The 1981 Iggy Pop Halloween Riot

Dale Brumfield
Contributing Writer

Music quickly ended with rioting at the VCU Halloween Dance. Image courtesy of Dale Brumfield.

Fueled by more than 20 consumed kegs of beer, one bathroom, cops with guns and an abruptly shortened headline act, the Iggy Pop Halloween concert held Oct. 31, 1981 in the Mosque (now Altria Theater) basement could be considered a true VCU riot.

The problems started at the door; admission with a VCU ID and one guest was $7, so many non-students simply paired up and signed in with unescorted students.

“If you don’t have a VCU ID, find someone who does,” cried a concert committee member to the horde of bizarrely-dressed patrons clamoring to see the rock king of weird, Iggy Pop.

A local band, the Deprogrammers, opened with an entertaining set, followed by a band called Dirty Looks. During a very long intermission things started turning ugly, exacerbated by 1,200 sweaty people in a closed space, endless bathroom lines and the slow realization by servers that at 50 cents a cup, the beer was going to run out.

Finally around midnight, Iggy took the stage in a garter set and leather jacket, launching into “Houston is Hot Tonight,” “Dum Dum Boys,” “TV Eye,” and more as the inebriated 30-deep crowd swarmed toward the stage only to be shoved back by beefy security officers. One young lady who passed out in the churning mob had to be passed across the stage — there was no other way to get her out.

Around 12:30 a.m., and after only seven songs, the band abruptly left the stage. The venue’s assistant manager announced “the concert is over,” as the house lights clicked on.

The crowd went nuts. Violent and vulgar shouts were accompanied by thrown cups of beer at the helpless organizers, many of whom were as clueless as the crowd. Backstage, concert committee chairman Jimmy Saal begged to let Pop perform one more song to diffuse the crowd. Suddenly the house lights clicked off and the band came back on stage and performed “I’m a Conservative” before leaving again for the second and final time.

This time the crowd went berserk. Three Richmond police officers appeared on stage and were pelted by any projectile the crowd could find. When a broken broom handle whizzed by one policeman’s head, he drew his billy club and hurled it into the crowd, striking student David Powers in the temple and sending him in an unconscious heap to the floor. The officer then drew his service revolver and pointed it into the chanting, frenzied crowd, but he was quickly subdued by concert committee members and other officers, and manhandled off-stage. Powers went to the hospital, and the party was over.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” stunned Pop manager Henry McGroggan told the Commonwealth Times in the Nov. 1, 1981 issue. “I’m totally disgusted by the police’s behavior.”

An unfortunate combination of factors contributed to the Iggy Pop riot: a cumbersome sign-in procedure, confusion of the concert start and end times, too many people in too small a space, no food and the consumption of far too much cheap beer. Still, everyone got to (briefly) see a rock legend.


  1. One of the wildest/craziest nights of my life, the second riot I'd ever been in and much more wild/dangerous than the first, because in part there was nowhere to run. I remember being in the crowd and when the cop on stage pulled his pistol, I was more or less looking down the barrel (as in seeing the inside of the barrel from where I stood, not a good location). I (being pretty drunk, likely) thought, "Cool"! Then I almost immediately wised up and thought, "Holy shit" and tried to duck (not easy in a surging mass of drunk punks and college students). Thanks for the memory assistance. When Iggy opened for the Pretenders five years later at UVa when I was living in C'ville, I decided not to go because how could anything Iggy did top that show? OK, that was probably not the wisest choice, because OF COURSE Iggy could top anything if he put himself into it, but it wound up being the only time I've seen Iggy and I'm satisfied with it, a great night.

  2. I was at this event, I hitched a ride from harrisonburg because i knew this was the place to be Halloween Night. After the Riot I got separated from my ride and ended up sleeping on the floor in some VCU dorm. This account is not exactly correct. Iggy had set the groundwork for this because he said something about the pigs shutting it down before he left the stage. the cops got on the stage and they were being taunted by the crowd. One cop reached for his billy club and it slipped from his hand hitting a lady in the crowd on the forehead knocking her down. THEN there were all these folding metal chairs and the cops got pelted with them. The cops returned in force with riot gear and shields.

  3. That could be that it was a guy knocked out by the billy club and not a woman.Everyone was in costumes. I was standing off to the right of the police off the stage and had a good view. The cop panicked and the billy club flew from his hand, it was an accident. It just happened that the tall stage gave the club right into a person's forehead. The article is talking about beers being thrown but it was these folding metal chairs that started flying and caused the cop retreat.

  4. It wasn't that out of control. I remember the beer line to the left side of the stage running out and them not telling us there was beer on the other side, That got a little ugly until it was sorted out. But I've seen worse. The snowball fight in Monroe Park was much crazier.

  5. I was there too dressed like a fruit of the loom apple in mens tighty whiteys. Jeff, you nailed it! I hid behind the big round pillar and watch bottles flying by and the gun battle and then ran like a tornado up the stairs to the new dorms with my crazy loom friends and my nutty clown friend. What a zoo! ha ha it was a Iggy night to remember!

  6. I was there too. The billy club was thrown; there was no “slip.” The cop who threw it was absolutely hit with a beer, whipped the club into the crowd, hit a male, and followed up by pulling his weapon.

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