The Night Black Sabbath Fans Rioted in Milwaukee
The members of Black Sabbath faced a different kind of battle with the bottle at their Oct. 9, 1980, stop in Milwaukee, when bassist Geezer Butler had to be taken to the hospital after being pelted with a flying object thrown by someone in the audience — and when the crowd realized the band had left the building, all hell broke loose.
Butler looked back on the fracas in a 2007 interview with Maximum Ink, laughing off his interviewer's apology on behalf of everyone in Wisconsin "for that idiot's behavior" and musing, "It's all a big misunderstanding, really."
As he went on to argue, the stage was dark when he got hit, so he thinks it must have been an accident — one compounded by an unfortunate lack of communication between the venue and the fans. "Unless the fellow was some sort of incredible quarterback, I don't know how he could have hit me on purpose. But I was knocked out, and the band was busy getting me off the stage and to a hospital. When the lights came back up, there was no band onstage. And of course, the crowd freaked out."
Looking back, Butler acknowledged that "someone should have gone out and explained — the promoter or someone. I mean, the band was worrying about getting me to the hospital, you know? So the crowd freaked out because there was suddenly no band onstage, and things got worse from there."
According to one person who claimed to have been in the crowd, Butler's basically correct. Saying the audience had no idea what was happening and lashed out when they saw Sabbath had disappeared, the fan recalled taping the resultant melee while interviewing "the nuts" while they set about trashing the arena.
"Police sirens and all the sounds of a riot right here. Every piece of window and door glass
was broken. Over $10,000.00 in damage. My buddy was told to leave by police but then went back in and promptly was arrested," continues the post, which links to a recording of the mayhem. "He said that police station was overflowing with arrestees and reporters."
As Butler pointed out to Maximum Ink, even in 1980 venues had better security than they'd employed before, and being carted off a stage after being beaned with a bottle isn't the worst thing he's had happen during his career. "People threw a lot of beer cans in the '70s," he noted. "Once, in San Francisco, someone threw a huge iron cross on the stage. It bounced up, cut three strings on my bass, and the end of it poked me in the eye. Luckily, I didn't lose my sight or anything. But that was quite an incident."
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