Before Widespread Panic even took the stage at Grand Targhee Resort Friday night July 5, the entire concert venue smelled of burning marijuana.
It’s the scent that’s launched a thousand pat downs and car searches, but the Teton County sheriff’s deputies patrolling last weekend’s concert just shrugged. K-9 officer Gypsy was at the resort with her handler, Deputy Latimer Gyetvai, but she never left his patrol car.
“There’s really no point,” said Detective Chad Sachse. “She’d be turning circles no matter where she went.”
Thousands of people from all over the West showed up to hear the Georgia rock quintet over the Fourth of July weekend in a show that’s become a Jackson Hole tradition.
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Almost as much of a tradition as the Southern jam rock is the litany of citations and arrests that inevitably result from the “drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” atmosphere that reigns over the after-party.
A team of about 15 officers from the Teton County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Forest Service patrolled the show every day it ran, said Sgt. Slade Ross of the sheriff’s office. With a crowd more than 10,000 strong, they knew from the start they were only going to catch the unruly, the unlucky and the unobservant. But they had one thing Targhee’s security team didn’t – the ability to back up a stern warning with legal penalties.
“It’s such a huge venue that what we have is probably minimum staffing,” Ross said. “The mentality of that crowd is that we shouldn’t be there anyway, so we make sure every officer has a backup, and we do what we can.”
Some concertgoers seemed to forget the police were even present.
The night’s first marijuana bust happened less than 20 yards from the entrance, when John Anthony Gratton pulled his stash and a glass pipe out directly in front of U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Matt Jemmett.
“Really?” Jemmett asked. “You’re right in front of me, man.”
Gratton, clad in a tie-dyed T-shirt and a Widespread hat, was deeply apologetic. He’s a Widespread fan from way back and travels with the band whenever he can, he said.
He said he bought the pot while at the Widespread show but didn’t name his supplier.
“You’re doing your thing,” Jemmett said. “We have a job to do ourselves.”
Gratton was lucky it was a Forest Service officer who caught him. As a federal officer, the citation he wrote for Gratton is under federal laws, where fines for a misdemeanor marijuana offense top out at $525.
Jemmett’s teammate for the night was Sachse, who works under state laws. Wyoming’s fines for the same offense can reach $750.
When the team walked over to the far fence, where they were stationed for most of the music, a few faces twisted nervously as people noticed their official badges, but the officers didn’t stop.
“We’re not trying to ruin their night,” Sachse said. “We’re just trying to do our job. If they’re doing it right in front of us or if they’re causing trouble, that’s when we’ll get after them.”
As the sun went down, the glow sticks came out.
In the low light, it was hard to see much, but the sight of a lighter flaring up was easy to spot as Shawn Martin Beebe and his son passed a lit joint back and forth. A quick pat down revealed the younger Beebe, 21, had a joint in his pocket. His father, 54, admitted to doing a “few grams” of psilocybin mushrooms earlier in the night. Sachse found a plastic bag with a few grams more in his pocket.
“Your mother is going to be so pissed,” Beebe joked to his less amused son. “Maybe we just shouldn’t tell her.”
The younger Beebe didn’t say much, but his father said he is an old hand at this.
“To be honest, I’ve been doing this shit since 1974,” he said. “It’s really not an issue. It’s all a memory. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, right?”
In the dark at that point, officers wrote their tickets balancing their citation books in one hand and a flashlight in the other. Sachse, who wrote Beebe a ticket for possession of psilocybin mushrooms, wore a headlamp on his sheriff’s office ball cap. A few people came by to see what was happening, but the sight of the badges was enough to send them walking off in a hurry.
“The real action isn’t until the concert is over,” Sachse said. “When people start going back to their campsites, start shooting off fireworks, that’s when we see most of what we see.”
Throughout the weekend, deputies took only 11 people to the temporary jail van stationed in the Targhee parking lot. More than twice that many people left the concert with a citation. Most of those had small amounts of one drug or another with them. This year, the most common drugs were marijuana and ecstasy, according to Ross.
Deputies also confiscated three tanks of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, but Sachse said it is one of the toughest drugs to spark an arrest.
Almost immediately after the show ended, deputies back at the command center got a tip that someone was selling balloons full of nitrous to all comers in the most remote of the camping area.
They walked down to the dumpster where the sales reportedly were happening. The hiss of the gas was unmistakable, covered only when disembodied voices called out “six up!” as a warning to their fellow revelers.
“Six up” means “watch your back,” and is a common warning that the police are nearby, Sachse explained.
The crowd scattered. One man even shrugged out of his jacket to get away from Sachse’s grasp. Balloons – used to hold the gas – were scattered all over the ground near the tank. But the “six up” warning didn’t come fast enough for four of the men waiting near the tank. While deputies figured out who may have done what, each of the men detained sat cross-legged in his own flashlit circle of light.
“It’s just part of the drugs and rock ‘n’ roll culture, you know,” said one of the men. “I go to a lot of shows and it’s like this at every one.”
Since the gas dissipates quickly, there wasn’t enough evidence to hold any of the four who got caught, but deputies took the nitrous oxide with them. The man who left his jacket behind will hear from deputies again. Sachse searched the jacket and found a labeled prescription bottle in the pocket.
“At least we stopped it,” he said. “I call that a win.”