1996 was a turbulent year for music. MC Hammer filed for bankruptcy, The Spice Girls debuted "Wannabe" and 9000 "delinquents" attended a Rage Against the Machine show in Spanish Fork, Utah, causing everyone to go batshit insane.
Exactly 18 years ago today, the residents of Spanish Fork were closing their stores early, fortifying their homes and literally bracing themselves for the teenage hordes that accompanied Rage, who were touring in support of their 1996 album, Evil Empire
"I'm concerned there might be a riot or something. It kind of scares me, that's why I'm getting out of here," said resident Monique Kelson in the above video (which features clips from a KSL report
). "I got a brother coming down with some dogs, and hopefully that'll scare 'em away if they decide to do anything," said another resident.
The show was booked accidentally by Spanish Fork Fairgrounds manager Steven Money, who, nearly two decades after the event, is still trying to put the incident behind him. "It was a bad thing for the city, and I just want to forget it," Money says. "There were too many citizens that were real upset about it."
Money, who still manages the fairgrounds today, says the process for booking Rage Against the Machine was simple, and an honest mistake. He says someone called him up, asked if concerts were held at the arena, and asked if a certain date was available. Yes and yes, Money says he told them, noting that there wasn't a provision to deny one band over another band.
Local lore holds that the city mistakenly allowed Rage Against the Machine to play because they mistook the name for a monster-truck rally or a tractor pull. But city manager Dave Oyler says this is not the case. "We knew it was a concert," he says. "We always joked that we reserved it for a tractor pull, but it ended up being a concert."
Because of Rage's politically charged and often "offensive" lyrics, hysteria ran high before the show. Both KSL
and the Deseret News
exhaustively covered the story. Deseret News
staff writer Roger L. Hardy explains:
Residents said they feared the lyrics that will be heard well beyond the fairground's wooden fences as well as the rocker fans that would be there and the potential for injuries that one man who favors the concert said would likely result. Others expressed concern about lawsuits that could result if someone is killed or injured during the concert. They also fear a discrimination lawsuit if the concert is canceled.
Citizens petitioned unsuccessfully to cancel the show. They even attempted to buy the band off by collecting $10 from every Spanish Fork resident. When that didn't work, less than 50 angry people showed up for a protest, which no one from the city attended, according to news reports about the concert.
After Rage had come and gone, its fans committing none of the terror residents had prepared for, Roger L. Hardy penned this beautiful piece of history for the Deseret News
It was a festive atmosphere, but some residents considered it more of a freak show. R. Jenkins sat on her porch with her neighbors and watched as young people wearing long chains and bright red and green spiked hair streamed past. She compared the hairstyles to a rooster's comb. Some were half-dressed, she said. A few sported multiple earrings, lip rings, nose rings, even tongue rings—fashion statements residents here don't often see. At least one concert goer asked if he could use her bathroom. He couldn't.
But even though the show went off without incident, the Spanish Fork City Council enacted an outright ban on concerts. The ban, Oyler says, has since been replaced by a city policy that allows concerts, but the review process is much more stringent than it once was.
Oyler says he doesn't recall how much money the city made from the concert, which may well be the only measurable consequence of hosting one of the era's most popular rock bands.
"They had the concert," Oyler says, adding that there were "no issues, no incidents that I’m aware of. So it was more of just the concern of what might happen that never materialized.”