Field Day Loses Ruling

A New York federal appeals court has upheld as constitutional a law passed a year after the 1969 Woodstock festival that gives officials the power to block rock concerts and other large gatherings for safety reasons.

The 2nd U.S. District Court of Appeals’ September 12th ruling throws out a lower court’s determination that portions of the law are unconstitutional.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed by concert promoter Field Day claiming First Amendment violations when it was told two days before the event that it couldn’t stage its 2003 two-day Field Day music and arts festival in Riverhead, N.Y. The fest was moved on short notice to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., at a loss of about $5 million, Field Day told the courts.

Several environmental groups sued the town of Riverhead in eastern Long Island to stop the festival featuring Radiohead and the Beastie Boys, claiming the expected 35,000 to 40,000 festivalgoers could damage the nearby Pines Barrens preserve.

By that time, Field Day officials claim they had sold 55,000 tickets at $80 each and spent more than $3 million to book performers and promote the event.

The appeals court disagreed with a lower court’s ruling that state law was written too broadly to be reasonable, citing a similar Chicago law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Because we determine that the phrases ‘health and safety’ and ‘life or health’ are capable of guiding a permitting official’s decision and rendering that decision subject to effective judicial review,” the appeals court wrote, “we hold that the ‘catch-all provisions’ of the Mass Gathering and Sanitary Code are constitutional on their face.

“The phrases ‘health and safety’ and ‘life or health’ are, as an initial observation, less constitutionally suspect than language employed in statutes that have been found to be unconstitutional.”

The appeals court did allow the case to go forward on grounds that government employees should be held responsible for inappropriately dealing with or misleading the promoter.

Field Day producer Andrew Dreskin was unavailable at press time.