Tales from the pit

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By P.J Zin

The life and times of a concert security guard.Security guards at concerts have long been the butt of people’s jokes, including my own when I used to go to shows as a snot-nosed, sarcastic teenager. Now, I work “event security” at major concerts and am on the other side of the fence – the side that has to deal with the snot-nosed, sarcastic teenagers.

It was an easy job to get. A friend gave me the number of the company, I called and I was hired. I started out as a measly “hump,” guarding fences at the back of venues and have worked my way up to the more prestigious position of the “pit.”

Now, when I hear those punk kids mutter lame jokes about security, I come to this valuable conclusion: “You losers paid through the nose to be here. I’m being paid to be here. It’s clear who the real dumbass is.”

In 1996, a Hells Angels security guard killed a concert goer at the Altamont Music Festival in California. Since then, concert security has had a reputation for being thuggish, power-hungry wannabe cops who are too rough and eager to fight.

My experience has been quite the opposite. In fact, concert security in Toronto is exceptionally patient and polite considering the mass amounts of drunkards we deal with in an average working day.

One of my first times dealing with people as a security guard was in June at Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum for a show headlined by speed metal demons Slayer and old-school heavy metal band Pantera. I was in the pit – the corridor between the stage and a large metal fence – where security catches crowd surfers.

If anything could be considered a dangerous working environment it’s the pit. In front of me, there’s a frenzy of 5,000 dirty people. Behind me is music so loud my body vibrates and vision blurs while pyrotechnics singe the hair on the back of my neck and fill my lungs with acrid dust.

If I weren’t such a music fan, I wouldn’t put up with that shit for a second.

Most of my time is spent at the Molson Amphitheatre at Ontario Place, which is often criticized as a shitty venue because of “stupid” security policies like no re-entry and no lawn chairs. There’s no re-entry because you can’t realistically regulate a crowd flow of 17,000 by letting them wander in and out at their leisure. Lawn chairs aren’t allowed because they can be, have been, used as weapons.

Policy issues aside, that was the venue where I realized the pit isn’t such a bad place to work. At the Aerosmith show in July, I found myself standing in front of the stage while Steven Tyler’s microphone rags brushed over me as he sang to a crowd of women wearing nothing more than smiles.

The highlight of my summer was Ozzfest at the Docks. After spending the morning searching people as they entered, I was moved into the pit for raprock acts Linkin Park and Papa Roach.

Things in the pit started going insane when horror-metal band Slipknot took the stage. Besides trying to pull 200-pound, middle-aged crack-heads out of the mosh pit, I got a shoe thrown in my face and had to take a quick trip to the paramedic to stop my nose from bleeding.

When I returned, some guys from Slipknot started stage diving. One of them jumped from his drum kit, which had been hydraulically lifted some 15 feet overhead.

The next act was Marilyn Manson. His personal security guards informed us he would “throw something” at any security guard caught watching the show instead of doing their job.

Third song into his set, I got nailed in the head by a full bottle of water. I wasn’t watching the show.

Annoyed, I spun around to see Manson standing over me. Two other guards had to hold me back as Manson pointed to the fans and said over and over, “It wasn’t me!”

Ozzy took the stage armed with two, high-powered water guns, to spray his diehard fans. As I watched these people clamour to be sprayed by a pop culture legend, I thought about how I used to be one of those people packed like sardines in a tin and happily shelling out $90 to be overcharged for undercooked hot dogs and watery beer. Now I get to stand five feet away from Ozzy and guitar legend Tony Iommi.

Then it hit me right in the ear – spray from a water gun. I turned to see the Ozzman, eyes unblinking and laughing maniacally. He started chasing me around with a water gun. I remember drawing “Ozzy” cartoons and logos on my notebooks in high school and here he was baptizing me with a water gun!

Over the summer I experienced almost every kind of stupid thing a security guard has to deal with – from drunken, belligerent people trying to piss wherever they want to rubbing shoulders with the rich and quasi-famous.

At a glam-rock show headline by Eighties throwbacks Poison, I realized alcohol is the source of 95 per cent of all security problems at the Amphitheatre. Stupidity accounts for the other five per cent.

Another guard and I were asked to escort two guys out after they started a fight. As I walked behind the two, they turned around, grabbed me and punched me in the chest and face. Luckily three other security guards were able to tear them away. I was a little shaken, my sunglasses were broken and the two guys threatened to return with their friends to kill me. Of course they were piss-drunk.

Sometimes event security can pull 18 hour shifts, usually at festivals like Ozzfest or Edgefest. Since our hours aren’t as regular as a mall job, we don’t qualify for overtime so these shifts are done at the same base wage. Usually, we’re too busy to bother with breaks.

When riots broke out at Woodstock ’99 in Rome, N.Y., there were reports that once the fires, fights and looting started, many security guards (laughably called the “peace control”) took off their shirts, grabbed what merchandise they could and took off.

In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks on the United Sates, the issue of public security has been thrust into the spotlight.

A world Trade Centre security guard was recently a panelist on Montel Williams’ talk show and described how she survived the attacks: she heard a loud bang, cleared out the foyer area for which she was responsible and proceeded to get the fuck out of Dodge.

There were security guards who stayed behind to help people evacuate the rest of the building. But I know why she bolted, and it’s something every security guard will tell you: “I don’t get paid enough to deal with this.”

There aren’t many jobs that involve dealing with large crowds of people and to be fair, the ratio of well-behaved people to the trouble makers must be over a thousand to one.

We have no more legal power than the average citizen, but we’re asked to be the buffer-zone between the possibility of danger and the music fan for an hourly wage slightly more generous than the legal minimum.

So, if you ever find yourself at odds with concert security, keep this in mind: you are wrong. Read the fine print on the back of your ticket. We don’t get paid enough to deal with your kind, so get out of my face and enjoy the show.

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