Photo by David Steinberg
There are few places to see music more idyllic to see music than the Gorge Ampitheatre. Overlooking the Columbia River, miles from any town, you’re in an environment where there’s just the crowd, the band, and the desert. The wind blows across the hill, the view of the river is just spectacular, and after the sun sets, you can look out across and see few signs that humanity exists. It’s a perfect place to commune with music and restore what faith we have in the world in 2018.
When something is this amazing, you want to protect it for as long as possible. Phish were playing their first three show run there, and this was a cause of celebration. As Sunday dawned and the reports started to trickle in about an assault inside the venue, of Nazis in the parking lot, of a potential racial motivation for the attacks, the initial response was to hope it was just stupid trolls on the Internet looking for attention. Unfortunately, the confirmations kept trickling out and the news continued to get worse.
What we know based on the report from a victim, people observing in the lot, and statements from the police (both public and in conversations I had on Monday morning) is that two minority Phish fans were attacked at approximately the same time and with the same approach (hit with a rock). We know that there were people in the parking lot with Nazi tattoos selling nitrous whom the police confronted and eventually arrested. While we hoped that these were unrelated, the odds of randomly attacking the crowd at a Phish show and somehow ending up with two victims of color is so improbably low that it was very difficult to suspend belief. When Samir Poles went public with his description of the attack, it became impossible to disassociate the two events; the indirect evidence is overwhelming. There is very strong evidence that a racially motivated attack occurred inside of a Phish show, leaving two people in the hospital. There’s no way of sugarcoating that.
The question now is what can we do to prevent this happening in the future. The first thing is obvious. We need to be on the same side. Fans, keep a watch out for each other. If you see someone confronting a fellow concertgoer, do what you can to stop it. Yes, keep your own safety in mind, but these attacks depend on the apathy of bystanders (in this case induced by the surprise nature of it delaying bystander action). As bleak as the world can feel right now, the racists at a Phish show are still massively outnumbered. If we stick together, we can stop them.
It’s not just fans that need to do this. Security and fans have to be allies. This means that security needs to be exactly that: concerned about securing the venue. Fighting the drug war (especially in a state where pot isn’t even illegal) is not only a waste of everyone’s time, but it makes people not want to trust security. One thing Poles reported is that security was initially more concerned about if he was on drugs than trying to find the people who assaulted him which made it that much easier for them to get away. We’re not in a place where we can afford to be at war with those who are there to keep us safe. They have to deescalate so that we will be willing to let them know about real threats.
Finally, even though we don’t know if the Nazis are related to this attack, it’s long past time to make a concerted effort to stop supporting nitrous dealers in the lot. It’s environmentally unsound, has led to people injuring themselves, and just brings awful people into our world. The high might be fun, but being an adult is about tradeoffs, and getting rid of one intoxicant in exchange for driving away violent people who are there solely to make money off of us seemed like a decent exchange even before Nazis were showing up.
There reaches a point where you have to decide where you stand. For me, it’s going to be with those of us who are here because they love the music. Race, religion, gender, orientation, all I care about is that you don’t talk over the quiet sections. This event was horrible but I do have faith that this is not who were are or who we will be as a community. It’s time for us to stick together and say that this stops now!
“So show us why we came here
Before we lay on the ground
Give it to us loud and clear
Make the devil turn around
The world around me’s turning
I’m just standing still
The time has come for changes
Do something or I will” – Tom Marshall
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at http://www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html and he’s on the board of directors for The Mockingbird Foundation. He now tweets and has a daily update on the Phish Stats Facebook page
His book This Has All Been Wonderful is available on Amazon, the Kindle Store, and his Create Space store.