A Grant County judge will decide today whether a concert by the rock group Rage Against the Machine will go on as scheduled Friday night at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George.
Stephen J. Hallstrom, chief deputy prosecutor for Grant County, filed court documents last Friday alleging mismanagement of the facility by its owners, Universal Concerts Inc. Hallstrom cited problems at the venue for "high-maintenance" events such as the Phish and Lollapalooza concerts last month.
The request to cancel the concert originated with Grant County Sheriff William Wiester, who complained that problems with inadequate security and traffic control, drug violations, sanitation, emergency services and pedestrian safety would endanger "the safety, health and welfare of those persons affected by . . . concerts or events."
Grant County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Jorgensen will rule on the request in his courtroom this afternoon.
Rage Against the Machine combines hard rock and vociferous rapping in songs that are overtly political and anti-establishment. Their most recent album, last year's "Evil Empire," entered the Billboard charts at No 1 and quickly sold more than a million copies.
In a nine-page document supporting the county's motion, Sheriff Wiester specifically referred to the "violent and anti-law enforcement philosophies of Rage Against the Machine and Wu-Tang Clan." A popular rap group, Wu-Tang Clan was originally scheduled to appear on the bill but decided last week to cancel the remainder of its tour for unrelated reasons.
In the document, Wiester states that he assigned a detective to collect information from local police departments in whose jurisdiction Rage Against the Machine and Wu-Tang Clan had performed. Based on those reports, he decided that the department would not be able to handle the security risks he believed the appearance of the two groups would create.
"We're a bit surprised by this recent development," said Jeff Trisler, Universal Concerts vice president. "We have worked in joint cooperation with Grant County in the past to provide a safe environment for our patrons. We will do our very level best to make sure that the concerns of the county and the sheriff are taken care of. The sheriff obviously has some concerns and we have our representatives talking with the sheriff's office about them."
Asked about the singling out of the Rage Against the Machine concert, Trisler said, "We book very diverse acts which represent all of the very diverse parts of the community. Our policy is to book all different genres and to staff them accordingly. If you ask the people who have been coming to the Gorge for the past 11 years, I think they'll say that it is a safe, professional, top-quality entertainment venue."
Brigitte Wright, manager for Rage Against the Machine, refused to comment on the statements made by Wiester about the group.
Several incidents at the Gorge Amphitheatre during the past two seasons have raised concerns about security and crowd control. A bottle and rock-throwing riot following a Lollapalooza concert in July, 1996, resulted in several arrests. And at the KUBE Summer Jam and Phish shows at the Gorge last month, a 19-year-old man died of a drug overdose and a 21-year-old man died when he fell from an open car window. According to the county prosecutor's office, the Phish concerts on Aug. 2 and 3 "wreaked havoc on county, and state and local social services."
Grant County commissioner Helen Fancher, whose constituency includes residents living near the Gorge facility, said that she had received many complaints about concert crowds, as well as many phone calls supporting the decision by Sheriff Wiester to request the concert's cancellation.
"As I understand it, the sheriff's department has done a lot of investigating of this group and found that there was a tremendous amount of disobedience and near-riot conditions at their shows," said Fancher. "When they have headbangers and this heavy rock and they advocate disruption, it introduces an element into our county that just doesn't exist here."
Fancher said that following the Phish concert, local residents were forced to wait at the county hospital while "young people who had OD'd at the concert were being treated." Wiester echoed that allegation in his complaint.
"There are plenty of performers where we don't have any problems whatsoever," added Fancher. " I'm thinking of Yanni and Tina Turner and Rod Stewart. They draw an entirely different type of people."