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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Meet Rock Med: the Guardian Angels of Concertgoers

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2011 at 6:00 AM

Rock Med staff at the Sierra Nevada Music Festival 2003
  • Rock Med staff at the Sierra Nevada Music Festival 2003

They might be the greatest concert buffs of all time. This year, they plan to attend 700 concerts. Last month alone, they saw an astounding 60-odd shows, including Iron & Wine, Britney Spears, U2, Panic! At the Disco, and the Yellow Magic Orchestra. And they're intent on continuing at the same pace of two or more concerts a night for the rest of the summer.

But they're more than just a bunch of music nerds. They've been called life-savers, and rightly so. They're the volunteers of Rock Medicine, a division of Haight Ashbury Free Clinics dedicated to providing free health care at concerts year-round.

Rock Med's first show in 1973
  • Rock Med's first show in 1973

Rock Med was started in 1973 when rock promoter Bill Graham came to Haight Ashbury Free Clinics asking for help. "He was very unhappy with the way his patrons were being treated," Rock Med director Wes Fifield tells S.F. Weekly. "Ticket buyers were considered dirty hippies, and he wondered if they could be treated on-site so they wouldn't impact the community." And so Rock Med was born, staffing shows by the likes of Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead.

Since then, Rock Med has become the go-to concert health provider in the Bay Area, with more than 1,000 volunteers. The group is particularly attractive to recent medical graduates who need work experience before they can get a job. Fifield laughs when asked what sort of experience Rock Med provides. "Working Rock Med is the closest you're going to get to battlefield experience," he says. "You get to see the whole gamut."

On an average night, Rock Med staff might see 10 to 20 patients, but that number jumps into the hundreds at weekend outdoor shows. "At any given concert, alcohol's the number one issue -- always has been, always will be," Fifield says. "If you're talking about country and Western concerts, then Jack Daniel's is king." Nine-year Rock Med veteran Darrin Brown adds, "At Phish and the Dead concerts, you get more psychedelic drugs. We just talk to them and try to get down to their level and let them know that they're safe."

Rock Med will serve over 200 shows this summer
  • Rock Med will serve over 200 shows this summer

Alcohol is just the start. Rock Med handles almost everything, including cardiac problems and head lacerations. "I can't imagine you'll tell me anything I've not seen in the time I've been here," says Fifield. "The only thing I haven't seen done is births. Many mothers in labor approach us, but we've always been able to get them in an ambulance."

Rock Med operates under the motto of Haight Ashbury Free Clinics: "Health Care Is a Right, Not a Privilege." Its tents are comparable with any ER, and Fifield says that staffers are prepared to take care of everything on site other than X-rays and bone casting. "Why should you pay $1,500 for an ambulance ride when we can take care of you on-site?" he says.

With such extensive care , more than just concertgoers seek out Rock Med for help. Fifield says that the homeless population at Golden Gate Park is always eager for Rock Med to return, as many see it as their primary health care provider.

Despite the thousands of people and enormous range of ailments it treats each month, in its 38 years of operation, Rock Med has, miraculously, never seen a lawsuit. "We're very particular about paperwork, and if someone goes to an E.R., we will fill out a patient care report like you'll find in any hospital," says Fifield.

Rock Med staff bust out the tie-die at the 2002 Mountain Aire Festival
  • Rock Med staff bust out the tie-die at the 2002 Mountain Aire Festival

As the summer concert season goes into full swing, Fifield advises concertgoers to stay hydrated and "eat, please!" He says many people forget to eat because they're too excited for the concert, then after a couple of drinks and hours standing in packed venues, they end up in the Rock Med tent. "A little preventative maintenance goes a long way," he says.

So if you're going to a concert this summer (as we hope you are!), keep Fifield's advice in mind to ensure you have a good time. But it's also good to know that the Rock Medicine angels will be waiting in the wings, just in case.

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Caroline Chen

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