Give Me a Small Venue Anytime

At a U2 concert, back in the 80s, I got caught in the hot and humid crush of general admission. I lost my balance at one point, started to fall over, and would have surely been crushed, had a friend not grabbed my hand and pulled me to my feet.

The same thing happened when Peter Gabriel was on his Security tour. Too many people, not enough ventilation at the Civic Centre, in Lansdowne Park. This time, thankfully, a friend and I found a spot on the sideboards of the skating rink, transformed into general admission. We were directly in front of the sound crew, who couldn't see us, and we enjoyed an unobstructed view of the show.

Getting out, however, was nuts.

When The Who played their first Fond-Farewell concert, in Toronto, I found myself, once again, in the crush of the crowd. This time, I found myself separated from my friends, and I tried to find a place where I could stand and see the stage.

When the opening act, Joe Jackson, played, he was met with an unwelcoming crowd. People threw bottles on stage, told him to get off. (He ended his show early, not surprisingly, after venting his anger at the rude crowd.)

Too bad: I like Joe Jackson.

When The Who hit the stage, the fans went wild. People started moving, and the general-admission crowd became a rolling sea. The air was electric as the speakers set spectators vibrating.

The guy standing to my left was tall, towering next to me. He jumped up and down to the rhythm, his arms stretched skyward. He was clearly enjoying the show.

He must have been drunk. Or stoned. Or both.

It happened without warning. I felt his right arm wrap itself around my shoulders and lock across my throat. With his left hand, he started pummeling me in the left side of my head. I couldn't move: the crowd was a can of sardines, and with my head in a lock, I couldn't do anything, except accept the blows.

I felt dizzy. I could hear my heart thumping in my ears, the pressure in my head heating me up. I was no longer supporting myself by my feet. I was totally in his grip, waiting until I lost consciousness. What would he do with me once I passed out? Why was no one coming to my aid.

He released his grip and turned to face me. What was he doing? Was he trying to get to the other side of me, to work on the other side of my face?

I didn't wait: as soon as he was in front of me, facing me, I brought my knee up, as hard as I could, with as much energy as my weakened body would allow, and directed it solidly into his groin. As he bent forward, in pain, I punched him in the throat.

His head snapped upward, he looked to the sky, and fell backward, into the backs of the spectators, who were oblivious to what had happened.

I didn't wait to see how he landed, and I certainly wasn't going to wait to see if he was going to get back up. I turned away and dove into the crowd, and swam against the wave of dancing motion.

I watched the rest of the show from a safe distance. A good Samaritan, who saw my swollen jaw, handed me a cold can of beer, which I held to my face to ease the pain.

I never returned to general admission again. With the exception of Bluesfest, I have avoided large crowds. If I go to a concert at a large venue, I choose ones that have assigned seating, like the NAC or Centrepointe Theatre.

But give me the small, intimate venues. Give me the places  where you can sit at a table, where the performer is so close that you feel he or she is at your table. Give me places like the Black Sheep Inn, CafĂ© Neat, and North on 29.


North on 29, in Mississippi Mills.

I'll take those over the heat, the sweat, the crush.

My body can't take the beating.

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