Use Your Illusion Turns 20; A Look Back at the Infamous Riverport Riot

It was July 2, 1991, just two weeks before my 17th birthday. I was at Riverport Amphitheater in Maryland Heights, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis. Skid Row had just finished an amazing set as they were touring in support of their number one charting masterpiece Slave to the Grind. 

My high school buddy and I had the absolute worst seats in the house that evening as our backs were literally against the fence in the lawn section. The place was packed and we eagerly awaited the headliner, Guns N Roses. The band took the stage that warm summer night and truly put on a show worthy of the band’s bad boy reputation.

Touring in support of their much anticipated upcoming double album Use Your Illusion I & II (released September 17, 1991), these guys were the real deal rock and roll band. They were at the top of their game at this point of their short but infamous career. The show started off fantastic and everything was going fine until lead singer Axl Rose went a bit haywire. During their performance of “Rocket Queen,” the 15th song in the set (including drum and guitar solos), Axl jumped into the audience and tackled a fan who was taking pictures. This occurred after Axl had pointed out the fan, told security to confiscate the camera, and waited a mere five seconds before deciding to dive into the audience and take the camera himself.

During Rose’s his attempt, he inadvertently struck members of the audience and security. After being pulled from the audience by members of his crew, Rose said: “Well, thanks to the lame-ass security, I’m going home!”, and then slammed his microphone on the ground and left the stage. The sound the microphone made was like a gunshot. Slash quickly jumped on a mic and said to the audience, “He just slammed his mic on the floor. We’re outta here.” Shortly thereafter, the angry crowd began to riot.

I remember clearly as the chaos took over the entire venue. We ran up to the seats in order to get a better look at what was happening. We saw fans who bum-rushed the stage then running off with guitar amps, drums, and lights; pretty much anything they could grab. The venue security began spraying a fire hose on the crowd in an attempt to keep them back. A few minutes later, said fire hose passed right over our heads as the rioting fans overtook the under-prepared house authority.

As we make our escape, we saw numerous disturbing incidents. Fans were overwhelming the merchandise booths grabbing stacks of T-shirts while others took aim at the now unattended bars stealing full bottles of liquor turning them into Molotov cocktails. It was a pretty scary scene to witness firsthand, but kind of exciting at the same time. For some reason or another me and my friends decided to take a souvenir. I came home with an arm rest from row KK. Notice that there is a ticket stub attached, I will get back to that later.

A one of a kind concert souvenir.

The footage, of what would later become known as the Riverport Riot, was captured by Robert John, who was documenting the entire tour for the band. Rose was charged with having incited the riot, but police were unable to arrest him until almost a year later, as the band went overseas to continue the tour. Charges were filed against Rose but a judge later ruled that he did not directly incite the riot.

Rose later stated that the Guns N’ Roses security team had made four separate requests to the venue’s security staff to remove the camera, all of which were ignored, that other members of the band had reported being hit by bottles from the audience and that the venue’s security had been lax, allowing weapons into the arena and refusing to enforce a drinking limit. Consequently, Use Your Illusion I and II’s artwork featured a hidden message amidst the Thank You section of the album insert: “Fuck You, St. Louis!”

Back to that ticket stub stuck to my armrest of a concert souvenir above. My friend and I return to the Riverport Amphitheater three days later for the Warrant concert. As we walked to our seats we joked about the craziness that ensued just a few days earlier. As we get closer we begin to notice that not all of the seats that were damaged during the riot had been replaced yet. We arrive at our designated seats, tickets in hand, only to realize that our souvenir was in fact the exact row of chairs we were to be sitting in that very evening. That my friend is the irony of participating in a heavy metal riot.

The ill fated seat.

I guess that’s the price you pay for the ultimate fan piece; I mean we each had a relic of what would later be called “the worst mess in St. Louis rock history.”

Guns N Roses Show Review by David Surkamp

I remember waiting in line at a midnight sale a month or so later to be one of the first to buy both of these records at 12:01 on September 17, 1991. I played these two albums thousands of times over and I still celebrate their greatness on occasion.

What do you remember about 1991 and Guns N Roses? Do you still own a copy of Use Your Illusion I or II? Please join the conversation in the comment section below.

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