"I'd risk my life for rock 'n' roll," said 16-year-old Eric Bermudez of Silver Spring. At the moment, Bermudez was in involuntary traction. So were several thousand other heavy-metal fanatics jammed together tighter than cigaretts in the Capital Center's combat zone, the area directly in front of the massive stage.
It seems that half the 15,000 in attendance at last night's Ted Nugent show were crammed into a quarter of the Centre's space. "But who cares!" 19-year-old Wendy Rhodes managed to blurt out. Rhodes, whose pained expression indicated the unattainable distance of the rest rooms, agreed with her friends Nick Moarino and Mark Collins that "Up here you can really see their facial expressions."
"But have 'em paint the barrier a different color," said 19-year-old Rudy Childs. Childs, who claimed it had been several minutes since his feet last touched the floor, had his shirt open and the makings of a dark blue belly from rubbing so hard against the restraining barrier. The consensus among these grimacing frontline fans was that this was the place to be.
There are, in fact, three places to be and one to pass through quickly at a heavy-metal show at the Capital Centre. The first is the Largo facility's parking lot, near the cars and vans, playing tapes loudly, drinking quickly, getting the last drugs smoked or popped. Some folks even socialize. The caution zone is the actual entrance. Coming in the Liberty Bell entrance, the fans are thoroughly frisked by guards while the somewhat authoritarian recording warns that "You may be required to submit to a search of your person as a condition of entry."
After picking your way through the masses of broken bottles and crushed cans and weaving past the barriers, it's hard to get anything by the guards. "A lot of people who've been here before know what's going on," said an off-duty policeman who worked door-duty, sorting prohibited items and liquor into a trashcan and drugs into a box. After scores of arrests following a Heart show at the Capital Centre in May, fans are more cautious about bringing in drugs.
Once inside, things got eaiser. Last night was general admission, festival seating with no assigned places. No one is supposed to worry about finding a seat, but a weaving and weeping 16-year-old was shouting at her friend, "Paul's got my ticket . . . Oh God, I can't sit down." Several thousand fans never left the concourse until Nuget came on. For them, the concoursese around the hall was the concert. They walked, sometimes with a little help from their friends, clockwise during the show and in counter-flows during the breaks. There were a lot of new Ted Nugent T-shirts and well-worn ones from previous rock campaigns. One warned "Caution: Falling Drunk."
But the combat zone was at the heart of the night. Once you were in it, you were there . If you couldn't stand the heat -- and between the stagelights and the sweltering crowds, it was hot in the zone -- you could get the ushers to help you over the barrier, but you lost your position forever. Sixteen year-old Valerie Milburn of Baltimore looked crushed, physically and spiritually, when she gave in and headed for the bleachers. Coming over the barrier she clutched three shoes in her hand. The vacuum was quickly filled. When the combat crowd raised its hands to applaud or clap along, a few more inches of air space were lost as fans pushed in from behind. A man could have had his suit pressed for notheing there.
They all survived. In the course of the night, there were a few arrests, mostly for disorderly conduct. Three folks slept off whatever "it" was outside the Cap Centre's first-aid room. A few cut their feet on broken glass, a few more slipped on the steps. There was a potintially disastrous 20-minute break when the sound system's power was lost. "I guess the Capital Centre can't keep up with us," screamed Nugent when the power was finally restored. He'd just spent 20 minutes proving that he was in good shape by jumping all over the stage and posing provocatively atop a giant column of speakers. However, while he's in good shape, he's no Marcel Marceau. The Cap Centre came back to life, and Nugent went loud bananas again. That's entertainment.