Field Day Case Moves Forward

Promoters of Field Day – an East Coast festival in 2003 that suffered a last-minute change of venue – are moving forward with their lawsuit against various county and state entities. A U.S. District Court judge has denied motions to dismiss the case, ruling it has enough merit to go to court.

Judge Denis Hurley also determined that portions of New York’s mass gathering law are constitutionally infirm, meaning it could be ruled unconstitutional at trial. Plaintiffs were allowed a preliminary injunction enjoining future enforcement of the law.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision and are moving forward with our case,” promoter Andrew Dreskin told Pollstar.

Dreskin and AEG Live organized the two-day festival, originally scheduled for June 7-8, 2003, at Calverton Enterprise Park in Riverhead, N.Y. Scheduled acts included Beastie Boys, Beck, and Radiohead, and 55,000 tickets were sold.

After a mass gathering permit was denied, the event was moved to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., truncated to one day and drew 20,000 people. Many of the performers didn’t make the transition. Plus, fans had to purchase new tickets while waiting for refunds on the old ones, and persistent rain drenched attendees.

Organizers claim a $5 million loss, according to the lawsuit, and they point fingers at the city, county and state. Some of the defendants are the Town of Riverhead, County of Suffolk, Suffolk County Department of Health Services, Riverhead Chief of Police David Hegermiller and New York State Health Commissioner Antonia Novello.

The promoters claim they entered into a “License Agreement for Outdoor Event” with Riverhead on February 20, 2003, after notifying the town of its interest in the park the previous November.

Despite many discussions with various officials, Dreskin and AEG were denied the mass gathering permit after being granted a conditional permit. In a letter to Field Day reps in April, Suffolk’s “Principal Public Health Sanitarian” Robert Gerdts acknowledged receipt of the application and indicated the festival organizers were allowed to advertise within 15 days.

The permit was denied in June. In an interview that month, Dreskin told Pollstar the county gave him a number of reasons why the permit was denied, but each one was countered.

When the county pointed to security, Dreskin said he had hired experienced concert security firm Concert Services for the event. Traffic concerns were countered by the hiring of transportation engineering firm Creighton Manning.

“Their main argument now is that there wasn’t enough time and that argument holds as much water as a strainer,” Dreskin said. “Why, in my hand, do I have a letter from the Suffolk County Department of Health authorizing me to put tickets on sale and advertise the event? Explain that one.”

In the decision, Hurley commented that he found it “hard to fathom how any reasonable official in the individual County Defendants’ shoes could have possibly believed that he was acting in a constitutionally permissible fashion by misleading the Plaintiffs … .”

The lawsuit details alleged misconduct by New York promoter Ron Delsener, claiming he worked behind the scenes with politicians to chill his competitor’s event. Delsener nor his company, a Clear Channel Entertainment subsidiary, are named as defendants. A CCE spokeswoman said the company does not comment on pending litigation plus Clear Channel is in a silent period pending its spinoff from Clear Channel Communications.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale told Newsday he was encouraged the town’s role in the case seemed lessened because of the focus on the mass gathering law.

Ed Dumas, spokesman for County Executive Steve Levy, told the paper Suffolk plans to appeal the decision.

Joe Reinartz