Police arrest 74 during Widespread Panic concert

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Pelham police officers and members of the Shelby County Drug Enforcement Task Force and Alcohol Beverage Control board arrested 74 people April 16 during a Widespread Panic concert at the Verizon Wireless Music Center.

Of the arrests, four were felony distribution of a controlled substance charges, nine were felony possession of a controlled substance charges and one was a felony conspiracy to commit a controlled substance crime. The remaining 60 charges were misdemeanors ranging from possession of marijuana to the illegal sale of tobacco.

However, criminal and drug activity at the concert was not as bad as it has been at past Widespread Panic concerts, said Pelham police Lt. Larry Palmer.

The band played in Pelham numerous times in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but was not allowed to play in the city for several years because a rash of criminal activity and drug use usually accompanied their visits, Palmer said.

“Many of their fans were great folks. But every band has an element that follows them around and creates a nuisance for everyone,” Palmer said. “The group that caused problems that was attached to Widespread Panic was a good bit larger than some of the other bands.”

Several years ago, it was not uncommon for the department to record hundreds of drug-related arrests during the Widespread concerts. In 2002, the last time the band played in Pelham, one woman died of an apparent drug overdose.

“There were thefts and damaged property. I remember the Hoover police had to kick some of them out of a hotel pool because they were trying to take a bath,” Palmer said. “They would go into a grocery store and eat some cheese or something, drink from a milk carton and then walk out.”

But this year’s crowd was different, he said. Despite the drug- and alcohol-related arrests, law enforcement officers had a much easier time dealing with the fans.

“It was a great show. It was a completely different crowd than it has been in the past,” Palmer said. “We’ve been talking with the Widespread Panic folks for a few years now, and they assured us that element of their fans had died down.

“And they were right. It seemed like that component has died down,” he added. “To my knowledge, the thefts and property damage was way down.”

Widespread was scheduled to perform in Pelham April 15-16, but severe weather April 15 caused the concert to be moved to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

During the April 16 concert, Pelham police officers and members of the Drug Enforcement Task Force and ABC board patrolled the Verizon Wireless Music Center’s parking areas, and the parking areas of surrounding businesses. Off-duty Pelham officers were also hired by the venue to patrol the crowd inside the music center.

“Whenever a concert comes to town, we try to assist the other agencies as best we can,” said Drug Enforcement Task Force commander Lt. Chris George. “We arrested people for a little bit of everything. We found marijuana, acid, Oxycontin, LSD, Adderall, everything.”

Palmer said many who were arrested were openly using illicit drugs at the venue.

“It’s so open and in plain sight for that show,” Palmer said. “ABC was mainly looking for minors consuming alcohol, but they ended up with a few drug charges because it was so open.”