If you need assistance at a concert, the Rock Medicine
volunteers are on the spot
By Rachel Leibrock -- Bee Staff Writer
(Published 6:00 a.m. PST Friday, May. 3, 2002)
Sandals are usually a no-no, sneakers are preferable and high tops are the best.
Or so learned the poor girl who lost both her sandals in the mosh pit during the
Green Day set at Sunday's "Pop Disaster Tour" at the AutoWest Amphitheatre.
Now the teen is ruefully clutching a pair of donated white socks and trying to
explain her situation (" ... well, my Converse got dirty at the Offspring show")
as Dr. Tris Rieland tends to her battered feet and lectures on proper shoe wear.
doctor Tris Rieland, left, and charge nurse Joni Alameda, center, comfort
Jesse Peters, 14, of Marysville after she had her tooth broken off during
a rowdy moment in the concert's mosh pit.
Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer
With shoulder-length blond hair and a colorful caduceus medical symbol (two
serpents coiled around a winged staff) tattooed on his lower leg, Rieland, a
33-year-old emergency room doctor at Methodist Hospital in Sacramento, looks
almost as young as his charge.
"Sandals are not good concert footwear ... ," he says cheerfully as he massages
a bruised toe.
A few feet away, Wes Fifield, a medical team dispatcher, clutches a clipboard as
he observes the scene with a wry smile.
"That's rock 'n' roll, baby," he says with a laugh.
Actually, that's Rock Medicine.
Rock Medicine is a mobile medical unit, staffed by volunteers, that provides
free assistance at rock concerts and other public events throughout Northern
At Sunday's concert, a group of some 40 volunteers -- doctors, nurses and
physician assistants, most of them from the Sacramento area -- were on hand in a
small space tucked next to the amphitheater's security office to care for myriad
minor cuts and scrapes, sprains, fractures and a mysterious-sounding malady
known as "crowd syndrome."
and scrunched socks let Rock Medicine doctor Tris Rieland show off his
caduceus tattoo, a symbol of the medical profession.
Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer
Security was tight. The last time headliner blink-182 played here, a volunteer
explains, band members invited concertgoers to rush the stage, a suggestion that
resulted in numerous injuries.
Still, despite added precautions, the night's final tally of injuries and
calamities included a lost tooth, a possible fractured rib, anxiety and signs of
At the height of its activity, the tiny "hospital" space -- an exterior tent
outfitted with stretchers, mats and basins and an interior room stocked with
medication and gadgetry -- is, to say the least, very crowded. In addition to
the volunteers, there are various concert casualties, concerned friends and
family, and members of the media -- including a crew from VH-1 that's filming a
documentary on Rock Medicine.
The atmosphere is one of governed chaos -- think of it as a carefully conducted
Kim Fox, 16,
of Yuba City rests on a foam mat while she talks to Rock Medicine doctor
Garry Vallier about the injuries she suffered in the mosh pit during the
Green Day set at the concert Sunday.
Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer
Ann Richard prefers to liken it to a family.
"That's why I keep coming back," says Richard, a longtime Rock Medicine
volunteer and a home-healthcare nurse for Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento.
She can't remember how long she's been volunteering -- "eight or nine years" --
but she knows what she likes about it.
"It's so much fun -- there's great people-watching," explains Richard, a petite
48-year-old with dark cherry-red hair that falls down the length of her back.
Certainly, with 15,000 fans at the "Pop Disaster" show -- mostly teens decked
out in hoodie sweat shirts, hip-slung pants, Converse sneakers and various
shades of spiky hair -- the people-watching factor did not disappoint.
Rock Medicine director Glenn "Raz" Raswyck is among the watchers; surveying the
scene, he reflects on the evolution of Rock Medicine -- and the people it
Richard wraps the wrist of Huy Duong, who was injured Sunday during a
concert at AutoWest Amphitheatre.
Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer
"The more things change, the more they stay the same," he says. "Most of the
injuries we see are accidental -- there are very rarely fights. It's just about
getting your ya-yas out."
Founded in 1973 after concert promoter Bill Graham asked the Haight-Ashbury Free
Clinic to staff a medical tent at a Grateful Dead show, what evolved as Rock
Medicine now works more than 100 shows a year. The San Francisco-based,
nonprofit organization relies heavily on donated equipment and supplies and
receives a large part of its funds from Clear Channel Communications (the
current incarnation of Bill Graham Presents). Venues also pay a "donation fee"
for the group's services.
Raswyck, who's been with Rock Medicine since 1980 and its director since 1993,
says that although each show comes with a unique set of concerns (raver drugs at
a Chemical Brothers concert, metal spikes at Ozzfest), the organization's
philosophy is consistent.
"People are going to do what they do, and we're going to be there for them," he
The evening with "Pop Disaster" starts out slow. The opening band, Jimmy Eat
World, plays a swift, energetic set that has many of the volunteers bopping
along to the sugary pop-punk tunes, but which keeps fans out of the medical
The first cases start to trickle in after Green Day takes the stage shortly
before 9 p.m.
There is 14-year-old Jesse Peters of Marysville, who lost a tooth in the mosh
pit. Her face streaked with tears and her shirt stained with blood, she tries to
calm down long enough to give her information to a nurse.
Next is Nikara Tooley, who is wheeled in from the mosh pit. She is visibly
shaking -- the result of an anxiety attack spurred by a combination of the crush
of bodies and loud, insistent music, the doctors say.
"I couldn't breathe," says Tooley, 17, as she rests on a mat, covered by a
thick, gray blanket and sipping Gatorade from a paper cup.
"We were right up front," explains her best friend, Emily Weisz, 19.
The young women, both from Sacramento, are disappointed that they're missing
"As soon as the show started, we were crushed by these two boys who just didn't
care. I could feel my knees going out," Weisz says.
"I was being weighted down by my backpack -- and my high tops got crushed," adds
Tooley, pointing to her red canvas shoes.
"High tops -- that's smart," says a passing volunteer. Weisz smiles and looks
down at her own feet.
"You always wear high tops in the mosh pit," she says knowingly. "Or else you'll
lose your shoes."
Of course, that's not all you can lose in the mosh pit.
Dehydration and loss of equilibrium are big problems. The Rock Medicine team
tags such symptoms as part of "crowd syndrome" -- an ailment also brought on by
overexcitement, noise, too much alcohol and simply being too close to too many
hot and sweaty people.
Throughout the night, Rock Medicine volunteers roam the amphitheater and do
bathroom checks. They also monitor two tables -- one near the makeshift hospital
and the other near an entrance -- where free aspirin, earplugs and Gatorade are
Because it's cool on this night and the audience is mostly young, there won't be
much in the way of heatstroke or overindulgence. (Although there is the
unfortunate 23-year-old man who drank eight beers and spent the evening curled
up on a mat and occasionally took advantage of a plastic basin.)
The mosh pit proves to be the evening's risk epicenter. Just ask Nic Black.
Black, 15, of Sacramento, was there when the blink-182 set started. Now he's
sitting on the examining table as Rieland gingerly pokes and prods at the chest
and stomach area beneath the boy's black-and-white blink-182 jersey. Throughout
the examination, Richard asks questions, jotting notes on her clipboard.
Black winces with nearly every gentle push. Even the simple act of breathing
seems to pain him. Everything was fine, he says, until "some guy charged me with
"I rolled up my sleeves and he thought it was an invitation (and) he punched
me," Black says.
Rieland is worried that Black's rib might be fractured, but without an X-ray
machine, he'll have to send him, via ambulance, to a nearby hospital. As Richard
starts to make arrangements -- the boy is here with friends and his parents must
be notified -- Rieland advises the on-call paramedics.
Despite his bad luck, Black's spirits remain high. He gladly displays his ticket
stub for a VH-1 cameraman and responds with an eager "oh yeah!" when asked if
he'll ever return to the mosh pit.
"We all knew the answer to that one," Richard says with a laugh.
Black is the last patient of the evening. As the show ends and fans file out to
the parking lot, the Rock Medicine team starts to pack up equipment. ("This was
a boring night, by the way," jokes one volunteer.) Several teenagers -- sons and
daughters of the volunteers -- emerge from the show area to pitch in.
A mohawked boy lines up the mats and then, with the help of a teenage girl,
starts jumping on them in an attempt to flatten them into order.
Richard, whose 18-year-old daughter, Jenna, has spent the evening helping out,
observes the youthful bedlam and laughs.
"That's why we all love it," she says. "It's just a lot of fun."
About the Writer:
The Bee's Rachel Leibrock can be reached at (916) 321-1176 or