Rocky Mountain News society scribe Dahlia Jean Weinstein recently made a discovery that doubtlessly caused followers of the lively local electronic dance music scene to accidentally let the baby pacifiers in their mouths drop to the floor along with their jaws: Apparently, Weinstein reported in a full-color spread in the Rocky's July 30 Spotlight section, large numbers of kids today are spending their weekend dollars at raves, "all-night subversive dancefests" advertised through intricate variations on word-of-mouth.
But as any self-respecting raver knows, the events' journeys aboveground and out of the abandoned supermarkets, bomb shelters, warehouses and henhouses to which they -- in all of their flashing, gyrating, X-ing beauty -- were previously relegated began about five years ago. In fact, KTCL-FM's recent "Rave on the Rocks" took place on the stage at Red Rocks, a locale that is as aboveground as you can possibly get.
While Weinstein's observation that raves are happening more visibly and with more and more frequency may have been news to her editors, it certainly wasn't a revelation to a state full of Colorado lawmen, many of whom have come to regard raves as neon-lit havens of drug-bingeing and alcoholic excess. And a string of minor rave-related snafus over the past year hasn't helped matters: In March, the principal of Rupert High School in Colorado Springs was suckered into authorizing a widely advertised rave that drew 3,000 kids and had school maintenance men scraping chewing gum off a waxed floor for days; last month, a teenager from Gillette, Wyoming, disappeared after attending a rave in Vail and was later discovered wandering around downtown Denver in a haze; earlier this month, an Aurora rave attended by more than 6,000 people drew officials from seven law-enforcement agencies and led to more than thirty arrests, many of them drug-related; and in June, sheriff's officials in Elbert County were ranting about a rave that wiped out the department's overtime budget for the entire year. More than 3,000 people showed up for the party near the town of Kiowa, and seven were arrested.
Examining the musical tastes of area sheriffs
So as raving in Colorado continues to develop as a popular sport (second, perhaps, to screaming at the TV during Denver Broncos games), law enforcement becomes more and more prepared to take on the sweaty masses.
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What's an aspiring promoter to do if he wants to throw an event with no trouble from The Man? First of all, before he rents a building, prints fliers, imports a DJ from European parts unknown and springs for a truckload of glo-sticks, he's got to get the right permits, just like anyone else who wants to put on a public event. After that, he might want to choose his county carefully.
Westword recently polled officials from sheriff's departments in six counties (there would have been seven, but Arapahoe County didn't respond to our inquiry) to help you plan a rave that will draw minimal law-enforcement interference. Their responses are some mad phat shit, yo!
"Raves are allowed with strict regulations; therefore, not many raves are held in Adams County. But our policy is not to stop raves because of people's right to assemble. But if they do host one, the rules are that they must meet zoning regulations, there must be no serving of alcohol without a permit, they must address the issue of parking, there must be crowd restrictions, and they must obtain the proper permits: zoning and planning...But raves can create problems because of the crowds that they attract and the dope and drugs used." -- Mark Nicastle, Adams County Sheriff's Department
"There is nothing especially addressed for raves. [Rave promoters] need to obey all of the laws and regulations that are on the books for any public event. And it depends on where it is. They've got to have the permission of the property owners if it's held on private property. They cannot create fire hazards or traffic problems. If it's in a commercial building, adhere to fire codes, obtain the proper permits. Everybody has a First Amendment right to assembly. They [rave promoters] have got that going for them." -- Sheriff George Epp
City and County of Denver
"We've had problems with 'em [raves] in the past. Back before LoDo was developed, we used to have trouble -- people throwing events in all the old warehouses. But we're not in a position to create policy regarding raves. We enforce laws and look out for any criminal activity that takes place. We respond as needed. There are agencies that deal with issues like liquor licenses for people who are trying to put on legal public events, including raves. But, in my opinion, those events [where a permit is obtained] are not something that someone would really call a rave. A rave is nothing more than a big house party. No permit, just a bunch of people. That's a violation of city ordinance. Anytime you provide a place for dancing or entertainment, you have to follow certain codes. We respond as needed." -- Dan O'Hayre, Division Chief of Patrol, City and County of Denver
"We've never had any here. There were a couple planned here, and they never materialized, so we do keep an eye out. Our attitude is that it's a foregone conclusion that it would be foolish to try to stop them, because they are going to happen. If they are legal and the [promoters] have licenses from the zoning people in Douglas County, we'll enforce whatever laws apply. Drug laws, alcohol laws. Obviously, if we get wind that they are not being held legally, we will go in there and shut them right down. Basically, we allow things that are legal, and we don't allow things that are not legal. I don't really have a stance one way or another whether they're good or bad or right or wrong. If laws are being broken, we will respond accordingly." -- Captain William Walker, Operations Commander, Douglas County Sheriff's Department
"To my knowledge, at least to date, we haven't had a lot of experience with raves in Jefferson County. The problem [with raves] is that they usually try to set them up without the ticket buyers even knowing the date or time of event, then posting it on a Web site. Our current posture toward raves is that we're not going to change our approach from any other large gathering. When it becomes a problem, where law enforcement has to intervene, we will do so.
"If there was to be one in Jefferson County, I would guess that our intelligence people from our task force would probably put a couple of people out there in plainclothes, undercover, at the actual location where the party was happening, to be able to gauge what was going on. We would probably have an extra patrol of one or two units that wasn't necessarily at the site, but we would make them aware that there was a special emphasis on this event. So we could know what the heck is going on. I mean, if someone was having a wedding in the middle of nowhere with 500 people, we wouldn't care. But part and parcel to the rave scene is that you've got like 500 people and it could escalate into a really bad problem. If you look at the Web sites for some of these things, they put up the red flags themselves. Talking about large groups of people [attending], and they're not putting the date out, so that law enforcement doesn't know where they are going on. That leads the reasonable officer to want to know what is going on. We want to know just what the heck is going on." -- Lieutenant Phil Dominico, Jefferson County Sheriff's Department
"My objection to the raves that were happening was the large amount of narcotic activity -- GBH, ecstasy. Combine that with the age of the ravees, and it causes great concern. Everyone has the right to dance and listen to music and have a good time. But the narcotic situation seems to be a big part of it, and the age of the attendees is a problem. My concern over raves is basically just public-safety issues: What are you going to do for parking? What sort of health facilities are available? A lot of the youngsters that attend these things become dehydrated from dancing. And if you're thirty miles up a canyon or somewhere in the middle of nowhere, how do you get help?
"We had the Bongathan out here -- remember that? Yeah, that was my county, too. And we tried to send a message then that we do not like this type of illegal activity. If you want to come up here and have a clean party, a fun party, fine. Work with us. But I am against the underground nature of these things. The way they don't notify these people of these events until the day of, it's because they anticipate a lot of illegal activity and don't want law enforcement present. Well, I'm going to be present, and I'm going to stop it." -- Sheriff James A. Alderden
Angela Harris contributed to this story.