By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
By Jena Ardell
By Mary Willson
By Bree Davies
By Tom Murphy
By Tom Murphy
By A.H. Goldstein
In May, I derided Denver's electronic media and the folks at our fair city's daily newspapers for their hysterical coverage of an altercation between kids and cops during a punk-rock show at an area Veterans of Foreign Wars hall. Well, the coverage of the ruckus in Morrison on August 5, which took place against the backdrop of the second of four sold-out Red Rocks appearances by Vermont-based Phish, puts me in mind of Yogi Berra's immortal phrase, "It's deja vu all over again." Yep, reporters did their best to turn the incident into a skankier version of Riot on Sunset Strip, pitting hippies against the police in a drug-fueled tag-team match. That makes for an entertaining story, sure--but reliable sources on the scene insist that it has little to do with reality.
Ana DeJesus, the owner of Morrison's Red Rocks Grill, near where the action started, is especially critical of articles about the episode in the Rocky Mountain News. That publication claimed officers were attacked by so-called Phish-heads trying to "heal" an injured woman through holistic means. In response to this statement, DeJesus snorts, "I'm sure. I don't know where they got that from. I was right there, and that never happened. It never happened." DeJesus's words are echoed by other Grill staffers, including Pat Gerace, a onetime art director for Westword who's found more honest work as a waiter. "Based on what I saw," he says, "everything in the papers was fiction."
According to DeJesus and Gerace, two unruly Phish-heads amid a sea of otherwise mellow devotees are to blame for the entire situation. After 8 p.m. on the evening in question, Gerace expelled an out-of-control Phanatic from the eatery. A friend of his, Kari Prassack, who hails from Pennsylvania, followed him out of the Grill and walked into the side of a moving pickup truck. The News initially reported that the vehicle's driver, who was not ticketed for the accident, fled the scene, but this was untrue; he stopped and immediately rushed to Prassack's aid. So, too, did DeJesus, an emergency medical technician who's training to become a paramedic. "A guy was with her when I got there," she recalls, "and I told him, 'Move over. I'm an EMT.' And he said, 'Excuse me, but I'm a doctor.' And he was--and not some 'holistic' doctor or anything like that. He was a real medical doctor."
DeJesus and the physician immediately determined that the injury sustained by Prassack was minor--a fractured wrist. Nevertheless, concerned Phish-heads began to gather around. When the two caregivers asked them to move back and give Prassack some space, nearly all of them complied. However, two men--the ruffian kicked out by Gerace and one of his friends--responded by beating on the nearby truck. "I told them to chill," Gerace reports. "Whereupon both of them took forceful swings at me.
"Then the two guys jumped into the back of the truck and started stomping up and down. The police pulled them down and arrested them, at which point somebody from the crowd hit the arresting cop with a beer bottle. It was an isolated incident." He continues, "That's when the police shut down the street and started marching everyone toward Bandimere Speedway. A few minutes later we heard the crowd starting to chant, 'Hell no, we won't go.' And from that point on, it was more fun to watch on TV."
Although witnesses at the VFW scrap fingered police for abusive behavior, DeJesus insists that this time around, the law handled things appropriately. "We had a town meeting the day after everything happened," she says, "and I stood up and told everyone at Channels 2, 4, 7 and 9 that they owed the police an apology."
Gerace and DeJesus differ on who is to blame for the matter. In Gerace's view, the town of Morrison was not ready for the onslaught of Phish-heads. "They say they've been planning things since February, but the only preparation I saw was about five trash bags," he says. By contrast, DeJesus feels that Morrison shouldn't have been made to bear the burden and expense of dealing with such a mass migration. "Barry Fey [whose Fey Concerts promoted the Phish dates] is making all this money from these shows," she says. "Why can't he provide for these kids? They could have opened up Red Rocks early, like they used to do for the Grateful Dead, and we would have been fine down here. I think Mr. Barry Fey should come down here and spend a little of the money he's making off us."
Fey's response? The promoter points out that Red Rocks Park was open during last year's Phish concerts--"and there was confrontation after confrontation, there was Mace, there was one guy who was stabbed." In an attempt to prevent a recurrence of these difficulties, representatives from Fey Concerts, Phish and the City of Denver came up with a plan to keep people out of the park. Fey says, "We were instructed to put up more lights and fencing to keep the crowd in control, which cost many thousands of dollars. And it worked--there were no problems at Red Rocks at all." He adds, "I sympathize with the people in Morrison--I wouldn't want to be living there with all of this going on. But there's only so much we can do. I can't control the way these kids act."