The Home of the Rave

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

Spence's county played reluctant host to three raves over the past year. The biggest, Rushing's Sun event, resulted in only 29 arrests out of more than 5,000 partygoers -- a ratio comparable to that of traditional concerts -- and was described in the media as going "smoothly" despite its size. Spence, however, recalls it differently.

"At all of the rave parties we have experienced, drugs have been rampant, and that Aurora Airpark one was no different," he says. "We had deputies in the parking lot, thirty-year-old guys who didn't really fit in, who were approached and asked if they wanted to buy some drugs. When you have this kind of activity going on so blatantly, it doesn't do a lot of for the idea that these are safe events."

Spence speculates that the number of arrests would have increased dramatically had deputies gone inside the venue rather than remained on the perimeter and had he had a bigger staff. "Drug arrests are paper-intensive, and we just didn't have the manpower to deal with it all," he says. "And not knowing what kind of a situation we would have faced inside, we stayed out. But I had calls the next day from families who said they were driving down 1-70 that night, and the smell of marijuana was coming through the vents. The next day, there were kids laying all over, and I think some of them wouldn't have woken up if our deputies hadn't woken them."

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

To some extent, Rushing agrees with the captain's assessment. "There's a lot of talk in the scene about how it's all about music," he says. "It's the idea of PLUR -- Peace, Love, Unity and Respect -- and for a lot of people, that really doesn't involve drugs. But when you can't get cops to come inside and help you, there's really no motivation for people to try to conceal their drug use. Our security guards can only do so much. We can kick them out, but we can't arrest them. I welcomed those sheriffs to come inside, but they wouldn't."

Despite the modern raver's tendency to downplay the role of drugs in rave culture, Campbell recognizes that drugs are an inevitable part of the parties. "I would say about 75 percent of the kids who show up are on something," he says. "But it's getting to the point where it's not too cool to be fucked up all the time. You don't want somebody laying around in a spot on the floor that could be used for dancing. From the promoter's point of view, though, you cannot do anything about some kids getting fucked up at home or in their car before they come in. You do everything you can to prevent anything from getting inside."

That may not be enough, responds the DEA. "At all of the raves that our office has gathered intelligence information on -- every single one of them -- there has been a very high level of drug activity inside the premises," Dennis Follett says. "From what I've seen, the searches at the door are not very thorough at all. Any person with an ounce of intelligence could smuggle something in. So even if a promoter himself isn't selling or providing anything, if he turns a blind eye to the use of drugs within his rave, he could be held accountable for facilitating drug activity." Follett's office is currently researching how the federal "crackhouse" law -- which makes it a crime to provide a facility for the use of drugs and in January was invoked against rave promoters for the first time, in New Orleans -- might be used to stop illegal raves in this four-state region.

"The crackhouse law really opened a window for us," Follett says. "In law enforcement, there's a learning process that goes on, especially when you're dealing with a relatively new threat like Ecstasy. You see what other states have done. The law sort of outlined the ways in which various factors -- like, does a promoter supply glo sticks and pacifiers and bottled water at a high price? -- fit into a greater argument that he has a fundamental awareness of drugs at an event he's putting on. If our investigations reveal this kind of thing and we can get a district attorney to prosecute, there's a very real possibility that some of these people will face very serious criminal charges."

Campbell is optimistic that none of his promoters will experience this fate. "From what I understand of the crackhouse law, you would have to prove that a promoter was organizing and hosting an event for the purpose of the use of drugs," he says. "When you have DJs flying in from all over the world, when there's dancing and socializing and tickets sold, it would, in my opinion, be difficult to argue that the sole purpose was drugs."

In September, Campbell invited his rave-promoter clients to a meeting in his office. He proposed forming an association that, through benefit shows and membership dues, would build a financial war chest to challenge the legality of the sorts of ordinances Northglenn and Thornton had passed.

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