Suit Sparks Seating Debate

The three deaths being blamed on general admission seating at the Jan. 18 AC/DC concert in Salt Lake City have resulted in at least one lawsuit and another reassessment of the seating method.

Bruce Child of Logan, Utah, father of one of the three teenagers crushed to death during the AC/DC concert at the Salt Palace Arena, has filed an $8 million suit against the band, the arena’s managers and security firm and the show’s promoters. Action alleges “willful, malicious conduct.”

Named as defendants along with the members of AC/DC were Spectacor Management Group, which manages the arena; promoters James McNeil and United Concerts Inc.; sponsor KBER-FM Spanish Fork, Utah, and security outfit Contemporary Services Corp. None was available for comment.

Sources said the families of the other two teenagers, as well as of those injured at the concert, probably would file suits of their own.

An investigation into the deaths at the 13,420-seat venue is continuing. Spectacor and the Palace have suspended all general admission seating pending the outcome of the investigation.

Ironically, sources said the 1988 decision to allow festival seating (arena seating but no seats on the floor) at the Palace was based on safety concerns. An earlier concert had resulted in the damage of 64 chairs after concertgoers stood on them, and it was felt that broken chairs posed a considerable risk to patrons.

Economics also apparently played a part in the decision; the chairs cost $80 each, though that cost normally is defrayed by a show’s promoter.

The Salt Lake incident recalls the 1979 Who concert at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium, where 11 people were crushed to death and 22 injured as the crowd rushed for the best seats.

General admission shows normally do not include seats.

The North American Concert Promoters Assn., which estimates that 10% to 20% of all shows in a hall with a capacity of at least 10,000 employ some festival seating, declined to make a specific recommendation during its regular membership meeting in Phoenix, Feb. 1 to 3.

According to a prepared statement, NACPA believes that concert safety “is a matter for each promoter individually to address as appropriate.”

Before the meeting, NACPA exec director Carl Freed warned that published reports claiming the group would seek an outright ban of festival seating were inaccurate.

“It’s a very risky business,” said New York promoter Ron Delsener, who allowed that his firm does employ general admission seating for a few shows. “It’s just not a good idea, especially with kids.”

Besides the AC/DC and Who incidents, two people were crushed to death at the 1988 “Monsters of Rock” show at England’s Castle Donington. In 1987, two people were trampled to death at a Public Enemy concert at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium. Ironically, that venue was the site of AC/DC’s next concert after the Salt Lake tragedy.

Promoters who offer festival seating – most commonly citing young fans’ desires to get up close to the stage – say that certain precautions must be taken.

“Generally, you want to break up the floor area with barriers,” per Delsener.

Delsener also said he usually reserves festival seating for an adult-oriented show: “An older demographic is usually a little less pushy and excitable.”

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