After six months and dozens of concerts, my band arrived at the Pig Fest in Chino, California. It was a musical celebration with the current names in what was then considered “punk rock”; and, inexplicably, the promoters decided to hold it in the most malodorous municipality in the state of California. It was so bad that I speculated what Chino might actually be Spanish for.
Loading my gear in at the back of the place, I was directed to Stage #2, where our we would be performing. With our band scheduled to go on hours after I got there, I guarded my drums and read a book. It was a warm day with scores of young music fans leaning everywhere. The ubiquitous mud, several hectares of which had been generously donated from a nearby swamp, blended with the oat reek of cattle manure to create an ambrosia of stink. Driving past on the freeway, I had once noted that this particular municipality had the mephitis touch.
I’ve been a people watcher as long as I can remember, and with little else to do I put my book down, carefully removed my gasmask, and observed the tougher new arrivals as they circulated with their chests out. It was amusing, but only until they had become the numerically dominant group present. Within an hour, a large portion of the crowd was too busy glaring at one another to take notice of the music they had paid to experience. I’ve never seen so many bare-chested, macho specimens in my life. With their shaved heads and matching monster tattoos it looked more like a prison yard than a concert.
Looking over at a winding queue, I noticed that the beer concessions were open, which meant that anyone with a few dollars could have as much as they needed and it didn’t matter how old you were. A cluster of fourteen-year-olds stood panhandling in front.
Everyone onstage made the best of the acoustics, and several performances were abbreviated by a faulty fuse box that made the p.a. system cut out intermittently. The spectators became restless and took to hurling half-empty beer cans. The musicians weren’t sure what to do, despite the fact that many looked as rugged as their fans.
Our turn came, but with a tattoo contest happening simultaneously a few yards away, we had to work harder to keep everyone’s attention; and since we were among the very tiny percentage of people there who didn’t have even one permanent ink stain, I wondered if we wouldn’t be better off at a coffee shop, playing for people who wouldn’t disfigure us for not keeping their attention. But at least we weren’t being torpedoed. In the middle of our third song, a fight broke out by the beer stand, and every inquisitive valedictorian in the place ran over to watch from up close. When one of the combatants—a security guard who had been attacked by three valorous and plucky Nazi skinheads—emptied his pistol into the air, the herd changed its minds and decided that we were worth watching after all.
We finished in one piece, and as my friends unplugged their guitars, I broke my drum set down. Backward we went, hauling our gear from the stage after our last song. I could tell that the fighting wasn’t even close to over. Our bassist Randy agreed, and together we went looking for the least intimidating people to add to our mailing list.
The ozonosphere of rancor that gathered and maturated all day long finally shifted its emphasis to a pair of sizable groups: Nazis and Mexican punk rockers. As a band called Face to Face were onstage and between songs, the leaders of the factions were nose-to-nose, swallowing each other’s muffled threats, looking as though the vivacity of their shared animus could at any moment spill over into passionate lovemaking. A wave of shut up reigned. The crowd was motionless, straining unconsciously with their heads to hear what the men, circling one another like roosters, said. The stage was quiet. No one touched a string or a cymbal.
I turned and followed Randy—and as he stepped into one of the portable toilets, I glanced toward Stage #1 in time to see a stampede coming right at me. I sprinted to the the entrance. A guard twiddled his thumbs there, as the remainder of the security detail—a handful of disgruntled rent-a-cops—huddled around him affecting postures of world-weariness. When I casually mentioned that a hundred people were maiming a hundred other people a short distance away, they radioed for backup.
Working my way around the side of the venue, I climbed through a hole in the fence, and when I got to the platform on which we had had performed, someone was lying face down in front of it. He’d been stabbed in the side of the neck. Kids alternated between bickering and trying to smother him. Others got hold of the microphones on both stages and were howling obscenities at the groups of people fighting below. Despite the Chino mud, tidal waves of dust obscured the meadow, giving it the appearance of the Battle of Marathon as fought in the Gobi Desert. A girl leaned next to me, horror-struck, crying and wiping the snot from her face. She claimed that a boy was on the cement by the other stage, his head smashed into the concrete. “You can see his brains!” A few others were reportedly stabbed and at least twenty-five additional people were injured. Nazis, who thought our friend Vince was Mexican, kicked him in the face with combat boots, crushing his cheekbone. As the brawling continued, people were dragged away and thrown into the backs of cars and trucks by their friends. A helicopter buzzed overhead. It felt like war.
As the mess was clearing, we moved our trucks in and loaded our gear out as quickly as possible. Pulling onto a main dirt road, the bouquet of animal dung made a satisfying return as fire trucks, ambulances and a fleet of squad cars encircled the area. It was dark by then and a helicopter hovered, flashing its spotlight.
In the aftermath, the only coverage was a very short piece in The Daily Bulletin, an area newspaper: “Rock Concert Turns Into Riot”. It was missing any details about corpses or broken bones. It didn’t refer to the staples that Vince got in his head, nor did it mention the knife wounds, the brains, the viscous fluids clotting in the sun, or the lack of organization and widespread underage drinking that led to it.