Grateful Dead pressures fans to cool off ─ or band will quit

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP)─ The Grateful Dead's traveling road show, simultaneously one of the strangest and most profitable spectacles in entertainment, seems cursed this year.

A series of incidents in recent weeks involving the fans known as ''Deadheads'' prompted a reprimand from the band and has some followers frightened that the bad trip could mark the beginning of the end for a group of rockers with roots in San Francisco's psychedelic scene.

The six members of the Grateful Dead, in a letter posted on the Internet shortly after a July 2 concert riot in Indiana, said fans must learn to police themselves because ''your reputation is at stake.''

''A few more scenes like Sunday night, and we'll quite simply be unable to play,'' band members said. ''The spirit of the Grateful Dead is at stake, and we'll do what we have to do to protect it.''

The Noblesville, Ind. incident, in which thousands of fans battled police and tried to storm the gates, forced the Dead to cancel the next night's show ─ their first postponement ever due to fan behavior.

It wasn't the only trouble the band has faced this year:

¨A wooden deck at a campground crowded with Deadheads outside of St. Louis collapsed in the rain on July 5, injuring more than 100 people.

¨More than 30,000 people stormed the gate at a show in Highgate, Vt. last month. To avoid problems, police simply let everyone in.

¨Three people were struck by lightning as they waited outside Washington's RFK Stadium on June 25 for a concert to begin.

¨A handful of fans, angry at drug arrests, threw bottles from a rooftop at police officers outside an Albany, N.Y. show.

The Grateful Dead is made up of Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and Vince Welnick. For years, these rock veterans, known for their freewheeling concerts, have attracted thousands of tie-dyed followers for what are usually benign parties that can go on for days.

Yet the Grateful Dead's counterculture image masks a business savvy that has made its members rich even though they rarely record (the last Grateful Dead studio album was ''Built to Last'' in 1989.) The Dead are consistently one of the year's top touring bands and already have grossed more than $29 million this year, according to the trade publication Pollstar.

Younger and more aggressive fans attracted to the scene are blamed by many for trouble. Fans posting Internet messages complain of ''negative energy people'' at concerts.

''It feels like it's coming apart from within,'' wrote one worried California fan.

Band spokesman Dennis McNally said the Grateful Dead is concerned with ''post-punk kids out for a weekend drunk'' who have been showing up at concerts. But he said ''it's a cyclical thing,'' noting the band had problems with large and unwieldy crowds half a decade ago when it had a hit single with ''Touch of Gray'' in 1987.

The band's Internet message urged fans not to show up at concerts without tickets, not to turn concert sites into marketplaces and to pressure people acting like jerks.

''Want to end the touring life of the Grateful Dead? Allow bottle-throwing gate-crashers to keep on thinking they're cool anarchists instead of the creeps they are,'' band members wrote. ''Want to continue it? Listen to the rules and pressure others to do so.''

One fan who was worried about the incidents said she is compiling a list of concert venues that have been declared off-limits to the

Grateful Dead because communities don't want the hassle.

''How close are we to the end? I think I can see it in the distance,'' the fan wrote. ''My heart is breaking.''

McNally said it was too early to tell whether the trouble will make scheduling shows more difficult. Plans are already in the works for fall and winter concerts.

''The two places where we had crowd problems were idyllic rural settings,'' McNally said. ''I think the result of all this will bend us away from that and towards more securable settings, which is unfortunate but it's the direction we've been moving in.''

Some concert industry experts said they didn't expert long-term repercussions. Promoters are in the business of filling concert arenas, and few bands do it as well as the Grateful Dead.

''I don't think it will shy people away,'' said Ben Liss, executive director of the North American Concert Promoters Association.

The band always has been cooperative in working with communities to deal with security concerns, he said.

In Albany, a frequent tour stop for the band in recent years, Mayor Gerald Jennings said that when he decides whether to support a return trip by the band, he will weigh security problems against the knowledge that Dead shows pump thousands of dollars into the city's economy.

''I'm not going to say, 'No, you're not wanted,' '' Jennings said. ''But I will be cautious because I have a community to protect and I have people that live here. I don't want something similar to what's happening in other cities happening here.''

McNally said the band's cooperation will continue.

''We are always guests, and in order to be welcome guests, we have to at least keep the circus down to a dull roar,'' he said.

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