by the lack of active support, so to speak.

    I think it was McGrath who turned up some interesting information. A fairly substantive rumour had emerged— with, apparently, a good chance of being fact— that Chuck Berry and Bill Haley weren’t within a thousand miles of Vancouver that night; that they were, in fact, playing gigs somewhere in the Midwest. This gave rise to speculation that the promoter had deliberately sabotaged his own show in full expectation of causing a disturbance, so he could cancel the proceedings and get away with not having Haley and Berry in the house— but things got way out of hand. If true, that would constitute criminal fraud; but by the time people might have started to look into it, the guy would have already skipped town with the proceeds. The PA and the other damaged equipment would all have come from local suppliers, who probably weren’t paid. This theory sounds quite plausible to me— but if there’s anyone out there who knows what really happened, speak up. All I can tell you is that the McGraths and I saw no indication of Haley or Berry’s presences backstage, nor any roadies, or any musicians at all. If the headliners or their bands were in the house (Chuck always played with local bands anyway), they kept well hidden.

    Even if everything was kosher, some grievous errors were made. The out-of-control MC; the shoddily-constructed stage; the complete lack of security checks; but above all, the idiot who came on stage and, rather than attempt to placate the rowdy crowd, chose instead to aggressively provoke it (!!) at a crucial and dangerous moment. whether he did so deliberately or not, he endangered people’s lives. As an excellent example of how to properly handle such a situation, let me cite a concert I’d seen two years earlier in the Agrodome, featuring Little Richard. After the opening acts played, the stage crew set up Richard’s equipment, after which nothing happened for an extended period— 20 minutes or more. The crowd got restless. What the hell was the holdup? Suddenly Little Richard himself walked on stage and sat down at the front-and-centre piano. People started to cheer, but he waved them to silence. He took up the mike and began to talk in a soft, calming voice, explaining that he and the band were really looking forward to playing for us, and he knew it was gonna be a great show— but unfortunately there was one little problem— he hadn’t been paid yet, and his contract said that he was always to be paid before a show (something He’d doubtless learned to stipulate after many years of touring)— but he was going to go backstage now and he was sure that things would be worked out, and then he and the band would come back and play for us, so be cool for just a few more minutes… “and just to give you a little example of what y’all are gonna hear…” and with that that he played just a short boogie riff that hit the crowd like a live 225-volt cable. It really was electrifying. A serious-faced Richard then headed backstage while the crowd applauded. I suspect that the promoter must have been about crapping his pants by that point; all Richard would have had to do would have been to point to the crowd and hold out his other hand for the cheque. Richard was back in about five minutes and proceeded to give one of the most phenomenal shows I’ve ever seen. He and his band simply tore the fucking place apart, rocked the house, and the crowd absolutely loved him. He and the band were just amazing; he was at the peak of his powers in those days. Anyway, that’s how you can get a crowd on your side (well, if you’re Little Richard, at least… but the lesson still applies).

    Anyway, that’s my story. Sorry it took so long to tell. I won’t claim that it’s a definitive account. For that, seek out Rick McGrath’s excellent Georgia Straight story. The Central branch of the Vancouver Public Library has a complete run of the Straight on microfilm, easily accessible. Look for issues from November of 1971. I think I’ll have a look at the story myself sometime soon and compare my memory with Rick’s report. It’s been more than 40 years since I last read it, and longer than that since I last saw McGrath (check out his page of interviews at ). And Rick, if you ever read this: I’m sorry I never returned your Sept ’71 Captain Beefheart interview/performance tape. I’ve still got it, if you want it…

    • A lot of what of you’ve mentioned in your post is coming back to me gmgw. Thanks for the new information about the back stage details. Regarding the rumour that Chuck Berry & Bill Haley weren’t even there, if you have any more information on this, could you please pass it on? I remember talking to a very hairy, massive, 6′ 4” biker with a gazillion tattoos, on a film set we were both working on.He told me he was one of the ” rioters ” at that concert. I remember him also saying, ” We tried to start some shit at another Rock Revival Concert in Seattle…we didn’t get very far.”

  8. A lot of what of you’ve mentioned in your post is coming back to me gmgw. Thanks for the new information about the back stage details. Regarding the rumour that Chuck Berry & Bill Haley weren’t even there, if you have any more information on this, could you please pass it on? I remember talking to a very hairy, massive, 6′ 4” biker with a gazillion tattoos, on a film set we were both working on.He told me he was one of the ” rioters ” at that concert. I remember him also saying, ” We tried to start some shit at another Rock Revival Concert in Seattle…we didn’t get very far.”

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