The Night Nirvana Played Trees

Although it was October, the weather was unseasonably warm and humid. Inside Trees, the air conditioner that was set on high was having little effect. As the sold-out crowd made its way into the venue to catch Nirvana — one of the hottest bands in the country at the moment — there was a palpable sense that something bad was going to happen.

"It was very, very hot inside that building," says Jeffrey Liles, current artistic director of the Kessler Theater, who back in 1991 served in a similar position at Trees. "And there were as many people outside the building as inside."

With this week's release of the 20th anniversary, four-CD edition of Nirvana's landmark effort Nevermind, it's time to revisit Nirvana's chaotic and infamous Dallas tour stop from the original release's promotional tour. In many ways, the concert has become the most legendary show ever to take place in Dallas. Although only about a thousand people were actually in attendance, thousands more claim to have been there. But for those who were there — fans, musicians, security and management — it was an unforgettable experience.

"I was at Trees that night," says Old 97s bassist Murry Hammond. "I had heard about the band from the first record, but the new one was freaking everyone out. I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about. It was actually the last time I ever slam-danced. I lost my hat during my slam-dance swan song."

Nirvana's second album, Nevermind, had turned the scruffy trio from Seattle into superstars. Success had seemingly come overnight for the act, and their buzz was sweeping the nation.

"There was this frenetic excitement at Trees where everyone understood that this was the last time a band like this was ever going to play at a venue this size ever again," says another attendee, Lance Crayon, now an English teacher and, at the time, an employee at a local movie theater.

The tour had been booked to Trees months earlier — well before Nevermind's release — and Nirvana's rise had happened so quickly that certain venues just weren't large enough to accommodate the newfound hordes. Trees happened to be one of those clubs. Somehow, though, the show went on.

"The club was too small for the band and there was a bad vibe all night," says Gary Floyd, former singer for Sister Double Happiness, one of the two opening bands on the bill.

That bad vibe had started taking hold much earlier in the day.

"Before Nirvana even did the sound check, there were problems," Liles says. "The band's management brought about 40 posters for each member to sign. Kurt [Cobain] spent five minutes on each poster, drawing bizarre little pictures that certainly weren't autographs. It was in the afternoon. I knew from that point on, things were going to be difficult."

One of the biggest problems was security. Trees hadn't been open for very long at that point, and Nirvana's road manager was angry that there wasn't a security divide between the stage and the audience.

"They told us that, if we didn't have a moat, then we had to hire three security guards to keep people off the stage," Liles says.

Enter one Turner Van Blarcum, a union stagehand who was brought in at the last minute to complete the trio of bouncers facing a seemingly impossible task.

"I've always felt sorry for Turner," Liles says. "The guy never even liked Nirvana, and he was put in an unmanageable position."

Van Blarcum refused to comment for this article. But his story has reached mythical heights.

Early into the show, it was clear that keeping the fans off the stage was going to be troublesome. Even with security pushing the crowd back, Cobain began gesturing for fans to get onto the stage. He then stage dived into the crowd, jumping off Van Blarcum's back, Liles says. As Van Blarcum, among others, tried to pull the singer back onto the stage, Cobain popped the bouncer in the head with his guitar.

Van Blarcum then retaliated with a right cross to Cobain's jaw. After that, all hell broke loose. Van Blarcum tried to explain what happened to whomever would listen as two band members scattered off stage. Almost immediately, the crowd started chanting, "Bullshit." Watching the now-available-on-Youtube videos from the night (shot by Brad Featherstone from stage left), it's clear: The evening looked ripe for a riot.

"I vividly remember us making the decision to throw on 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' when we were trying to get the band back out after the fight," says Alex Luke, former host of "The Adventure Club" on KDGE-FM 102.1 The Edge. "It was a half-joking attempt to stir up the crowd."

The crowd hardly needed to be stirred up.

"Cobain stayed on stage and made noises with his guitar," recalls Liles. "He did this for a minute or so and then threw his guitar into the drum set and walked off. After a few minutes, I realized that I had to get these guys back together on stage or this show wasn't going to continue."

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15 comments
AUserThatReadThis
AUserThatReadThis

I don't know about the rest of the story but from the actual video:


-Cobain didn't jump off his back, he just jumped into the crowd

-The guy didn't pull him back on stage.  Cobain was floating on the crowd toward the stage and the bouncer has his hand pushing Cobain's face to keep him in the crowd

-Cobain then smashed the butt of his guitar twice into the head of the bouncer

-Cobain got on stage and started to get to his feet and then the bouncer punched him in the back of the head

-The bouncer's face was covered in his own blood

Crazy, but that is what the video shows.  I am not sure about why the bouncer was so pissed at Cobain but I read that the band had been using his PA and it was working poorly and Kurt had been smashing it with his guitar out of frustration and hence the pushing of his face when he went into the crowd.

 

Brad Featherstone
Brad Featherstone

I still have the master of Nirvana & Sister Double Happiness. Can't believe it's been 20 years.

yeah
yeah

dude, you got the story all wrong. watch live tonight or youtube its all on there

Brandon Giannasi
Brandon Giannasi

I couldn't believe this article came out. Perfect timing. I have always ben secretly stoked that Nirvana played Deep Ellum, furthermore the video evidence with the guitar fight and all and I go to Trees quiete a bit. One week prior when I saw Ishi there I told the group of people I was with Nirvana played here once and then Blam this came out 3 days later which was really ironic... But for Lile call Cobain a douche that night kinda pissed me off especially w the inacuracy of the article such as launching off Turners back etc not noting that turner had ben forcefully trying to hurt cobain out of perhaps jealousy and Cobains modest but" ill do what i want attitude." Frusterated as shi, Turner saw his chance to try to F cobain up a bit, and you know what? He paid for it. haha Kurt then used his guitar as a weapon and smashed him in his face. Someone make the video game. Kurt handled it like a true rockstar would. Legendary. Im so glad this footage was captured lol. The guy whom filmed it deserves to be taken care of financially by someone who is blessed with finances and appreciates Nirvana and I hope he already has ben. I also liked how Kurt "kicked at" a couple people(stage jumpers) whom invaded his space. He wasnt the type of person to really start shi for no reason. So yeh this article kinda contradicted itself which I frowned upon. With like "yeh were so happy it happened but were gonna talk shi about the people that made it happen." Especially with video evidence, took some balls to fabricate what the observer did. You'd think Van Blarcum himself wrote it. Props to Van Blarcum too though, he was doing a hell of a job for the 1st half of the show then the insanity just got to him and he flipped. Props to Liles as well, sounds like he was the one in charge of what seemed to be quiete a circus and for "the show must go on, just another day in the park" attitude. Furthermore, the glass covered cab ride was an interesting detail to try and imagine. One more Pisser the Observer created in the past week was, Last night I showed up to CLUB DADA to see the MEAT PUPPETS as it stated they were playing in the most recent issue and it had ben cancelled but not updated! Anyways, Peace, Love, Gringo Soul

CR
CR

smells like sour grapes.

Texasdave60
Texasdave60

This kinda reminds me the Stones at Altamont....I wasn't there, or at Trees for Nirvana. But I WAS at Mother Blues for Bruuuuuuuuce!!!

Darryl
Darryl

I respectfully disagree. You can clearly see Cobain hit Turner in the head with his guitar. Now before hand, Turner was yelling at Cobain, but the first violent move was Cabain's.

Smarcus
Smarcus

this article is inaccurate. Turner started it.

one can clearly see what happened in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

at 2:43 you can see that Kurt did not launch into the crowd off Turner's back, he launched off the monitor.

at 2:49 in the video, you can clearly see Turner NOT helping Kurt back onstage, but actually pushing Kurt back into the crowd in a downward motion with a lot of force. it's then that Kurt popped Turner with the butt of his guitar.

Hummmmmdinger
Hummmmmdinger

@ Smarcus: I agree. I've seen that video many times over the years and it has always been clear that Kurt launched from the monitor and Turner can be seen pushing him out toward the crowd and possibly even pulling on Kurt's hair before he gets popped with the guitar. Only then is he able to return to the stage. I also always thought it seemed like Turner almost kisses his fist before hitting Cobain in the back of the head while his back is turned. The fact is that Turner was clearly frustrated with his duties and probably didn't care for the band he was having to "protect," and decided to act out.

Brandon Giannasi
Brandon Giannasi

I couldn't believe this article came out. Perfect timing. I have always ben secretly stoked that Nirvana played Deep Ellum, furthermore the video evidence with the guitar fight and all and I go to Trees quiete a bit. One week prior when I saw Ishi there I told the group of people I was with Nirvana played here once and then Blam this came out 3 days later which was really ironic... But for Lile call Cobain a douche that night kinda pissed me off especially w the inacuracy of the article such as launching off Turners back etc not noting that turner had ben forcefully trying to hurt cobain out of perhaps jealousy and Cobains modest but" ill do what i want attitude." Frusterated as shi, Turner saw his chance to try to F cobain up a bit, and you know what? He paid for it. haha Kurt then used his guitar as a weapon and smashed him in his face. Someone make the video game. Kurt handled it like a true rockstar would. Legendary. Im so glad this footage was captured lol. The guy whom filmed it deserves to be taken care of financially by someone who is blessed with finances and appreciates Nirvana and I hope he already has ben. I also liked how Kurt "kicked at" a couple people(stage jumpers) whom invaded his space. He wasnt the type of person to really start shi for no reason. So yeh this article kinda contradicted itself which I frowned upon. With like "yeh were so happy it happened but were gonna talk shi about the people that made it happen." Especially with video evidence, took some balls to fabricate what the observer did. You'd think Van Blarcum himself wrote it. Props to Van Blarcum too though, he was doing a hell of a job for the 1st half of the show then the insanity just got to him and he flipped. One more Pisser the Observer created in the past week was, Last night I showed up to CLUB DADA to see the MEAT PUPPETS as it stated they were playing in the most recent issue and it had ben cancelled but not updated! Anyways, Peace, Love, Gringo Soul

Liles
Liles

What that video doesn't show is what happened two songs prior to that, when Kurt took a beater guitar and destroyed the monitor console at stage left. That console belonged to Creighton Curlee, who was a friend of Turner's. (The band's road manager paid $3500 cash for it after the show and they took it with them.) Step outside your YouTube existence for a second and try and see it from Turner's perspective. Five minutes prior to that, a petulant rock star was throwing a temper tantrum onstage, smashing gear that didn't belong to him, and was openly encouraging the audience to climb onstage themselves. Turner was hired to keep people off the stage, and Kurt was standing directly behind him, essentially mocking him by waving his arms towards him. Dave and Krist were obviously disgusted and humiliated by Kurt's behavior. Novaselic used his own shirt to stop the blood pouring from Turner's head. In retrospect, this happened because of this: Cobain was dope sick and hated the whole routine. He wanted it to be a punk rock show, and his road manager was trying to turn it into something else altogether by insisting on barricades, making the band sign autographed posters beforehand, posing for photos with label reps, etc... Kurt hated all that. It was happening in a different city every night, and it wasn't fun for him. That all came to a head at Trees. And then Bob Mould came in the next night, was a total professional, and we were back on track again.

CR
CR

"So any production company that owns expensive sound gear should just offer it all up to any petulant, egotistical, whiny musician to use as a convenient prop whenever they want to make a ridiculous and calculated spectacle of themselves onstage?"

If they are smart they will... how much is a guitar destroyed by Jimi Hendrix or Pete Townsend worth? Further, I don't choose my music based on the artist's attitude towards fans (I could really care less) or their personal life issues. And people that claim they do are simply jealous and envious of the musician's fame and success, or have a crappy collection of music.

Liles
Liles

So any production company that owns expensive sound gear should just offer it all up to any petulant, egotistical, whiny musician to use as a convenient prop whenever they want to make a ridiculous and calculated spectacle of themselves onstage? Oh, OK. Got it: special rules for corporate punk rockers. Is it any wonder the music business is dead? is it really any wonder Cobain committed suicide? As a typical Dallas Observer reader (another dead industry, btw), is it really any wonder you have no earthly idea what the fuck you're talking about? No, no, and no. BREAKING NEWS: It was people like you - the fans that loved Nirvana the most - that Cobain looked upon with the greatest of contempt. He did not appreciate your support. Ever. Not then, and certainly not now. When will you guys get that? You didn't matter to him. You were the douche bag who liked his music for all the wrong reasons. While you were busy blowing smoke up his ass, he was laughing behind your back. You worshipped him, and he thought you were a human roll of toilet paper. And now twenty years later, he's dead and you're STILL - like a pathetic glutton for punishment- defending his honor. Say what you will about Turner, but he's still here. Cobain left an innocent four year old kid in the custody of an idiot smack fuck like Courtney Love. (Was Francis Bean just another prop to destroy in public? Guess so. And who marries a boob job idiot like Courtney Love, anyway? A fake punk rocker, that's who.) How about all of you people who weren't there and really don't have the faintest clue about what happened that night just go download The Stranglers song "No More Heroes", listen to it, and then keep your revisionist history to yourself? Seriously. Some of you really couldn't be any more wrong about this. Just stop embarrassing yourselves.

CR
CR

BREAKING NEWS: Rock band destroys equipment on stage. Nirvana did it at a lot of the shows, including MTV music awards and SNL. So did Pearl Jam, NIN, and plenty of rock bands over the past 40 years. Nirvana paid handsomely the owner of destroyed console after the show. Sounds like Turner was just a jealous ne'er-do-well, and if he didn't want the gig as bouncer to protect musicians far more talented than he was, there was always 7-11, UPS or whatever shit job.

 
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