Chesney crowd's mess much improved for Heinz Field show
Leroy Stotler has worked on the front lines of the cleanup outside Heinz Field for years.
Country music giant Kenny Chesney's concerts have been responsible for some of Stotler's worst headaches. But Stotler, who owns Apollo-based Three Rivers Power Sweep Inc., looked a little relieved as he began to clear parking lots Saturday night.
“There are some bad areas, but obviously this is a lot better than 2013,” Stotler said, referring to the infamous Chesney concert that left much of Pittsburgh's North Shore buried beneath 30 tons of garbage. Paramedics treated 150 people during the tailgating.
Final tallies on this year's trash, arrests and injuries were not available Saturday night, but city officials were expected to issue a detailed report Sunday morning. Guy Costa, the city's operations chief, said early returns appear to be positive.
“Things went better than they have in the past couple of years. We've seen a lot of cooperation from folks outside the stadium, and people behaved themselves as a whole,” Costa said.
State police said they cited 17 people ages 18 to 20 for underage drinking during a patrol of Heinz Field parking lots early Saturday afternoon.
The party began to heat up in the afternoon as thousands of tailgaters overcame wet weather with music and alcohol.
Heavy rain — punctuated by thunder and lightning — soaked the party twice, sending concert-goers scrambling for cover. Police reported that strong wind toppled some portable toilets. Trees on Federal Street fell, sending two tailgaters to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
There were several reports of fights and people overdosing on alcohol. One man who was handcuffed when he became confrontational with a police lieutenant wormed his way out of his shorts in the middle of the Gold 1A lot.
A man who had fallen asleep in the bed of a pickup was taken to a hospital with head injuries after he woke up and, in a daze, staggered off the truck and cracked his head on the pavement.
“I guess he didn't realize where he was,” Costa said.
Roads on the North Shore were closed for most of the morning to reduce the revelry and associated problems. Roads reopened about noon — an hour earlier than expected — to ease gridlock for fans arriving for the concert.
Costa said traffic was backing up on Interstate 279, bridges into the city and elsewhere. At that point, he said, officials decided to open parking lots to get vehicles off the streets.
Traffic remained heavy through the afternoon.
One big party
When the weather cooperated, the North Shore had the feel of a big outdoor party. Chesney songs and other music filled the air, and tailgaters near the Clark Building across from PNC Park set up a portable pool and filled it using water from a tank in the back of their truck.
Dennis Miskevicz of Carrick said the pool was a celebration of his middle school-aged son Brendan's first concert and first time inside Heinz Field.
Parties stretched for several blocks — from near Rivers Casino and Heinz Field to Federal Street, just past PNC Park. Fans partied in clusters of mini-concerts, music blasting from truck beds, American and Confederate flags blowing. Fans made out, vomited, danced and sang.
Smashed cups, empty cans, coolers and broken beer bottles — despite a ban on glass — littered parking lots, but plastic bags hung from many vehicles. Several trash bins surrounding the lots were full by 3 p.m.
Fans said they were trying to be cleaner this year.
Gen Brandes, Amanda Donahue and Kassy Ott, all recent graduates of Slippery Rock University, wore garbage bags that parking attendants had handed out to weather the rain.
“This is much cleaner than when I was here two years ago,” said Brandes of Mercer County.
Tailgaters' reviews on the city's crackdown were mixed.
“I do think opening the lots later helped, but I don't like it,” said April Gurosik, who had driven two hours from Jefferson County with her friend, Ann Marie Inzana. They attended the past four Chesney shows together and said they saw a few fights this year but the party was tamer overall.
The city should have more portable toilets spread throughout the tailgating areas and more trash bins and bags, said Craig Porter of Cadiz, Ohio.
“There are issues that need to get done,” he said.
The rain drove crowds of people under semi-trailers parked in the lot leading to Heinz Field. People huddled for cover, eating and drinking.
“The weather just sucks, so I feel like people aren't as crazy,” said Jamie Kusevich of Gibsonia.
The city scheduled extra police officers and medical personnel, as well as a litter inspector. State police and liquor enforcement agents patrolled the area along with mounted officers from the Allegheny County police.
Alco Parking, which operates the lots, said it would permit tailgating until 7 p.m., when lots would close for a first round of litter cleanup to allow room for cars to exit after the concert. A few stragglers continued tailgating past the deadline.
“Police haven't said anything to us, but we're not causing any trouble. We're just having a blast,” Monica Hipple, 43, of West Deer said as she and her husband, Jeff, sat in the bed of a truck about 8 p.m.
Katelyn Ferral and Tom Fontaine are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Staff writer Bill Vidonic contributed to this report.