Were they really all that good? We’re entering the season of the big outdoor rock festivals. The Vans Warped Tour is next week, followed on July 5 by Lollapalooza. It’s an exciting time. Lately, I’ve been doing some thinking on the changing standards at rock shows, especially as they pertain to security issues. Back when I first started going to rock shows, in the early 1980s, there was an atmosphere of “anything goes.” You’d go to a show at Market Square Arena and the nearby parking lots would be filled with people drinking and smoking weed. You’d go into the show itself and it was like entering an Amsterdam hash bar. If you were unlucky enough to sit in the upper level of the arena, the rising reefer smoke would give you a contact high, regardless of whether you smoked weed or not. The cigarette smoke would burn your eyes and the combination of the weed and the tobacco would fill your clothes with that unique concert smell for days to come. It was like a free souvenir of the night. People would stand outside the arena selling pot, acid or whatever else they had. And liquor was rampant. I once watched a guy waiting in line for a .38 Special concert kill off a bottle of Jack Daniels before he got to the gate. The harder the music, the more drunken and stoned and reckless the crowd was. I remember an Aerosmith show where it seemed like every other patron lit off firecrackers during the show. It wasn’t uncommon for people to have no memories of concerts they attended. I remember from my high school days seeing people I knew at a show and asking them the next day for their reaction. They had no idea. And forget about Grateful Dead shows. They were everything the other shows were by a factor of two or three. At least twice during my Deadhead days, I saw naked people running around screaming that they were Jesus Christ. The most hardcore Deadheads just laughed it off. People packed guns, knives and belt chains that could double as weapons. It wasn’t that hard to get your ass kicked for no reason at all. Police would make arrests only very rarely. It’d take a fullscale brawl or selling drugs in front of a cop to get their attention. You could walk around the concourse of Market Square Arena smoking a joint, practically blow smoke in a policeman’s face and nothing would happen. The excuses given by some people in law enforcement were pretty lame. They said they were afraid for their safety if they started arresting pot smokers and pill-poppers. I love arena rock shows, I love Jack Daniels and in the past I have gladly inhaled. But it was getting pretty old. Women were routinely groped by drunk or stoned people. Huge fistfights would spill over into crowds and lead to uninvolved people getting punched. About 10 years ago, though, I noticed things beginning to change. People were no longer so blatant in their behavior. Police were arresting more people for things which had gone unpunished in the past. Undercover officers posing as drug dealers killed off the drug sales at shows. Customers couldn’t be sure if the longhaired freak offering weed was a cop. Fights got broken up quickly. Patrols around downtown parking lots kept the heavy-drinking tailgate parties down. As a result, concerts became a lot more fun for a lot more people. You could breathe again in big arenas. You didn’t have to worry about your girlfriend or sister getting grabbed by some horny mullethead. You could go up to a cop and he’d actually take action. I’ll leave it up to others to debate whether marijuana should be legalized or decriminalized. But it was refreshing to see concerts turned into safer and friendlier events. In the past few years, it seems like the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. You try and enter a major artist rock show at a venue like Conseco Fieldhouse and it’s like entering a medium-security prison. Everyone is frisked and checked with a metal detector, forced to remove their hats and occasionally required to take off their shoes. The list of forbidden items at shows has increased to include not only guns and knives but also lighters. Although you’ll still see someone sparking up a joint and getting away with it, such people are much more likely to get ejected or arrested for doing so. There are still drunk people, but they seem to have been reined in more than in the past. Those are all good things. I’m just wondering if we need such a show of force at concerts. This debate is going on concerning things much more important than rock shows, such as airports. How much freedom and convenience will we give up in order to be protected? All things considered, concerts are better places to be now. They are much more orderly and safe than in the past. But, as twisted as it sounds, I sometimes get a little nostalgic for the old days, when pot smoke filled our arenas and big-haired people guzzled out of Jack bottles. Call it the contradiction of aging.