on country music, nutso concerts, and 'real problems'

George Dentino is the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen of Mansfield, Massachusetts.

Mansfield is a suburb - maybe more of an exurb - of Boston and home to the Xfinity Center, a booked-solid-this-summer outdoor amphitheater by a freeway junction. It looks like this:

On Monday, Chairman Dentino had this to say to local newspaper The Sun Chronicle:

Country always gives us a real problem lately.

That quote jumped out at me, but he means it. He was there. That quote was given in the context of some ugly numbers after a Keith Urban concert at the Xfinity Center on Saturday:

  • 22 concertgoers went to the hospital for alcohol-related illness, which might overlap with the following number:
  • Over 50 people were taken into protective custody
  • "A number of people were arrested."

Urban described it as "nutso". Dentino told The Sun Chronicle that "[safety officials] were totally outnumbered. It was a real party atmosphere. [...] It started very early, long before the concert started.”

That news got even worse on Tuesday, as the Mansfield Police Department reported a distinctly nauseating alleged sexual assault [line breaks and bolding added by me]:

A concert patron approached an officer, stationed on the lawn of the venue, to report he just witnessed what he believed to be a rape that just occurred on the lawn in front of a large crowd of other concert goers. Officers were brought to the area of the assault and officers began to investigate the report. Witnesses came forward to provide a detailed description of the suspect male. During that time that the assault was reported exit gates were limited and police and venue security monitored the exiting patrons for the suspect.
A short time later, officers were able to locate the suspect as well as the victim of the assault. The subject placed under arrest and charged with one count of Rape is 18 year old Sean Murphy of West Roxbury, Mass. The investigation revealed that a female patron that witnessed the assault pushed Murphy off of the victim and moments later he fled into the crowd. Thanks to concerned patrons, the female victim was removed from the area and they assisted her in getting her help and reuniting her with her friends.
Officers conducting the investigation were assisted by patrons that had been concerned and took photos and video of the assault on their cellular phones. Those phones are being processed to recover the digital evidence of the assault. 

It's unfair to smear all country music concerts based on this incident. Historically, detractors of genres have cast rap and dance music concerts as dangerous. Those were cheap shots. Country music isn't giving Mansfield a real problem; Xfinity Center is. 

Masses of people coming together around a common interest at a concert or festival or rally or sporting event are really only as dangerous as organizers let them be. I don't have love for most security, but every disaster in a scheduled mass of potential revelers - and this was a disaster - can be attributed to bad security. Whether it's a lack of numbers, planning, training, or effort, tragedies happen when organizers and promoters don't put the work in to make the locations safe.

It appears that Live Nation, which operates the Xfinity Center, lets events be pretty dangerous. Two people died of drug overdoses at an all-day festival at the then-Comcast Center in 2012. An April article in The Sun Chronicle announcing the Board of Selectmen had approved Xfinity Center's license mentions that in past years "drug and alcohol-fueled arrests" were...wait for it... "a real problem".

It's worth considering whether concert promoters and security see country fans as less capable of misconduct than, say, the Wiz Khalifa and A$AP Rocky-featuring "Under The Influence Of Music" tour it hosted last summer, apparently without much incident.

If so, they need to check some demographics: country music's fanbase is skewing younger and younger on the strength of a bunch of superstar new faces from the past few years. Young people sure as hell don't have a monopoly on public endangerment, but they're a lot more likely to pregame. If that's not enough for Live Nation and their ilk to value and respect the safety of their customers, perhaps the story where a teenager was allegedly raped in public while a crowd watched and recorded with their phones at a Keith Urban concert would be.

Murphy's lawyer gave a typically gross statement to CNN that claims the alleged survivor was 'neither intoxicated or overcome by drugs'. The lawyer makes no such claim for Murphy.

There were over eighteen thousand people at that concert. Some were drunk. That happens. Some probably shoved people out of the way to get a better view. That always happens. But some were a danger to those around them, security didn't do their job, and at least one concertgoer may have sexually assaulted somebody.

That's a real problem.