STOCKTON, CALIF. — Two topics dominate conversations these days in this warm and sweaty, central California city of 86,000. One, of course, is Watergate; lotsa laughs at the taverns. The other is rock & roll, and no one is laughing.
On Sunday, April 29th, more than 15,000 persons at a concert featuring Elvin Bishop, Canned Heat, Buddy Miles and Fleetwood Mac were routed from a baseball park by police firing tear gas cannisters, spraying "pepper fog" and shooting putty from shotguns. More than 80 persons, including 28 police, were injured, and more than 50 arrested.
The crowd included high-school and college students, young parents and preschool-aged children. Fleeing in panic from clouds of tear gas and stinging putty, they flattened a chain link fence along the rightfield line. Some hurled rocks and bottles back at the police, and battles between police and bottle heavers continued for several hours into the evening, first in the city park that surrounds the ball field and later on the streets of nearby neighborhoods.
It was one year to the week of the last outdoor rock & roll show here. During that one, at University of Pacific Stadium, a young man was shot and killed. After that, the university banned rock & roll from the football arena. Twenty-five miles down the highway, they've also banned rock & roll: It is strictly fast cars now at Altamont Raceway.
The night after the show, concertgoers packed a city council meeting and accused the police of brutality; they said they had heard no police order to clear the field; others gave accounts of their terror. Caroline Bumpus, a nurse who accompanied her teenagers to the show: "I saw an officer with a tear gas gun chase a mother with a baby over her shoulder. I saw a boy trying to help a man in a wheelchair have to abandon him because he couldn't stand the gas – and I saw an officer gas that man in the wheelchair." The city manager and the police department announced investigations.
Stockton, 80 miles east of San Francisco, is situated on the asphalt backbone of the state – Highway 99, which shoots up the San Joaquin Valley from Southern California to the state capital, Sacramento. Stockton is a port city and a canning center for some of the Valley's huge crop of fruits and vegetables. Stockton was the setting for Leonard Garner's Fat City, a hard-edged novel – and later movie – of small-time boxing, stoop labor, cheap wine and skid row.
It is a town of quiet, tree-lined neighborhoods. At dusk, teenagers with cars cruise the parking lots along a lone neon strip; the older crowd visits one of the three or four strobe-lit bars to dance.
When a big name rock & roll band plays here, which is seldom, it is an Event for miles around. And an outdoor show is especially attractive. After all, in Stockton this year one cannot even attend a minor league baseball game at little Billy Hebert Field. After 25 years, the Stockton Ports of the Class A California League are up and gone, the franchise in disintegration.
A former Ports fan said: "You want to see a baseball game now, you got to drive to Lodi."
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