NEW YORK — It’s been difficult for a promoter to put on a rock concert in New York lately without finding himself surrounded by a moat of violence. Most serious were the fatal stabbing of a 22-year-old security man outside a Who concert in Queens, and a harassment and shooting spree by police one night in the Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park.
According to witnesses, a would-be gatecrasher knifed George Byington outside Forest Hills Stadium July 29th while the Who were setting up within. “This kid came up and started yelling that if he couldn’t get in, he’d kill somebody,” said a member of the Fillmore East security force, hired by promoter Ron Delsener for the event. When George went to escort the crasher away he was stabbed to death for his trouble. Another Fillmore man was wounded in the back as he beat the killer unconscious and wrestled the knife away.
Byington was from Orlando, Florida, but he lived in the East Village for about a year under the name George Ethridge, picking up gigs with the Fillmore people, who themselves had acquired an accelerated training in fists and knives until the Fillmore closed.
Kerry Flaherty, 21 years old and described as the son of a middle-class family in Queens, was arrested and booked for the knifing. Police said he’d been paroled less than two months before from the state penitentiary in Elmira, where he’d been serving time for a 1967 knife assault. Two Fillmore men also were arrested; they were charged with assaulting Flaherty.
Gatecrashing in New York has been proliferating since the big crashers’ festival at Newport early last month. Promoters recite the usual explanations: the ascendence of smack and booze over grass and the increment of a philosophically muddled penumbra to the Woodstock phenomenon. Usually, they just add more security men; Howard Stein now employs 85 for his outdoor shows in the normally placid Gaelic Park.
The Schaefer outburst was a policeman’s ball. For their big crackdown on dope smoking, they chose the night of a Roberta Flack concert, July 28th, when the crowd was more heavily black and Puerto Rican than normal.
Traditionally the Schaefer Festival has attracted not only a paid audience but big, non-paying crowds of usually peaceful folk who spread blankets on the hills outside Wollman Rink and listen to the music. Those who come early enough can get spots where they can see the stage as they relax, and perhaps drink a little wine or smoke a little grass.
But by the time Roberta did her late show, the people outside found themselves surrounded by a flood of patrol cars and plainclothes narcs. Warning shouts in pig latin prompted smokers to straighten up and apparently confounded the detectives, who failed to bust anybody.
Perhaps out of frustration, the cops began ordering people to move on, a novelty at the Schaefer Festival. Finally fights broke out, with rocks and bottles thrown by some of the crowd. The police did some clubbing and several cops fired shots into the ground. A uniformed officer emptied his service revolver into a bush. A sergeant later described the action as one of “warning shots.”
There were only three arrests. The New York Times headlined its story “Three Policemen Hurt in Melee in Park.” No accurate report of injuries to the concert-goers was made, perhaps because there’s no civilian precinct for the Times to phone for its late edition.
This story is from the September 2nd, 1971 issue of Rolling Stone.