They’re Only Chasing Safety: All Time Low macing incident exposes the dark side of security
It wasn't exactly the Hell's Angels murdering a man in the crowd at Altamont in 1969, but when a group of fans jumped onstage last week during the ALL TIME LOW performance at the Bamboozle Roadshow stop at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, fans were maced by venue security. The incident brought the long-simmering tension between bands and concert security to a head, erupting into controversy across the internet.
In a series of tweets following the show, All Time Low frontman ALEX GASKARTH responded openly with outrage. "I don't care how rowdy a crowd of kids are, there is absolutely no excuse for the police at Six Flags to spray mace in our fans faces," he tweeted. "A girl who looked to be about 15 walked up to me and said she was removed from the crowd after being maced. Are you fucking kidding me?" Fan reaction has been equally livid, with Facebook groups like "Six Flags is a safe place for all ages! LOL JK, we mace ATL fans in the face" and "Fuck Six Flags Security!" popping up. Simone Hudgens, a 17-year-old ATL fan from Dallas who was at the show started the latter. "Basically, what happened was after All Time Low's last song, people started getting up onstage and security really didn't do much to stop them," she explains. "The band were really chill with it, they were even telling us how awesome people were for getting onstage when a security officer came out of nowhere, not only macing people onstage, but in the front row, too. I got caught up mainly in the crowd of people trying to get off the stage once security had started macing people."
Hudgens says she never perceived it as a dangerous situation until security overreacted. "The only part I thought turned the fans [being] onstage into a dangerous situation was when security started macing teenage girls. That's when people really started freaking out because they didn't know how to react to it, what was going on, or why they were even being maced in the first place." From the park venue's perspective, it was an unfortunate, but understandable response given the perception of the security guards on duty. "A scuffle broke out when members of the band threw articles of clothing out into the crowd during All Time Low's performance Saturday night," says Sandra Daniels, vice president of communications for Six Flags. "Six Flags security personnel asked for assistance and an off-duty Arlington police officer assigned to the concert gave repeated demands for the crowd to disperse. Those demands were not heeded, and the crowd became more and more disorderly. The officer noted that at least one person was in danger of being trampled. The officer then directed a young man holding one of the items that had been thrown into the crowd to drop it. He refused, and the officer used pepper spray on this individual. Other guests in close proximity were affected and were treated by our first aid staff and released." Sadly, this sort of thing isn't as uncommon as you might think. Although, if you've spent anytime close to the stage at a concert, you probably already knew that. A few years back, FALL OUT BOY bassist PETE WENTZ engaged in a fistfight with a security guard at a concert in New Mexico when he thought they were being too rough with fans trying to get onstage. Last year, A DAY TO REMEMBER singer JEREMY McKINNON lambasted security at a Florida show for allegedly punching one of their fans. "These are my fuckin' friends, this is our fuckin' show and you don't put your fuckin' hands on one of these kids," he said. Members of FOREVER THE SICKEST KIDS and WE THE KINGS were also reportedly in an altercation with the Philadelphia Police Department at a show last year.
It's not just an problem in America, either. Bands touring throughout the world have had violent altercations with security guards over and over. Everyone seems to have a similar story--including TYLER HOARE of Canadian metal act BLESSED BY A BROKEN HEART. "Because they've got a security T-shirt on, they think it gives them a right to push people around," he says. Hoare found himself thrown in a Scottish prison for several days last year after assaulting a security guard at one of his band's shows in Glasgow. "The whole show, this one guy was shoving kids and stuff like that. He was a lot older and a lot bigger than them. At the end of our set we have this song called 'Microscope,' and at the big breakdown at the end, everyone comes on and sings and piles on the stage. This guy started shoving everyone off the stage." For a lot of metal and punk bands, fans jumping onstage is par for the course. But some security guards still consider it an affront to their duty. "It's not like we were at a Pantera concert where you've got 40-year-olds who will kill each other. It was 15 year-old girls singing along to the song. Hoare says, "[The guard] grabbed one girl by the neck and threw her to the ground. I had the mic in my hand, and when I saw that, I hit him in the face. He was pretty big, so I was like, 'If I hit this guy I better hit him good.' I broke his nose and his teeth." His ensuing legal troubles with the Scottish prison system were a nightmare, but the way he sees it, he was simply defending one of his fans. "If we didn't want them on the stage, we wouldn't let them on the stage," Hoare says. "And if [security is] worried about [fans] breaking the equipment, well, it's our equipment." RYAN NEFF of Ohio metalcore outfit MISS MAY I says that smaller bands are often at the mercy of security guards with an exaggerated sense of power. "I feel that it's looked over how often bands are disrespected by security," he says. "At the level my band are at, smaller venues have security guards at the last minute who are on a power trip and want to control every aspect of the day's event. I can't even count how many times I've been grabbed and pulled aside and insulted or cursed at over a lack of a tour pass or a hand stamp. Things can get hairy very fast for bands in the same way they can for the people attending the shows." At a recent tour stop in Las Vegas, Neff saw a fan get injured due to security. The show "had an odd amount of hostility from the security guards," he says. "During one of the bands' sets, a fan was tossed out of the venue into the lot where his head was smashed into a car. The kid's head was split wide open and he was obviously very upset and pretty dazed. The worst part was the security that entire evening treated the bands and fans alike with complete disrespect, bragging about how they couldn't wait for kids to 'get out of line.'" Sometimes that aggression is turned directly at the performers, according to DAVE PETERS of Orange County, California, hardcore act THROWDOWN. "Years back at one of the 78 shows we played at Forward Hall in Erie, Pennsylvania, there was this large [security guard] standing in the middle of the already-cramped stage, not only doing the crowd the kind service of obscuring their view of our ugly band, but also hurling individuals from the stage if they made any attempt of getting on it or diving from it. I'm pretty sure he tried throwing me off stage more than once. I had to point to the microphone and yell over the music at him, 'Hey I'm this guy.' This highly trained professional clearly had everyone's best interest at heart. Being indiscriminately thrown from a stage is much safer than jumping from it unassisted. At any rate, the straw that broke the camel's back was when he grabbed this young kid by the throat and tossed him to the floor. [The guard] was asked nicely to leave after that." Peters has also seen pepper spray used on fans, like at a now-closed club in Nevada. "Security decided the best way to stop a fight was to pepper spray everyone in the 1,500 square-foot, low-ceiling room. I mean, they were right: The fight then ended abruptly. But they also pepper-sprayed themselves and the whole band in the process." LOVEDRUG frontman MICHAEL SHEPARD says news of the All Time Low incident wasn't shocking to him. "Overzealous security is nothing new," he says. "It's the same story, just different faces. I've watched these things unfold before. You can always tell when it's about to happen. I've seen noses broken, girls trampled, people thrown off of stages. Anytime you mix a crowd that wants to have fun with a bunch of dudes who want to be heroes to show off their manhood, it's going to get ugly. [Security] think they're helping and being a hero when really they're just making situations worse. It's a result of people letting the adrenaline get to them mixed with the desire to be tough. This is not to say that some people don't egg it on. I've witnessed a lot of security help people when it's needed. I'm sure it's an intense job trying to control a crowd, but when you show any aggression, the crowd will show it back. In reality, the crowd and the security should both let the band put on the show." Shepard brings up something often overlooked: that security often does good. Most of the bands quoted in this story were quick to point out that they're grateful for the hard work security does at their shows. "I see security doing their job well more often than I see them stepping over the line on any given tour," says Throwdown's Peters. "But bands and fans always seem to remember the guy that saw one too many Steven Seagal movies, not the ones who help load your gear offstage and keep it from getting smashed during some 'sick mosh part' taking place on the drum riser." AFTER MIDNIGHT PROJECT vocalist JASON EVIGAN agrees. "For the most part, security has always had our backs and had the backs of fans," he says. "We need them and so does the crowd. I meet so many really cool security guards. When I go in the crowd, they always help me up on the stage and make sure I'm okay. I love when you see the security guards singing along or bobbing their heads." Most security guards are not villains, just regular dudes doing a job. They're regular, big dudes, but regular all the same. "Ninety-nine percent of security guards are just dudes working an everyday job or even working harder than normal doing it as a second job," says Neff. "They're nice guys who just have the strength and ability to be an asset to the venue and keep things orderly to be someone there to take care of problems if they arise." JAMEY JASTA of HATEBREED concurs. "It's a hard and often thankless job," he says. "I've seen hundreds of kids get their lives saved by these guys. Most of the time, drunk people come over the barricade and they're about to fall on their face and break their neck when these guys catch them. It's important to focus on the greater good that they cause and not a few bad seeds." Part of the tension between security and fans stems from a lack of understanding between the two groups. Security guards probably don't realize that fans rush the stage at the end of nearly every All Time Low show and the guards perceive it as an aberration. "It used to happen a lot at shows where kids would start hardcore dancing and the security guards don't know what [they're] doing," says Hoare. "They think [the fans are] fighting, then all these guards rush in and beat [them] up." STEVE SULLIVAN, a longtime security veteran who has worked on Warped Tour for 15 years says the misunderstandings are problematic. "A lot of security guys never went to concerts, so they don't understand what happens," he says. "I work with guys all the time who have never even seen a concert outside of work." With Warped Tour, there's the perception within the security end that fans are going to be scary or violent. That's not the case. "They're really not scary. They're dropped off and picked by Mom and Dad." Sullivan also points out that shows geared toward younger audiences are typically easier to handle. "Kids know how to go to shows," he says. "They're durable. They have fun. It's not the end of the world if some kids get onstage. You've got to make sure they get off it safely and that no one gets hurt, but it's not the end of the world." Jasta suggests that simple communication is the key. "Occasionally, we get guys who know nothing about heavy music and they get overwhelmed and let their emotions get the best of them," he says. "We try to avoid any B.S. by having our tour manager meet with security beforehand and make sure that they know that it's important to respect the fans because, after all, without them none of us have a job." Peters says training security how to handle their jobs is also important. "I don't blame a lot of the overzealous security guards for simply being themselves," he says. "I blame the guy who hired them based on them looking like [UFC fighter] Tim Sylvia instead of on their ability to be judicious and handle a crowd. Their job is a lot harder when no one is telling them the right way to do it. You can't just send a guy home with a VHS of Roadhouse and say, 'Watch this and call me if you have any questions.'" So what can fans do to temper this often-heated relationship? "Fans should remember that most security guards aren't out to get you," says Peters. "If it seems that way, you should first ask yourself, 'Am I drunk?' Then follow that with, 'Am I being a dick?' If the answer isn't an obvious 'no' to both, you're asking for trouble." The onus falls upon fans not to escalate situations like the ATL incident, says Evigan. "If a security guard is yelling at you and using force, don't say anything. Just put your hands up like you're surrendering. Music makes kids crazy and want to dance and mosh and crowd surf. Respect each other. The band's job is put on a good show. The crowd's job is to have fun. The security guards' job is to protect the band and protect the crowd. It's that simple." alt