Tonight, on day three of Summerfest 2018, living-legend punk band Social Distortion will headline the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse at 10 p.m. It’ll surely be a lively, crowded show full of old (and new?) fans enjoying the blistering sounds of a group that’s been around for four decades. And maybe some of those fans will remember an infamous event that happened here three decades ago: the great Social Distortion Milwaukee Riot of 1988.
Yes, back on October 4, 1988, a Prison Bound-era Social D was scheduled to play Milwaukee’s famed (and now long-gone) Odd Rock Cafe. That didn’t quite work out. With the small club severely overcrowded before the band even took the stage (more than 200 people in a 90-capacity club, by some reports), police showed up and tried to clear out the all-ages crowd. What followed was a near-riot that included, if one attendee was to be believed, a flurry of nightsticks and people screaming “I didn’t do anything! I didn’t do anything!” Thirty-eight people—25 adults, 13 juveniles—were arrested, and a boyish Charles Benson was on the scene for TV6:
There’s nothing funny about police brutality and trenchcoat-clad news anchors, but there’s a lot to appreciate in these vintage reports. Some highlights:
• Benson pressing an attendee on the “hard rock, punk rock-type band” that caused the disturbance.
• Attendee Mike Woodward saying “the cops came and caused trouble as usual!”
• The revelation that the cover was $7 (roughly $15 in 2018 dollars).
• The effort made by club owner Jack Koschik to split the crowd into two shows, and have Social Distortion play twice.
• A possible anonymous call that set the whole thing off, saying there might be trouble with “the skinheads.”
• “Police were arresting kids for being profane, but on the other hand, they were being excessively profane! They were arresting kids for resisting arrest, but then they would use three of four officers to hold down 15-year-old girls, 15-year-old boys!”
• This guy: