Saturday, April 04, 2009
Up at 5 AM and out the door by 5:30. Ken P picked me up in his yellow Gremlin, named Ozzy, the fancy one with the luggage rack. Two others, Mark and Carl, were already in the car. Within blocks we had several joints burning at the same time, and by the time Ozzy hit the Eisenhower, we were entirely loaded.
Traffic is normally light on the inbound Ike at 5:45 on a Sunday morning, June 19, and that day was typical. Everybody out on the road at that hour was either delivering bread, delivering newpapers, or driving downtown for a day at the beach.
We on the other hand, were going to a Pink Floyd concert.
Parked outside Soldier Field by 6, and strolled up to the west side entrance expecting to see a smattering of early arrivals but not many, the concert didn't start until 8:30 PM. I'd guess that there were maybe 8-10,000 people there already. It was ridiculous. A mob scene at 6AM. Chicago Police barricades (construction horses painted blue) were used to keep the line confined to the sidewalk circling the stadium and people were leaning against the wall, laying on blankets on the sidewalk, sitting on the barricades smoking joints.
We had a cooler with several goodies inside, including 2 fifths of JD Old #7, and a case of Old Style. Being 17 at the time, we were more worried about the cops cracking us for underage drinking than we were about the 2 ounces of pot. Everybody had pot, and had brought it. Ken had also picked up a quarter ounce of Lebanese blond hashish , two grams apiece of that, which we planned on eating and smoking over the course of the day.
Jack, Old Style, reefer, hash, rolling papers, 8 inch mini-bong and 2 Frisbees. That's what was in our cooler.
That's right, we were completely fucking insane.
We stood near the very front of the line and surveyed the situation. Ken pulled out one bottle of Jack, cracked the seal, and passed it around. A very nice young man with a dago-T, baggy grays, and hair down to his ass called from behind the barricade asking for a pull on Jack. We explained that we were out here on the bad side of the blue horses, and he was on the good side, no more than 200 people from the front of the 1/4 mile line. It would be very difficult for us to pass the bottle all the way over there, but if we were somehow on the same side of the blue horses.....
Dude smiled, pulled one of the barricades aside, and invited the 4 of us to essentially cut to the front of a 10,000 person line. The initial outrage expressed by our new queue friends, the people immediately behind us who'd been there for a day, was quickly quelled by the second bottle of Jack. These people actually showed up a day in advance for a concert, but had forgotten to bring the proper supplies. Sure they had food and snacks and stuff, but not the proper liquids.
We were instantly popular, which is a good thing if you're going to spend 4 hours waiting in a line with people you just cut, and the guy in the dago-T and baggies introduced himself as Murray. Turns out Murray had come to the Pink Floyd concert alone, and had camped out overnight to be in front.
General Admission seating for a crowd that was estimated to be between 65-75,000 people.
Old Soldier Field held about 55,000 in the stands, and they figured to fit another 10-20,000 on the field itself. Murray explained that the stage was in the north end zone, and that as soon as they opened the doors at 10AM we should run like hell out onto the field, and make a bee-line for the area directly in front of the stage. No hesitation, said Murray. The gates on the opposite side of the stadium were going to allow another 10,000 people to come pouring in at 10, and the hard core Floyd fans had the General Admission thing down to a science. Blankets encircled by coolers marked off their Soldier Field homestead, and once the lines were demarcated, and the crowd filled in the spaces between plots, they could roam around the stadium and see the sights. But first, stake the claim close to the stage.
For the next 4 hours, we talked to Murray about Pink Floyd while we drank Jack Daniels and smoked joints the size of petite coronas wrapped with pink strawberry flavored rolling papers. The west side of Soldier Field was the better side to be on that morning. As the June sun started heating things up, we were in the shade of the building, but you could tell it was going to be a hot motherfucker. By the time the doors were set to open, there was a hum in the crowd. Caged animals waiting to dash through a hot, dank, dark, 150 foot tunnel and emerge into daylight like Maximus at the Colosseum. Only drunk and stoned, and ...without the lions and swords.
They had initially planned to open the doors at 7PM, but reconsidered. They hadn't expected the huge AM turnout. Apparently they wanted all of the animals inside the cage as soon as possible.
Murray picked up his blanket, folded it up, and shook hands with us. Maybe we'll see you inside Murray. Happy hunting. As he turned to face the front of the line, Ken picked up the cooler and tossed it on his shoulder, preparing for the mad dash. At exactly 10AM, the double doors flew open, and we all pressed towards the narrow tunnel. The funnel effect of a 10 foot wide line of humans trying to squeeze into a 6 foot wide doorway was instantaneous, and by the time I was inside it was all I could do to keep my feet under me.
We were jammed into that tunnel and the 200 or so people in front of me were moving more slowly than the 10,000 people behind me. The crush from behind was terrifying, and I vividly recall the sensation of being carried along by the wave of humans, with my feet barely scraping the floor for several paces at a time. I wasn't walking, I was being propelled. It occurred to me that if someone in front of me falls down, we are in for some very serious trouble. A human stampede.
When we broke out of the dark tunnel and into the glare of the sun, we all ran as fast as we could, although Ken lagged under the weight of an ice-filled cooler. We wound up by the left hash-mark around the 15 yard line. 45 feet from the front of a stage that was elevated about 15 feet above the stadium floor.
We sat on the unprotected Astro-turf, as Steve Dahl's Disco Demolition at old Comiskey was 2 years away, and the Park District was therefore unaware of the damage that can be done to a playing surface by insane crowds of drunken stoners.
For those not old enough, or those who don't remember, Dahl invited his radio listeners, an anti-Disco army, to show up for a Sox game and watch as he detonated a charge destroying thousands of Disco records in center field between games of a Twi-Night Doubleheader against the Tigers in July of 1979. The Sox normally drew about 10,000 fans for night games back then, but Dahl's army, "The Insane Coho Lips" had the old barn packed to capacity, 55,000, with tens of thousands of more people outside partying. Absolute mayhem.
The hook was that you showed up with a disco record, and in exchange for the Donna Summer vinyl, you got $2 off on your ticket. The bin in center field was huge, and it was filled with thousands of LPs. When the time came for Dahl to set off the explosives, the place was completely out of control. Teenage stoners, drunk and amped with adrenaline. Dahl apparently over-did it with the explosives. Picture Butch Cassidy standing outside the box car. That's the kind of explosion Dahl set off.
What resulted has entered Chicago lore. Thousands of Insane Coho Lips charged onto the field, some jumped from the upper deck, people threw empty beer kegs from the 2nd level down onto the field, fires were started ...one on the pitcher's mound....huge chunks of sod were torn up....the batting cage was tipped over....the tarp was unrolled. At some point, the police showed up in riot gear and began herding the partiers off the field while a thin layer of gray smoke hung over the entire stadium, the result of the explosion and the fires started by the Cohos. Once the smoke cleared, literally, the playing surface at Comiskey Park looked like the lunar landscape.
The field was declared unplayable, and for the only time in Major League Baseball history a team (my White Sox) forfeited the second game of a DH due to damage caused by fans.
But that hadn't happened yet in June of 1977, so we were allowed to bake like lobsters in the sun on the same turf that Walter Payton had run 6 months previous, and would run on again, 6 months later.
Around 2 in the afternoon, Floyd's crew began doing a sound check. The enormous speakers on stage were dwarfed by the monolithic stacks of them strategically mounted around the upper perimeter of the stadium. In 6 different spots, pointing slightly downward to direct the decibels, they'd placed sets of the biggest speakers I've ever seen. If the stage was at 12 noon, the speaker banks peering down at us were at 2,4,6,8,10, and 12.(behind the stage for the people with those seats.)
The first clue I had to the sonic assault I was in for came with a simple blast of white noise. Warming up the speakers, Sound Guy just shot some amps at us.
And then, I heard dogs barking down at me. Arf Arf Arf Arf!!! Then Soundie ran the effect around the stadium, taking one bank of speakers at a time to bark at me. The effect was amazing. An enormous dog running around the stadium barking. The place went nuts, and it was only a sound check.
Next came the pig.
Oink....oink.....oink.......at sound levels not safe for the human ear. Then the pig ran around the perimeter of Soldier Field oinking....and the place went nuts again.
And then the sheep.
Maaaaaaa.....maaaaaaaa......the sheep orbited above us.
The sensation was disturbing, and the drugs and alcohol didn't help.
Just before the concert began, I looked at Mark, Carl, and Ken and asked them "Were you guys a little scared coming in here today? In the tunnel?"
Carl looked me square in the eye and said..."I was just thinking the exact same thing. That was fuckin' dangerous man. Like a bunch of sheep." It wasn't until December of '79, at a Who concert in Cincinnati, when 11 people died in a similar crush that the problem of general admission seating was finally addressed. I'll never forget hearing about those 11 lives lost, and flashing back to the panic I felt at Soldier Field in the spring of 1977.
Pink Floyd's Animals concert was, by a mile, the best show I've ever seen, and I've been terrified of large crowds ever since.