The Home of the Rave

Promoters hurry to get their acts together -- before parents, police and the courts decide the party's over.

"It was clear that they were there to shut us down," Campbell remembers. "I invited them to look through the binder where I had everything laid out to show the event's organization. You could just see them searching, trying to find something. There was something vague in the language of one of the statutes about disorderly assembly, and the trooper pulled that out. So I did what I always do: I threatened to sue. I told the marshal that if he planned to shut the event down under the pretext of it being a disorderly assembly, I would pull five witnesses who would swear otherwise. I told him that I would sue the state and the trooper individually."

The event was allowed to proceed as planned. The sheriff seemed impressed when Triad's security booted a raver who'd been caught selling the veterinary sedative ketamine inside, Campbell remembers.

After Caffeine, Campbell started spending a lot more time in the company of ravers. Over the past eight months, he's represented almost a dozen promoters, helping them find venues that are friendly and avoid those that are not; if asked, he attends events as a preemptive strike against shutdowns. When Roofless Productions' Sun rave at the Aurora Airpark attracted more than 5,000 partygoers last August, Campbell was at the ready, binder in hand. He also accompanied Together to its October meeting with the Colorado Springs Police Department.

John Johnston
Attorney Cris Campbell watches out for rave promoters.
John Johnston
Attorney Cris Campbell watches out for rave promoters.

In December, Campbell appeared in Denver District Court on behalf of new clients, Heavenly Daze promoter Juan Fernandez and Aztlan Theatre owner Tim Correa. The Department of Excise and Licenses was threatening to shut down an event Fernandez was throwing at the theater that same night; Campbell requested that the court issue a temporary restraining order against the city. But although the Aztlan's amusement-facilities license allows for "the performance of music, dance ...and similar live and recorded entertainment," the judge ruled that Fernandez's event was a concert and thus not covered by the license. When Campbell's motion was denied, the attorney responded to the ruling with such robust disbelief that the judge nearly found him in contempt of court.

Most of the time, Campbell's legal dealings are less explosive. He's working to build a relationship between rave promoters and law enforcement, to put a legitimate face on a group that's been anonymous for too long, a group that he believes has the U.S. Constitution on its side. For Campbell, the current Ecstasy crisis has escalated to the point where legitimate promoters -- the only kind he represents, he says -- are being denied their right to equal protection under the law.

"A lot of people think that what's at issue here is the First Amendment, the right to assemble, which to an extent it is," says Campbell. "But the government has the right to place restrictions on any kind of assembly. It's not a free-for-all. The real concern here is that because the word 'rave' is such a hot button right now, the rave promoter is treated differently than any other promoter, simply because of the connotations of the word."

He's particularly concerned about new municipal measures designed to curtail rave activity. In August 1999, the Northglenn City Council passed the "Non-Alcoholic Dance Club Ordinance," an emergency response to late-night activity at an all-ages dance club. The measure, similar to blatantly anti-rave laws in other states, set a static requirement on the number of security personnel -- two per every hundred patrons. A year later, Thornton passed its own ordinance after residents voiced complaints about "rave parties" at Roller Express, a roller rink leased by numerous promoters as a standby venue. This time, however, the hours of operation were extended until 1 a.m. on weekend nights.

While Denver does not have a similar law on its books, promoters say the city has enforced licensing-requirement technicalities much more stringently in the past year. "There is so much misinformation and negativism toward these events," Campbell says, "that even those who comply with the law are being subjected to intense scrutiny for no reason."

Of course, there are those who argue that they're right to be suspicious of raves. Reputable promoters such as Together are the exception, not the rule, they say, and if promoters are held to a stricter standard because of possible safety risks, so be it.

"I put a question mark behind statements that these kind of rave promoters are conducting legitimate business. I'm sure there are good promoters out there. But most of them, if they're legit, they wouldn't hide anything," says Captain Phil Spence of the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office. "They wouldn't do like they were in Elbert County. When the authorities weren't notified until after the event had started, it impacted law enforcement there. They had to scramble to address all of the related safety issues, like traffic. There was trash and debris left afterward. It upset the neighbors, people who have to call at midnight because there are suddenly 3,000 people next to their horses. That conduct, to me, is not a sign of legitimate business."

Although Spence acknowledges that Campbell, in particular, has been cooperative and professional in his dealings with Arapahoe County, he says he's not comfortable with the idea of promoters shielding themselves behind a fast-talking lawyer. "If we were to have a rodeo out here, we might be talking to an attorney, but we would also be talking to the promoter, face-to-face," Spence points out. "If they are so professional, if they have done everything that are supposed to, then why are they hiding?"

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