Robert Strand, a young promoter who runs Gold Rush Productions, had presented rock & roll previously – and successfully – at Stockton Civic Auditorium. He says he was approached last February by a city official who asked if Strand was interested in doing an outdoor show. Billy Hebert Field was available. The city wanted $1000 rent and the revenue from concession stands. After several meetings, says Strand, he set up the April 29th show. Five more were to be staged later this year.
During the week preceding the concert, Strand met police at the field to discuss security. He was told who would be in charge inside the ballpark and outside, in the parking lots and surrounding picnic grounds. Strand obtained the usual couple million dollars' worth of insurance and arranged to hire 66 guards and provide monitors. 10,000 people were expected.
On concert day Billy Hebert Field opened at 8:45 AM. At ten the box office went into operation, and shortly after 11 the music started, on a stage in centerfield. The crowd grew larger. The temperature climbed to 74 degrees, and a steady but pleasant breeze blew in from leftfield. At its peak, the crowd was estimated to be more than 20,000.
In the press box above the last row of seats, two policemen operated a video tape camera. They used it all day to scan the crowd and, later, to record a series of fistfights and bottle-throwing incidents outside and behind the ballpark, where all day several hundred persons milled about or sat in the shade, where the music still could be heard.
(A police spokesman said the camera is used usually to photograph crime scenes, after the fact. This was the first time, he said, the unit had been used at a live event. "It was a trial thing," he said, "just to see what was going on.")
It was during the set change between Buddy Miles and Fleetwood Mac that Strand says he realized a "serious situation" was developing. It was close to 6 PM, the scheduled shutdown time, but Strand already had received permission from the police for an extension. Fleetwood Mac tuned up. Outside, incidents of fighting and bottle throwing were escalating, and police were chasing people through the grounds. Then, at one point, several bottles were hurled down at the police outside from the top row of the ballpark grandstand.
Later, said Strand, he saw tear gas being used out in the picnic grounds. At the same time, he said, police finally entered the grandstand – 40 minutes after the bottles came down – and secured the top row of the grandstand.
Another 20 minutes passed; Fleetwood Mac were still playing. At about 6:45 PM, said Strand, a policeman appeared suddenly onstage and told him to end the concert. "Fleetwood's drummer said they'd play one more song. The cop told him, 'Make it a short one' and took off," said Strand. Then, suddenly, there was no power. The plug had been pulled.
Within seconds, the air was filled with tear gas, blowing in with the wind, and the crowd stampeded for the exits, any exit. Strand said he fled to the dressing rooms, taking cover in a shower stall only to be driven out moments later by two police who came inside and sprayed the area with "pepper fog" from a machine that looked like a vacuum cleaner.
Police cleared the field after a wild three minutes, and the several hours of chases and arrests began outside in the parking lot. Up in the press box, however, two lone figures fiddled with their video tape camera. Curiously, they had not filmed the gassing and rush for the exit. Deputy Chief Julio Ceccehetti explained later that the cameraman "was changing his film" at the time.
At a news conference the following Tuesday, promoter Strand gave his account of the day and berated police for the way they ended the show. "I had been in control of the crowd all day," he said. "I was going to tell them to go out the rightfield gate, away from the crowd outside. I never had an opportunity to warn anybody. It was just a total, absolute shock to me." Strand said the gassing was "a planned assault on the crowd."
City Manager Elder Gunter had denied the accusation. "The police action was totally unplanned no matter what anyone says," he stated. He also has issued an order to city departments banning further permits for rock & roll at Billy Hebert Field.
In the same year, Stockton has been deprived of fresh air rock & roll and baseball. For baseball, they can always drive to Lodi.
This story is from the June 7th, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone.
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