I did not go to see the Stones in Atlanta. Part of me wanted to. Christina and I are fans. She saw them in Miami a lifetime ago — pregnant with Hans I think. I missed that one. We were both working for the Miami Herald then and my boss had secured John Knight’s (as in Knight-Ridder) skybox for the show — fully stocked bar, best seats in the house. I was in St. Louis and getting ready to fly to Miami to join her for the concert when TWA just cancelled the flight — no reason — just cancelled it. When I demanded they find me another flight to Miami to catch the show there was none and, it was fairly obvious that they didn’t particularly care anyway. I wasn’t leaving until they found a way to get me there in time, but when they told me that they were calling security to escort me out, I finally did leave. Never have forgiven greenmailer Carl Icahn who owned TWA at the time before he gutted it and moved on to dismantling other companies.
When I actually last saw Mick and company play, it was in the ’70s or so in what was called at the time the Tangerine Bowl, a large outdoor stadium in Orlando. My girlfriend and I had driven down from Tallahassee where we were going to school. She was, let’s say, a “free spirit” — tiny, blond, crazy smart and with wild blue eyes and, at times, a hard to describe determined attitude. She was used to getting what she wanted.
As we entered the stadium, something pinged me; my radar went on “alert.” I didn’t know why at the time. At the end of the day, there was probably somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 people there for the concert. After all, the Stones were then the “world’s greatest rock-‘n’-roll band” and traveled on the edge of a precipice, a jagged edge both earned and cultivated by the band. And, it hadn’t been that much time since their performance at the Altamont festival where 300,000 folks attended, where, as it is told, Meredith Hunter was knifed to death by Hells Angels who had been hired by the Stones — all the beer they could drink — to protect the stage (mostly with pool cues) and where three other people died as well. By the time the Stones had taken the stage as the final act, the concert had already begun a steep descent into complete chaos.
This concert was not Altamonte, but I should have read the tea leaves when, earlier that afternoon, we walked past that guy right in the middle of the crowd which by then was already almost elbow to elbow in queue to get close to the stage. People had to walk around him as he sat in broad daylight on the wooden chair, he must have brought with him. He sat in front of a small table piled high with white powder and a mirror as if he was all by himself in his living room.
I thought I was seeing things and looked around for law enforcement in disbelief. There were none in sight, and no one seemed to be particularly concerned with this guy and his table. You can’t make this stuff up.
I couldn’t help but think about that concert — the one in the Tangerine Bowl with my girlfriend — as I read this week about Travis Scott’s Astroworld concert and the nine people who lost their lives.
Now I am not a big fan of crowds or enclosed places. As Jill and I kept walking deeper into the crowd looking for a good spot to view the concert we spotted two small “towers” maybe 100 feet from the stage, each with a roadie and young girls in them — probably the best “seats” in the house. I made some comment about those “great seats those girls had” and Jill responded with a hint of anger in her voice — enough of an inflection that told another long story. That is, I understood clearly that she had been in one of those towers before.
We found a good spot and I stopped. The crowd was getting more and more difficult to wade through. The concert was open seating — first come, first served. This was good enough for me.
“No, I want to get closer to the stage,” I heard her say as she grabbed my hand and pulled me forward. And forward we went, weaving in and out of the crowd until we finally stopped maybe 75 feet from the stage. We stopped when it was no longer possible to penetrate the wall of bodies in front of us, and we waited and waited.
The concert started. The Stones rocked. We were close, so close to the stage.
The final encore ended, and the roadies began throwing roses out into the crowd. The crowd pushed forward but no one moved. We were compressed tighter and tighter. I looked around for a pathway back or to the side. There was no pathway anywhere. I grabbed Jill by the collar of her jacket — tight, really tight. The more the roadies threw the flowers out into the crowd, the tighter the crowd became. I yelled at Jill, because at that point, shouting was the only way communication could occur, “hold onto me and do not let go.”
It was getting increasingly difficult to breathe and felt like there simply was no air above our heads — only heat, bodies and fear. Nothing, but nothing was going to cause me to lose my grip on her, because I realized with absolute clairvoyance, that if she were knocked to the ground of fell or was pushed, it would be impossible for her to get back up. I knew, absolutely knew, that on the ground or near it, there was no air, if there was almost no air above our heads already. If she fell to the ground, she would die.
It seemed like an eternity of waiting. We screamed at the roadies to stop throwing the flowers to no avail. They seemed to be having a grand ol’ time watching this crowd struggle to, at that point, stay alive. They were either oblivious or pure evil, I thought.
Finally, we edged closer to the “exit” to the side of the stage, the gateway through which open space and air would be found. The “exit” was space enough for one single person — one at a time — could pass through to the outside, only one. Thousands and thousands waited, pushed, gasped and prayed, waiting to exit.
She didn’t seem all too shaken once we made it outside. I was. But we made it.
This was not our time. That’s all — a simple twist of fate that we lived and those nine people at Astroworld did not.