JD Crowe / [email protected]
RELATED: Original article on AL.com
Do What You Like – Widespread Panic in Orange Beach
by Andy Roo Mowery
Almost 10 years ago, I found myself heading out to the Upper South Parking Lot at Red Rocks before a Panic show early in the morning to solve a problem: The fans and security weren’t getting along, and some people the night before got hurt in a stampede. It bothered me so much; I stayed up all night thinking about it, and without telling anyone else, I decided I had the solution.
It was based upon 3 principles: That strangers would tend to be slightly less of a dick to one another even if they were in competition to get to the front row once they knew each others’ name, and even less so if they introduced themselves with a hug; That those who think they are working against one another often find themselves aligned if they simply communicate; And, that when people respect each others passions and act out of love and respect for those passions, anything and everything is possible.
And, rather than 300 people trying to climb over each other and security, we found that everyone pretty much was targeting different spots, and if we were nice to security, we could work out a system where we could get our tickets pre-checked, and make the process of getting a spot at a GA show fun and less stressful. It’s a long story, but bottom line is that it’s worked for 10 years and kept peace where some thought none was possible.
I woke up today thinking I was writing an article about how we’ve successfully overcome a challenge with another Panic show tomorrow in Orange Beach. And, I am quite proud of how the Panic Community has once again come together to overcome negativity, and shine their light on a little beach community in the Gulf that so many of us have grown to love. Unfortunately, I got an unexpected email from the Mayor today, so my enthusiasm is going to come with an asterisk, and subsequently a call for those attending to be aware of a small minority who may be looking to scapegoat fans to justify their bias and prejudice.
A month ago, while I was still in bed, my phone began vibrating with notifications from Facebook. I found that several of the Widespread Panic Facebook Groups I participate in were lighting up with messages about the show at the Wharf in Orange Beach, AL. I had fond memories of going there in 2007 and 2008, and wondered what all the hullabaloo was about.
There was an article about a city council meeting in the small 6000-person town of Orange Beach in which a couple of the council members were quoted saying some derogatory things about the fans. But, one word stood out more than any other – Floppiness. And, within a few hours it and all it’s floppy variations went viral. A whole slew of Internet Memes, T-Shirts, Hats, and Stickers were designed by mid-afternoon.
Now, some reacted with a great sense of humor, and all the proposed merchandise was a sign of that. However, in other corners of the Internet, particularly Facebook, some were quite angry. Some recalled that there were questionable police tactics used in 2008, where fans’ privacy was violated while driving to/from the show, in the parking lot, and even in the venue. There were reports of undercover police inside the show entrapping fans with enticements to buy, sell, or use illegal drugs. And, as a result, there were some arrests. Well, a lot of arrests, depending on who you talked to.
So, after following this band for 24 of their 28 years, and having traveled all over the country (and even a few international locations), I’ve seen my fair share of police abuse in and around rock and roll shows. I’ve seen tear gas used unnecessarily, I’ve witnessed beatings, and I’ve seen cops destroy video cameras of those who have attempted to document the abuse. And, I’ve largely managed to stay out of the fray.
However, I thought it would be a good idea in this case, to go to the parties that made the statements, and see what their side of the story was. I spoke with Jeff Silvers, creator sans trademark of the word “Floppiness”, and he was really easy to talk to. We found common ground in minutes, and had outlined the positive things we could do to make this a great event for the fans and communities. I then called Jim Bibby at The Wharf, and had an equally positive reception. Nothing but a recognition that we could improve upon the past.
I posted these efforts back into one of the Facebook groups for Panic fans, and I had many people voice their support for keeping it positive. I wasn’t the only one, and within a matter of a couple days, we had fans self-organizing to create an event called the Flopper’s Ball, a food drive, a beach cleanup, and more. It was really nice to see our community come together to make a positive out of a negative.
But, then the Mayor doubled down on his comments, and actually put an exclamation point on them by publishing a letter on their website, which subsequently got copied into mainstream and social media sites, making some pretty aggressive claims. The claims boiled down to trying to isolate the fans of Widespread Panic as being categorically different than the fans of any other band. Nevermind that most people listen to music from many sources, and that it was timed the same day as a concert at the Wharf celebrates a guy who is backed by the Coral Reefer band sings about finding his lost shaker of salt, and is considered to only to attract sober angels from heaven, aka as Margaritaville.
So, I took the time to talk to Mayor Tony Kennon too, and found that he was a bit more difficult to work with. In summary, he felt he was elected by the people of Orange Beach to enforce Biblical Law that made clear that any form of intoxication was against God’s Will. Furthermore, he believes in profiling the fans and subjecting them to extra scrutiny because “You are who you associate with.”
I’ve since pointed out that Jesus turned perfectly good non-intoxicating water into not just wine, but the best wine that you usually serve first. And, that if hanging out with undesirables was a bad thing, then Jesus associating with prostitutes and tax collectors wouldn’t make much sense. Oh, by the way, isn’t a Mayor a tax collector?
I wasn’t able to get too far with the Mayor, but I made a formal FOIA request to check the facts made in the Mayor’s 4/24 statement. He said:
“While I appreciate that there are good and decent people that cause no trouble at Widespread Panic concerts, the facts about the negative impact of Widespread Panic concerts in the City of Orange Beach speak for themselves:
- On average more than 100 arrests and it could have been three to four times as many
- Concert goers sleeping in the halls and business doorways at The Wharf, in resident homeowners garages, in vacant rental homes without permission, in the woods, along our recreational trails, on our beaches and in cars all over town
- Inebriated and stoned concert goers who walk down Beach Highway at all hours of the night out of their minds, causing traffic issues, risking harm to themselves and those on the roads, running the emergency medical services ragged
- Public and Private property destruction, trash left behind all over the city and the list goes on and on with vandalism and lack of respect for property
These are documented and factual results of the chaos and destruction of the previous Widespread Panic concerts in Orange Beach.”
So, I waited for the FOIA request, and was finally given the data on 5/20, almost a month later and just 2 days before the event. The only thing given by the City was the arrest counts for the weekends where Panic has played in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. They also gave me the weekends just before and after as a baseline.
Interestingly, I was getting ready to finalize this article, and the Mayor wrote to me today. His purpose appears to be to challenge two statements I made to him – that Jeff Silvers had agreed with me that at some times, law enforcement can be heavy-handed, and that one of the local business owners who contradicted the Mayor didn’t want to say so publicly because he was his next door neighbor. I told the Mayor on 4/24 that it was my opinion that this indicated that while he claimed all or most business owners had a negative impact, that some may be withholding support for the fans or the band because of fear of intimidation or retaliation.
Well, I had done some unscientific research on 4/25, and I called and reached 24 local Orange Beach businesses to see whether they experienced what the Mayor had claimed. Most were neutral, either having not been there in those years, or not recalling anything unusual. It was just another concert and band, for most businesses. However, I found 4 that used the word “love” in their comments about the fans and/or band. And, I did find 1 who had an issue with the fans – she complained that they “loitered” in front of her business, and one had actually gone to sleep. She commented that they “didn’t appear to have anywhere to go”.
So, while the Mayor uses words like chaos, mayhem, and destruction, it sounds more like there is a minority of business owners who simply have a prejudice against people who look or dress a certain way. You know, hippies. Even though the majority of fans these days blend into mainstream society because they are mainstream society. It seems odd that a business district specifically built for the purpose of having people waiting for concerts to walk around, shop, and enjoy the property would be deemed as negative for using a park bench. I think there are lots of places that would trade their local problems for someone sleeping on a park bench.
But, arguments over opinions aren’t usually valuable. And, as the Mayor pointed out, facts often speak for themselves. The problem for the Mayor is, he’s not factually correct no matter how hard he claims he is.
Here’s the actual number of arrests during Panic weekends in OB in each year:
Rather than the picture that “on average more than 100 arrests” paints, we find that the average is actually 44.75. That still sounds like a decent amount, even if it’s less than 0.05% of those attending.
But, we also have to take into account that people get arrested there with or without Panic fans in attendance. So we have to subtract the baseline average for each year:
2007: 24 – 10 average weekend before/after = 14 net increase in arrests
2008: 112 – 27.5 average weekend before/after = 84.5 net increase in arrests
2009: 32 – 11 average weekend before/after = 21 net increase in arrests
2010: 11 – 6.5 average weekend before/after = 4.5 net increase in arrests
So, a fair and balanced look at the statistics shows us that the Mayor’s comment, no matter how sincere, is not rooted in the facts as he claims. It’s not an average of 100, but it’s not even 100 additional arrests in ANY year, even 2008, the problematic one.
In fact, it’s off by such a large factor, it’s my opinion that he’s making hyperbolic statements in order to create the illusion of a major problem that affects a wide number of businesses and residents, and that, in turn, is justification for a heightened law enforcement response to protect the community. And, it ignores the trend – even if 2008 was a problematic year, there’s 3 years after (Panic played in 2011 too) where the number of arrests drops to numbers that are probably not statistically significant.
The Mayor, in my interview with him, has made clear that he doesn’t believe or care that the War on Drugs is waning across much of American. Although he claims to be a Libertarian, he wasn’t sympathetic to the argument that it was a waste of public resources, that after 40 years, there was no positive effect on addiction or public health, and that it appeared that law enforcement results indicated widespread use of profiling that results in arrests and incarceration that fall most heavily on minorities and the poor.
He jumped immediately to the moral argument that the Bible is the reason the War on Drugs must continue, in spite of the fact that the Bible doesn’t mention anything besides alcohol. If Jesus turning water into wine isn’t convincing, then perhaps Lot having drunken sex with two daughters giving birth to two tribes doesn’t exactly explain why his family was allowed to walk freely from Sodom and Gomorrah while God torched those two cities from above if anyone who gets intoxicated should suffer and be jailed.
The Mayor only responded that he’s not a Biblical Scholar.
But, today he went a step farther. He said:
”If you’re being dishonest, everything you are saying and everything you are doing should be dismissed as a fraud.”
I have asked the Mayor if this logic and judgment applies to him, but so far have not received a response. I’ve also asked him to back up the other “factual” statements in his 4/24 letter, and am still awaiting a response after a month.
Now, this, of course, was in the context of him challenging my claim that he was intimidating business owners, which reduced the number of people who would say something positive about Panic fans, as well as me stating that one of his fellow city council members agreed that sometimes law enforcement crosses the line and violates the line violating people’s rights. But, it emphasizes much of what has driven the controversy with this event – many of the inflammatory comments are not rooted in facts. And, this goes equally for fans.
But, the bottom line is that the Mayor made some comments that he claims were factual, and while they’ve had a month to roll out these facts, all they’ve presented is the data that shows they were exaggerating and embellishing the numbers. I can’t prove the other points, but I did take the time to try to verify the impacts to businesses, and I didn’t get the impression that they all hated us. And, now that businesses are creating something for the fans, it’s even more unlikely that the sentiment exists.
So, while I truly believe that literally 99.99% of the fans are attending to have a good time without any intentions less than to bring smiles to the faces of everyone they meet, and while I believe that many in the Orange Beach community have realized that the Mayor doesn’t speak for them, there’s a small chance that if you attend, you might be treated to some negativity. That negativity might be in the form of a police officer who is still thinking the War on Drugs is a good idea.
It’s a weird time, as we now have people living in states where a legal activity in one state is a felony in another. The disparity has undermined the concept that a plant could be objectively “wrong”, either in secular law, or even in religious law. And, we clearly decided 92 years ago that Prohibitions didn’t work with alcohol, which is probably the biggest threat to our health and safety, with tobacco jockeying for position.
The police do have a right to enforce the laws on the books no matter how history judges them, so anyone who comes to Orange Beach thinking that the rights they enjoy elsewhere should be respected by this community should probably consider taking one of three points of view:
1. Respect this community’s preference to be a family destination, and if you must use illegal drugs, do so privately, particularly out of sight of children.
2. Use your right of free speech and civil disobedience to protest the remaining laws against illegal drugs (marijuana in particular), but recognize that you may be arrested while exercising your rights.
3. Take a break and go to a show sober, if you don’t already. Focus on the music, and only the music, just for a change of pace. Any of us who have done this walk away with a greater appreciation of the magic of this music.
If you witness or are subjected to a violation of your rights to privacy and freedom from unwarranted searches, there are several websites that have both advice and even apps that give you tools to protect yourself and report behavior. Just remember that it shouldn’t be an objective to create evidence of law enforcement misbehavior, but rather it should be a deterrent for those who would break the law themselves to know that citizens have legal strategies and tools to document their experiences. At no time, even if the officer is wrong, should anyone resort to violence, and frankly, we shouldn’t even raise our voices.
I’ve asked the Mayor to confirm whether the officers policing the show will have body cameras, and have not received a reply. I think this and the fact that fans have their own video capabilities should deter the worst things happening. And, I do expect that given how we already communicate with one another while some of us are at home listening, those at the show should work together with those at home to keep tabs on what is happening on the ground.
Frankly, I am hoping we just get a show that is Heaven, and nothing ever happens.
So, I’ve seen a number of fans on Facebook who have warned people that it’s not worth going to Orange Beach because of the threat of arrest. While I agree that there are people like the Mayor who are gunning for them, and looking to inflate arrest numbers, it’s really not reflective of the community. I might even argue it’s not reflective of the police – and I’ve talked to a few of them.
Clearly, the Mayor has blown the whole thing out of proportion. He wants us to look at the facts, and when we do, we are to follow his advice and dismiss those who perpetuate a fraud. He’s lost all credibility on this subject, and should just admit he’s put his foot in his mouth and move on. Politicians resist admitting mistakes like this, and this particular one seems like he’s more likely to attack his critics than admit he made a mistake. But, we shall see. These facts are undeniable and unspinable.
We shouldn’t be naïve either, but clearly, he’s not leading a community who feels this way about us, so we shouldn’t say things like “I’m not going to see a show where the community doesn’t want us.” The community does want us, but has a Loose Cannon for a Mayor who is distorting the character of the community. We all need to stop letting the Mayor manipulate us, and reach out to each other directly and get to know one another. A hug is recommended, if possible.
Once we build our own bridges directly, we can work together and make the good things the good people of the panic community do – we build up and support one another, we take care of those in need, and we look to create light and joy in each others’ lives. Let those who want to be negative and divide pout on the sidelines, and then welcome them in when they come to their senses. Everyone is welcome.
Therefore, I’d like to say that no matter what you choose to do, I hope that we, the vast majority of fans who would love to see more shows at Orange Beach, whether we go or not, continue to build bridges to that community. I’ve joined one of their Facebook groups, and found shared interests in photography, protecting endangered species, keeping beaches clean, and even entrepreneurship. I encourage others to do the same.
Therefore, if you have been on the fence about going to this show, I don’t think you should be afraid. Go, and do what you like. If this includes illegal drugs, just be aware that you are on the front lines of the waning days of the War on Drugs, and there may be consequences regardless of your perceived stealth. Beware and take care. And, Panic ON!