Pubdate: Fri, 13 Apr 2007
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2007 Asheville Citizen-Times
Author: Joel Burgess
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)
Bookmark: (Hallucinogens)


Asheville - One of the country's best-known jam bands has responded to
calls by a city councilman for a crackdown on drug activity at local
concerts. The band Widespread Panic sent a statement this week through
a spokeswoman responding to calls by Councilman Carl Mumpower for
increased policing of Asheville Civic Center shows, including the
band's performance tonight. "It has come to our attention that there
is a misperception of Widespread Panic and its fan base," band manager
Buck Williams said in a release sent by spokeswoman Annissa Mason. "We
would like to make it clear that the band does not condone the use of

While some choose to focus on the few in attendance who make their own
personal choices, this overlooks the contributions that the band and
its fans actively make to the needy of the community at large."
Mumpower drew attention recently with efforts to highlight drug
activity in public housing and criticism of policing there.

On March 23, the councilman turned his sights to the Asheville Civic
Center and a concert by the band Rat Dog that he said "smelled like an
Amsterdam hash bar." Stepped-up security Before tonight's concert that
could see a sellout crowd of 6,600, Mumpower asked if city staff had
looked into getting help from the Buncombe County Sheriff's Department
and the N.C. Highway Patrol to check for intoxicated drivers. "It's my
understanding that the Widespread Panic concert stimulates a drug flea
market in downtown Asheville around the event," he said in an e-mail
to Assistant City Manager Jeff Richardson.

When Widespread Panic played the Civic Center in fall 2003, Alcohol
Law Enforcement sent nine agents to the show and arrested 32 people on
56 charges, most involving marijuana, LSD and Ecstasy. Agents charged
10 people with felony drug charges, 26 with misdemeanor drug charges
and five with selling alcohol without a permit.

On Thursday, Civic Center officials said they will step up security.
Lauren Bradley, spokeswoman for the city, said the changes, which
include a restriction on large bags, are "based on concerns that were
raised from the Rat Dog concert." But Civic Center Director David
Pisha played down the connection, saying that things such as the new
bag policy and an increase in security officers grew naturally from
experience and were tried with the last large arena concert, the
Warren Haynes Christmas Jam.

"It's just a rock concert," Pisha said of tonight's show. "We heard
some concerns about it, but we are not reacting, we are acting." Some
nonsecurity changes include better traffic signal coordination and
litter pickup, he said. Pisha said the same security rules would apply
to other shows, though symphony-goers, he said, "don't tend to carry
large bags." Band, fans help the hungry Outside the arena, city police
will conduct standard enforcement and not increase efforts from past
large concerts, Chief Bill Hogan said. But Mumpower said he was told
sheriff's deputies and N.C. Highway Patrol officers would step up DUI

Widespread Panic and local fans reacted by downplaying the prevalence
of drug problems.

They also pointed to the band's and fans' charitable works, including
collection of food for the hungry, a music program for poor children
and band members' recent visit to Walter Reed Army hospital. "I think
that police need to be available for behavior that gets out of
control, and that's mostly drunk behavior, not people who have been
smoking pot," said Sarge Luke, a fan and local tennis pro who works
for the city recreation department. Luke said a lot of security guards
in the arena "seems like overkill to me." Chris Cowan, a Valley
Springs Middle School English teacher and sports coach, said his
students collected 350 pounds of food for Panic Fans for Food, an
organization started by his friend Josh Stack, of Asheville. "I just
explained to the kids (that) when Panic comes to town, sometimes there
is negative publicity, and he (Stack) started this to leave a positive
impression, and more importantly, there are a lot of hungry people in
the world." Mumpower said that he was not focusing on the band or
people who just want to come and listen to music but is focusing on
those bringing illegal drugs into the public facility.

As for why he turned his attention from public housing to the Civic
Center, the councilman said it's a matter of evenhandedness.

"I think we should enforce our drug laws everywhere they are being
violated, and it's not fair to the black people who live in public
housing to just do it there and to ignore the white free spirits at a
drug party at the Civic Center." 
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