Anyone who’s been to concerts at the Belly Up over the years knows that the scene can get wild at times.
The intimate venue allows the crowd to get up close to musical groups, and for some, the audience’s proximity to the stage can be too much to resist.
In 2010, a woman sued the Belly Up and a New York City rapper known as Psycho Les, alleging that he pulled her up on stage against her will. Court papers say the woman badly cut her leg in the process, and she sued for battery, outrageous conduct, negligence, inadequate security and false imprisonment, among other claims.
The claims against what is arguably Aspen’s most popular concert venue ended up being dismissed, but the woman won about $25,000 in damages against Les.
In October, another woman sued the Belly Up and a Virginia man for his stage dive in June 2012 during a concert by a Talking Heads tribute band. He allegedly landed on her, injuring her neck. The man pleaded guilty in Aspen municipal court to assault and battery, and was ordered to pay $2,374 in restitution.
The lawsuit, which remains active, alleges Belly Up “knew, or should have known, the dangers of stage diving and [the] potential for injury to concert attendees.”
Staff and security at the venue are aware of those dangers and try to prevent them, said David Goldberg, the Belly Up’s co-general manager and talent buyer.
“Our policy has never been to allow stage diving,” he said in an email. “In fact, security is trained to remove people from the stage if they happen to get on.”
But he said there is a “fine line” between someone getting on stage on their own and a band member asking someone to come on stage.
Venue staff ask musicians not to encourage people to get on the stage, but some bands feel that is a part of their performance, Goldberg said.
“It’s difficult to tell an act like Chris Isaak that he can’t ask someone from the audience to come on stage, something he routinely does as part of his show,” he said.
Security personnel are positioned to minimize the chances of a “rogue person” from getting on stage.
“But as you know, our stage is quite low and accessible (one of the virtues of a small, intimate club), and we don’t want to use a barricade in front of the stage as it greatly diminishes the crowd experience, in our opinion,” Goldberg said.
Jim Horowitz, president and CEO of Jazz Aspen Snowmass, has helped land huge names for Labor Day Festival concerts, which can at times draw nearly 10,000 people to a single show.
The venue in Snowmass Town Park has never had an issue with people on stage who aren’t supposed to be there. Having a stage 9 feet above the audience, and a fence in between, prevents that, said Horowitz, who founded Jazz Aspen Snowmass.
“We don’t have a policy about it, we just try to keep people away from the stage,” he said.
Back at the Belly Up, if an audience member does gain access to the stage on their own, they are asked to leave the stage, Goldberg said. A second incursion will result in them being asked to leave the club for the remainder of the evening.
“Stage diving is not tolerated,” he said. “Our first preference is to keep the person off the stage, second is to keep them from stage diving if it appears they are intent on doing so, and finally, if they get past our security and do stage dive, they will be escorted out of the building that night.”
Refusing to cooperate will result in Aspen police officers being called and charges pursued by the venue.
“It is simply impossible to prevent every circumstance, and we want people enjoying themselves, but public safety is our first and foremost concern,” Goldberg said
While every situation is different, “we have sufficient and well-trained security and management staff to prevent most instances before they escalate — but not all,” he said.