Fair Board Grants Reprieve for Concert by Grateful Dead

Times Staff Writer

Ventura's annual Grateful Dead concert has been resurrected by the Ventura County Fair Board, a reversal of its earlier decision to cancel a three-day show scheduled this summer at the fairgrounds.

By a 5-4 vote, the fair's board of directors on Monday approved a two-day concert by the rock band, provided that city officials issue a special permit for the hotly debated event.

The action reversed a 6-3 vote by the board in March to cancel the performance because of numerous complaints that the band's colorful followers, who call themselves "Deadheads," had been seen last year trespassing, selling drugs and defecating in public.

Board Shifts

The shift occurred in part because two newly appointed board members turned out to favor the concert, and one of the original opponents on the board changed his mind.

Anthony Caezza, the board member who dropped his opposition, said he was impressed by the support exhibited by local fans, who presented the board with more than 4,000 signatures and made promises to remedy any problems.

'See What Happens'

"I'm the bad guy or the good guy; I don't know which yet," Caezza said. "Their presentation was very professional. I just thought I'd see what happens."

While the decision sparked loud applause from most of the 100 people at Monday's board meeting, some Ventura officials were dismayed by the prospect of another series of Grateful Dead concerts, which last year attracted 18,000 fans for each of three performances.

"We're not thrilled about this," Mayor Jim Monahan said. "We felt they should have stuck by their guns."

Although the band must still obtain a special-events permit from the city before it can play Ventura on the proposed dates of June 11 and 12, city officials described the procedure as routine.

City Clerk Barbara Kam, who issues such permits after consulting with department heads, said the band had received similar approval for the seven concerts it has played at the fairgrounds each summer since 1980.

"We will collectively review all the pros and cons and determine how some of the problems might be mitigated," Kam said. "You have two diverse opinions and I try to walk down the middle."

Police Chief Richard Thomas, however, said that he did not believe such a middle ground exists. In a strongly worded letter delivered to the Fair Board on Monday, Thomas complained about rampant drug sales, thefts, vandalism and other problems associated with the large number of fans who camp each year near the fairgrounds.

"Each year, your police department has worked closely with fairgrounds security personnel in an attempt to devise schemes to minimize or eliminate such criminal activity," he wrote. "Frankly, it cannot be done."

Promoter's Offer

But San Francisco-based concert promoter Bill Graham, the legendary impresario who has helped popularize psychedelic rock since the 1960s, pledged at the meeting that those problems would be resolved. He offered to pay for increased security and additional bathroom facilities, and promised to warn fans that misbehavior could result in an end to the shows.

"Throw the ball up straight," said Graham, likening the Fair Board to a basketball referee at center court. "Give us a shot at the ball."

Fans of the band, known for its embodiment of the '60s counter-culture, also said they would see to it that garbage bags were distributed at the shows. In preparation, they handed out 5,000 flyers at a Grateful Dead concert last weekend in Irvine urging fans to dispose of their trash.

"Give us a chance," Susanne Kasberg, a fan, told the Fair Board. "Let us do it again as responsible citizens."

'Derogatory Nature'

A representative of a local Baptist church, however, argued that "acts of a derogatory nature" by fans during last year's event were an indication that they might not be equipped for such responsibility.

The Deadheads' misdeeds "made the whole scene something that responsible citizens could not be proud of," said Warren Lovingfoss, a member of Ventura's First Baptist Church.

But both the manager and the head of security at Irvine Meadows Amphitheater, which was visited by 60,000 Grateful Dead fans during a three-day appearance April 22 to 24, said they had few problems.

"In all my years of doing security, I think this year's Grateful Dead show was probably the easiest show . . . to police and secure," said Clyde Mailes of Los Alamitos, a 15-year veteran of concert security. "They're just human and having a good time."

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