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Phoenix Theater Weathers Another Beating

Posted by on Sep 10, 2010 | Comments (8)

The news hit earlier today as the featured story on the front page of the Press Democrat website: “Concerts Banned at Phoenix Theater.” The reality is that there’s nothing to be alarmed about; the Phoenix is going to be up and running again next week after they provide the fire department with a light list of compliance and protocol to some very normal, regular ordinances.

Tom Gaffey, manager at the Phoenix, seemed calm when I talked to him. “I’m happy to take a weekend off, quite frankly,” he said.

What is alarming is that the initial newspaper article, which only quotes the Petaluma Fire Department’s side of the story, states that the shutdown is due to circumstances at the Smashing Pumpkins show on Wednesday, where “no one in an official capacity kept track of the number of people admitted, exits were blocked and some people entered without paying.”

That’s simply not true, says Jim Agius, who books the theater. He says that between the will-call list and the hard tickets taken at the door, the Phoenix kept a clear record of the number of people admitted to the Smashing Pumpkins show. “Their allegations in the newspaper are false,” Agius says. “There were four police officers here, they walked the building, they took pictures. They asked Tom about the capacity.”

Agius says that while the police officers were at the show, they didn’t express any concern about apparent blocked exits or other dangers. As such, he was shocked the next day to find that the show was allegedly “in flagrant disregard of the California Fire Code and laws designed to protect public safety.”

“If that was the case,” reasons Agius, while the police officers were there, “why did the show not get shut down? The whole thing doesn’t really add up to me.”

In stating that people were let in without paying (that’d be a media list, which I was on, and which hard tickets accounted for) the Fire Department implies that security was lax; in fact, there were 30 people working security that night, and I saw them with my own eyes doing their job—patting people at the entrance, searching bags, busting people who lit up.

The Fire Department also claims the police that night used a “pitch counter” to determine attendance, which sounds like a snazzy piece of crowd-estimating technology but is really just this. Sometimes staff stands at the door to a venue and uses it to count people as they come in. I didn’t see any police officer using one at the door, and I was there for several minutes, checking in as media. Neither Gaffey nor Agius saw one either.

I also walked around the entire perimeter of the floor at the show, and entered and observed the balcony. At no point did I see an overcrowded or unsafe venue. The Fire Department says there were 900 people at the show, 180 over capacity. “As the night went on, I counted up the will call and tickets,” says Gaffey. “I don’t believe we were over capacity.”

It gets fishier. The Fire Department gave Gaffey the notice at 3:30pm on Thursday—Gaffey looked it over, and saw that the Phoenix was already in compliance with most items on their list, such as having a security protocol on file with the Fire Department. Yet the department claimed they have no such thing on file. “We actually did file that,” says Gaffey. “We, as a board, filed that together. It got dropped personally off at their office.”

As for the rest of the list? Simple things to deal with, said Gaffey. “I said, ‘Great, I’ll have this to you tomorrow,'” he says. Only one problem: the Fire Department  informed him that all city offices were closed on Friday, and that he would have to cancel any scheduled shows over the weekend.

Here’s where the pieces fall together. The Police Department in the past has been vocal about their opposition to rap shows, and particularly about Andre Nickatina. Coincidentally, the Phoenix had Andre Nickatina booked for tonight, raising some eyebrows about the timing of the Police Department’s data-collection and the Fire Department’s subsequent notice. The Nickatina show has been postponed.

(The last time the Phoenix was forced to put a hiatus on hip-hop shows in 2008—similarly causing the Press Democrat to use the linkbaiting but incorrect headline of “Phoenix Theater Bans Rap Concerts”—what was the first show to be rescheduled? Andre Nickatina.)

“Our hands are tied, no matter what happened,” says Jim Agius. “All we can do is comply with their list.” Both Gaffey and Agius said they were confident the theater would be open again as normal next week.

[UPDATE: The Press Democrat talked to the Phoenix and updated their story.]

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  1. Schell
    September 10, 2010

    That sounds a little crooked on the PFD’s side…

  2. Catherine
    September 10, 2010

    Geez…Tom has kept hundreds of kids off the street when their parents didn’t give a crap where they were, and he’s given a hundred local bands a chance to perform on stage…you’d think they would give him the keys to the city!!

  3. Julie
    September 10, 2010

    If all these allegations were true I would have gotten in the other night! I was there trying to get a ticket and there was security and officers everywhere! They had every door so that no one could sneak in- I talked with Mr. Gaffey before the show and asked of they were releasing any last minute tickets and he said NO- they had sold the capacity. Scalpers wanted over $100.00 a ticket- I ended up just going home so I find the PD article to be total BS- just a bunch of country old folk not liking that there was a big crowd in the neighborhood and noise! AND YES- what Catherine said!

  4. GingV
    September 11, 2010

    Wow the cops and fire department really don’t have anything better to do. What a great use of time and money. I guess some things will never change.

  5. Chris
    September 12, 2010

    Thanks for getting the real story, Gabe.

  6. Brian
    September 14, 2010

    Yeah, thanks Gabe. I figured there was more to the story. The overzealous police department is certainly a problem in Petaluma. The (De)Press(ed) Democrat is also never afraid of publishing half-baked stories with a heavy conservative slant. Viva la Phoenix!

  7. I-Dover
    September 14, 2010

    Tom Gaffey has shown a very long, local history of responsible behavior managing the Phoenix Theatre and creating a safe place for teenagers… and quite frankly, it makes his job very difficult when local people do not help support a much needed space.

  8. Joner
    September 22, 2010

    Wow this artical is all true. I can agree with every thing you said, because i was at the the show. You inspired me to write an artical on this fishy occurence.
    -Selina Jones, Casa Grade Senior class 2011.


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