DAY ON THE GREEN BACKSTAGE PASS SAN FRANCISCO 1991
My first ten years of seeing live music almost exclusively meant going to small shows at old theaters, community halls, college rec. centers, dilapidated ballrooms, and occasionally to all ages clubs. These were the places where the underground bands I liked played and I liked the fact that the shows were cheap, stripped down, and that all the action was up-close and personal.
The vast majority of my peers at school were into mainstream rock, pop, and soul music and when they’d come to school after having seen a concert over the weekend wearing a new t-shirt, holding a glossy concert program, and telling tales of flash pots, props, and stage banter it always sounded to me like they’d been at an event more like a Mariners or Padres game than at what I thought of as a Rock-n-Roll show. I could see they had obviously had a great time but I didn’t see the appeal in it myself.
It wasn’t until the early nineties when I lived in San Francisco and worked at Alternative Tentacles that I started checking out big bands at big places with any regularity. This was due in part because working at A.T. we had tons of hook-ups with people at major labels, in bands, with promoters, and at radio stations so we could get in free (and backstage) to just about any show in town big or small. I also started going to these big shows around this time because this was the era when interesting bands, and bands we knew, began getting big and playing big places for the first time.
The backstage pass pictured above was for the 1991 Day on the Green Hard Rock/Metal fest that Bill Graham Presents put on every year in Oakland. As it would turn out Bill Graham died in a copter crash shortly after this fest and 91 was the final year of DOTG. I’ll say this…the fest went out on quite a note.
I’m not sure exactly who made up our party that day but I know for sure that Greg Werckman, myself, and David Yow from The Jesus Lizard (who had played in town the night before) were there and that we were witness that day to a spectacle unlike any I’d ever seen at a show before or since.
It should be noted that the “day” part of the festival’s title literally meant the concert took place in the clear light of day. This one fact really sticks out in my mind as a defining aspect of the experience because it deeply enhanced the stark, clear-eyed vision of the apocalypse that that would unfold before our eyes that afternoon.
I’m making a deliberate choice of words in describing the thing as a vision because our party spent most of the day either milling around backstage or ensconced high in the sparsly populated upper seats looking down at the stage and at the vast expanse of Oakland Coliseum’s field. No one in our party had any desire to participate in a more intimate manner in that days proceedings partly because we were tired from the night before but also because after surveying the scene on the field below our instinct for self-preservation had kicked into high gear.
What did we see from our godlike perch in the sky?
Well, the bands were the bands. Queensryche started the day off on a civilized and theatrical if not terribly well-received note. Soundgarden and our friends Faith No More were progressive but also aggressive enough to please the fans and fan the flames of the crowd who were definitely there for the headliners: Metallica.
The last time I’d seen Metallica was at San Diego State University’s Back Door a room that held about 500 people. Six years later at The Day on the Green they drew about 15,000 fans. It was a slightly different vibe.
If you’ve followed my blog you’ve likely picked up on the fact that I was witness to a lot of violence in my years of Punk show-going, especially in Southern California. I thought I’d seen some crazy-big brawls in San Diego and at places in L.A. like Fender’s and The Olympic Auditorium and they were big and brutal fights and beatings, especially when they were happening in your immediate physical vicinity. However when a fight looks huge from a mile away like the ones we saw that day in Oakland, that’s when you know you’re dealing with issues of scale on a whole other level.
When I recall the scene now it really is like remembering a dream or a nightmare. As Metallica played in the broad daylight the thousands assembled on the field transformed into dozens of swirling moshpit toilets, working like satanic gears, grinding, consuming, and spitting out the hapless souls caught in their teeth. Every few minutes a gear or two or three would seem to do a slow, sickening, slide to one side as a small army of fighters unleashed their fury against one another or upon a victim or group of victims.
I remember clearly images of what appeared to be giants hurling great chunks of sod they’d torn up from the field at one another and into the spinning wheels. Shirtless Skinheads, Bikers, long-haired tribes of Heshers, men, and boys all doing battle for battle’s sake. Covered in dirt, blood and sweat as the deafening sounds from the stage stoked the fire and rage.
It went on like this for the whole set until the field was torn to shreds and the wounded were being treated and removed from the pitch like a scene from a Civil War battlefield. It was unbelievable.
Hoping to avoid getting caught up in the full piss-stream of humanity that would soon be exiting the place, we decided to leave during the first encore. As the final chords shook the building and we made our way out with the other assorted early-departing heavy metal couples, music fans, and those too inebriated to know what they were doing everyone we encountered had either a wild look or a look of caution, urgency, and fear in their eyes. The air was thick and buzzing with a primal current that could’ve just as easily been exhilarating or troubling depending on your state of mind while swimming in it. Our party definitely veered toward the latter interpretation of the pheremonal atmosphere.
I remember Yow very narrowly avoiding getting covered head to toe with a stream of vomit that poured out of a guy hanging over the ledge above us as we made our way out through a passageway. As we navigated our way through the quickly swelling throngs I felt a bristling, vigilant, animal awareness in my gut that was a product of knowing we were in a place where the thin veneer of culture had been rubbed perilously raw. The whole scene was like a 3d, surround-sound, scratch-n-sniff Hieronymous Bosch painting. Once we were safely in the car heading out onto the freeway and back across the Bay toward civilisation I’d be lying if I said we didn’t all let out a little laugh and sigh of relief. Whew!
Now that I think of it, it’s funny how “Day on the Green” sounds like some kinda picnic.
I’m here to tell ya man: Rock-n-Roll ain’t no picnic.
Day on the Green backstage pass from my personal archives.