Riverport Riot: An Oral History of the Guns N' Roses Show That Sated St. Louis' Appetite for Destruction

Riverport Riot: An Oral History of the Guns N' Roses Show That Sated St. Louis' Appetite for Destruction

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click to enlarge "Hey! Take that! Take that! Get that guy and take that! I'll take it, goddamn it!" - SCREENSHOT FROM VIDEO
Screenshot from video
"Hey! Take that! Take that! Get that guy and take that! I'll take it, goddamn it!"

Wright: People still brought in small point-and-click cameras. I didn't know anything was going wrong until he stopped in the middle of that song.

Stephenson: I had taken pictures throughout the show. It was during "Rocket Queen." After I took the picture he just started hollering and pointing down at the crowd.

Wright: At first we weren't sure who he was pointing too; he was already leaving the stage in mid-air. He landed on Stump and pretty much knocked him out.

Stephenson: I moved a little to the left, a little to the right, and he was following me with his hand and finger. I turned and handed the camera to my friend, who was in a row behind me. When I handed the camera off, as I'm turning back, he was already in flight, coming at me. He hit me blind-sided and we went over the chairs.

Wright: That's where he turned around and slapped one of our guys. A couple of us grabbed Axl and threw him back onstage to get him out of there. He made his rant about lame-ass security, and then he left.

Bryan Pollard, fan: It was a great show up until then. It was so out of nowhere. In the middle of "Rocket Queen," he jumped in and started grabbing cameras. He realized he was trying to fight a St. Louis biker gang.

Bahan: I didn't feel that it was complete, or that I would have been satisfied. Nobody was ready to go home; people were still ready to indulge in it, be a part of it. And they were playing my favorite song when it started — oh man, "Rocket Queen"!

Joe Stickley, fan: One thing that was disappointing was that it was during "Rocket Queen." On my way to school when my dad would drop me off, I would listen to that song. I always loved the end, that ballad part. I was bummed because we never got to hear the end.

William Sawalich, fan: Our seats were toward the rear of the covered section. After the lights went up and we all — or most of us — started filing out, pretty bummed out. We'd been hearing stories from this tour of these long, epic, three-hour shows. So to have it cut short was even more of a bummer since our expectations were higher than usual.

click to enlarge The band had played thirteen songs over 83 minutes before Rose jumped into the audience. - SCREENSHOT FROM VIDEO
Screenshot from video
The band had played thirteen songs over 83 minutes before Rose jumped into the audience.

Durchholz: He claims that there were glass bottles thrown at him. He said that was the last straw, with the guy taking pictures of it.

Schankman: What people didn't have were guns, knives and cans, which they claim were thrown at them onstage. We confiscate that kind of stuff. I'm not saying there wasn't one can or one bottle — you'd be surprised what women do; they'll sneak something in in places we can't even talk about, and we certainly can't look at.

Pollard: He kinda figured out that you don't want to jump into a crowd of really drunk hoosiers in the middle of heat wave.

Stephenson: The medics come out and duct-tape me all down flat, with my back down, my neck down, my arms down. I had obviously been laying there for a while because I started seeing debris fly by. I said, 'You either need to flip me over face-down or loosen my hands so I can block my face!'

"Well! Thanks to the lame-ass security, I'm going home!"

— Axl Rose, July 2, 1991

After Rose left the stage, confusion settled over the crowd. The band had played thirteen songs over 83 minutes before Rose jumped into the audience. A representative of the band promised that Guns N' Roses would return if the crowd settled down, but once the house lights came on, patrons knew there would be no encore.

Schankman: All of a sudden we hear from Robin Tate. Robin Tate was my VP of production. Robin is calling Cindy [Schroeder, Contemporary's box office and house manager], and we hear that Axl has left the stage. Well, that's not unusual. Maybe he's gone off and is gonna come back on. I can hear him telling her he's not gonna come back on.

Favazza: You just figured they're gonna come back. When the lights came on, that's when the show was over. From what I remember, when the lights came on, that's when the shit started flying. I couldn't believe people were acting the way they were.

Feraro: It was just silent, then it was like a plane taking off — there was this build to the crowd, for lack of a better term. The tour buses started pulling away, and you could see the facade of the backdrop of the stage. It was the whole train, but all their equipment was on stage. The crowd started chanting "bullshit" and it escalated from there.

Once fans realized that the show was over, hundreds rushed for the front of the stage. Many were successful in breaching the barricades and reached the stage.

Durchholz: The cops or fireman had brought out a firehose to spray the audience from coming on stage, and the water pressure was not sufficient to deter people from coming. This guy pulled his pants down and waved his dick at the cops as they sprayed this soft stream of water at him.

Schankman: The problem with water is that when you've got pyro, we shut the water system off. Nobody turned the water system back on, so all you got was a little spurt.

Wright: It's not like it was a total mob scene — it was probably on 1,500, 2,000 people that were really hardcore going at it. We had a lot of security that we started calling down there. Maryland Heights Police and a few of us got onstage to stop people from getting on stage.

Stickley: There were SWAT teams, there were shields and there were physical altercations. I remember crouching under the picnic tables 'cause things were moving fast. I remember people pulling the seats out — it was amazing to me to see people pulling out entire sections of seats. And then my next memory is walking out and hearing a lot of the rational-minded people exclaiming that this was bad and we're not gonna get another show, that GNR is never gonna come back here.

Pollard: By then I'd already gone to punk shows, so I wasn't too scared of chaos breaking out. But right then they started throwing full rows of seats, I realized that I didn't want to explain to my girlfriend's parents why she had a concussion, so we started to head out to the truck.

Crone: Once people got access to the stage, it was wild; it was like they were wrecking a pirate ship and hanging off the sails. People were literally hanging off the video boards and trying to climb the scaffolding. It was very striking.

Bahan: I remember watching people hanging from the cables and hearing the rip of the screens on each side. Just sheering from the weight.

Pollard: It was like the fall of Rome. You could see there were fires on the lawn. There were people fucking in the grass.

Stickley: I remember people rolling up entire sections of sod.

Wright: Doing it in-town, these [security] guys were making $7 an hour. It's a hobby, getting paid to see a free show. We had to start finding our employees and accounting for them. We found security shirts on the ground — people had just taken them off — and we found people in their cars.

Sawalich: In the parking lot, I reconnected with a friend I'd seen on the way in. He had an armful of piano keys and a microphone cover. "Some guy was selling the piano keys for $5 each!" he said. I think he had six of them. He said the guy threw in the microphone cover for free. For some reason I was compelled to smell the microphone cover. It totally smelled of stale cigarettes. How rock & roll is that?

Pollard: It still amazes me to this day the amount of actual gear they walked out with. GNR just grabbed the vintage guitars they had and that was it. People were rolling out four-by-twelve cabinets and monitor mixing boards. That part was just hilarious. It was some sort of white trash Fellini film.

Durchholz: It's funny how much like a film the whole riot played out in front of me. It had aspects of unreality; I couldn't believe what was happening in front of me.

Crone: Almost anything that was available to be moved was moved. I remember chairs being passed forward, almost like an ant colony, with chairs riding atop hands up to the front of the stage, and then they'd get thrown. If anyone had a beer in their hand, it was flying. Everything was coming forward.

Wright: I had one guy take twenty stitches in the head from a seat someone had thrown as a frisbee.

Bahan: Some guys in front of us, we watched them break the chairs, the seats of the chairs. They broke pretty easily; I didn't weigh anything, maybe 115 pounds or whatever, but I said, "Let's take a chair to commemorate." So we both took the chair we were standing on — you kicked at it once or twice and it broke.

Feraro: We went to a party that night — one of those bonfire things that every high schooler used to attend. People had seats from the amphitheater and people were sitting on them around the bonfire. Almost like, "Hey, this is a trophy. I have this and you don't." Everyone else was sitting on the ground.

Favazza: The guy that took the picture, Stump, he brought one of the chairs to KSHE, and he signed it to us. We had it up on the wall for a long time.

Bahan: I get home at 3 o'clock in the morning; my parents have no idea where I am. I remember my dad waiting on the sidewalk. I jump out of the truck and I have my chair with me. So my dad is hot; he is pissed. I've never seen him that upset before. He points at the chair and says, "What the hell is that?" I said, "Dad, there was a riot, you gotta turn on the news. There was helicopters and cops and shit everywhere!" He didn't want to have any of it: "What the hell is that?" I said, "Dad, this chair is from Riverport. I think this gonna be an important part of my childhood, my life — an historical event just happened!" He said, "Throw it in the garbage can right now!" I didn't want to throw this away.

"We have tape of one guy on stage with a knife. And we lost a million dollars worth of equipment in that show, and I don't see anybody else taking any responsibility for anything." Axl Rose, interview with MTV's Kurt Loder, July 12, 1992

On-site security was overmatched by the crowd, and for the first time in St. Louis County history, a Code 1000 was called, summoning all available police officers to Riverport. An estimated 400 officers from 30 police departments descended on the venue.

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