By Cody Herron-Webb
If you go to any large concerts in Anchorage, chances good that you have seen Bob Maxwell. Chances are even better that he has seen you. With 40-plus years of experience doing concert and event security, it is his job to make sure you and everyone else at show stays safe. Since we normally run into each other surrounded by loud speakers & energetic crowds, I caught up with Bob at his day job at UAA to ask him about his work in the music scene.
In addition to security, you work here at UAA. What do you do?
I teach in Architecture Engineering Technologies Program. I really enjoy teaching, it’s just that my education level isn’t high enough for me to be do be doing it full time.
I got my first security job in 1976 as loss prevention. Since then, it’s always been kind of a weekend deal. I’ve been in Anchorage here about 25 years and have worked in all the major bars and venues. I’ve been working with the Sullivan arena for almost 25 years. Been working at the Alaska Airlines Center since it opened; same with the Dena’ina and the Egan Centers. I’ve done lots of festivals, too. Outdoor festivals from Salmonfest, all the way up to Anderson Bluegrass Festival, which is up near Nenana.
What was it about doing security that you enjoy?
It’s mostly weekends and just part-time work. It brings in a little bit of coin but it also gets me out there where all the entertainment is happening. I am, and I would have to say most of my security people are, people-watchers. That’s our job — to watch the people and, you know, there’s some colorful people in Anchorage.
With doing security for 40-plus years now, I’m sure you have seen it all.
I’ve done some big names. Just about every big concert that’s come up here, I’ve been involved with; Aerosmith, Metallica, Pantera, Tool, Godsmack, Green Day, Blink 182, Motley Crüe — the list goes on.
There used to be only one major security company in town…
That’s right. There was Northern Event Security. I worked for them from the day that they started and was the first hire. I’ve been running their crews from day one.
And now you run another company?
Yep. Drogon Alaska. We’re an event staffing company. We are, a little more, um, well let’s see, what’s the word we have? We offer more services than N.E.S. We have the event security with event staffing. We have first aid, we have conversions, and we have parking lot attendants. We do concessions, so we have bartenders and servers. We even do housekeeping also. So we’re kind of a one stop. You know, if you’re putting on an event, you need manpower. So yeah, we can cover it all.
‘Drogon,’ was that named after Game of Thrones?
That’s the Game of Thrones dragon, yep. Let’s say the alpha dragon. And the good news is he made it through the last episode.
Why did you name it after Drogon?
Well, our first contract was with 3 Baron’s (Renaissance) Fair. The 3 Barons Fair is a medieval-themed event and so the dragon tied right in with the that.
Since that was our first contract, we decided to go with a medieval themed name. And now we’re coming up on our third year of working there.
What are your favorite types of events to work?
I like the big concerts. I like the concerts where we got five, six, seven thousand people, here crowd control and being ahead of the curve is really important.
Knowing where to be and when to be and a managing both the people attending and the people that are working with Drogon, or the people that are working with the arena. Because there’s always at least two security outfits going on at the same time. At least two, sometimes there is three or four. Especially when you started to get into the private security for the artist and stuff. So we’re managing and communicating between all the groups and we’re handling, you know, five, six, seven, eight thousand people at a time.
I enjoy the big shows. That’s where we are really paying attention to what’s going on, especially the crowd. The level of consumption of alcohol plays a big part in any of our events. So we just really want to pay attention to that. And we do.
(Mass shooting) tragedies like Orlando and Las Vegas have opened people’s eyes to how vulnerable large crowds can be. How has that changed how you guys handle event security?
Well, obviously we are very aware of the possibility of a terrorist attack. Before every event, we talk about evacuations — “How are we going to get as many people out here as possible? What do we do in an active shooter situation? What do we do if there’s a fire alarm? If it’s a gas leak?”
We talk to all the individual people and I ask them personally;
What are you going to do? Where are you going to direct the crowd? How are we going to get your people out of here?
It’s considered a soft target anytime you have a concert where a terrorist would, would see that as an opportunity to get their name out there. So yeah, we’re hyper aware of it. Almost on all the venues, we are doing metal detectors and wanding now. We do bag checks so nobody gets in without their bags checked. We definitely have a heightened awareness of the fact that we are what’s called a soft target.
I’ve witnessed many concerts where people trying to get to the front and get the best spot come up against those defending that area have led to some pretty rough pushing and even a few fights. How do you effectively de-escalate arguments and fights?
Well, there’s a lot that goes on. People push and shove along with the little bit of smoking of cannabis that goes on in the crowd, is part of the concert experience.
If you are at a show with festival seating, which means no chairs, and you want be up by the front of the stage, you’re going to get jostled around; you’re going to get banged up a little bit. There’s just no way around that because you’ve got several hundred people that want to be right on that rail and so we tell the people this is part of the concert experience.
If you don’t want to get pounded, you know, move back. You don’t have to move back very far or move off to the side. You don’t have to. If you want to tough it out right there, dead-center hanging onto the barricade, then you’re going to get pushed around and shoved around cause the crowd moves. It moves with the artists and just moves naturally.
And then you get the occasional idiot that thinks that he deserves a front row seat. He got there an hour and a half after the doors opened and then just barges his way through. There really isn’t anything we can do until they or the situation requires us to step in and intervene.
Occasionally we have individuals that are high on some kind of drug, not cannabis, who get really rough and they start throwing elbows. Some kind of speed, who knows what it is. And if they’re dancing, jumping up and down, and they’re literally beating people up next to them, then then we escort them out.
I can imagine people don’t respond to after being kicked out.
Oh no, no.
The first thing we get told how much they spent on the tickets. Right away. “Oh, I spent $200 to be here tonight! I can do whatever I want.” Well, no, you can’t. You need to protect the money that you spend on that ticket by behaving yourself. You are being escorted out based on your behaviors, not on anything else.
I’m sure you get all sorts of threats.
Yeah, we get lots of threats about lawsuits.
“Oh we’re going to sue you guys, you can’t throw me out! I paid for the ticket.”
We get that all the time. Ninety percent of the time, nothing happens from there. The other 5 percent, they’ll contact the arena the next day saying that they want their money back. The arena or the venue will almost always will either direct them to the promoter or will refuse to refund their money. So that’s where documentation comes into play. We keep journals and whenever we escort somebody out, we record; physical descriptions the reasons we escorted them out, what they’re wearing, approximate height/weight/age/etc. We record all this on an escort so the next weekend or, if you know, two weeks, three weeks later, someone comes back and says, “Why’d you throw me out?” We have all of that documented.
What kind of personality traits and qualities makes someone a good fit to work security?
For security or even events staffing; customer service and understanding your customer service is real important. The ability to deescalate; if you don’t have those skills, I can train you how to deescalate. You’ve got to be able to keep your mind calm in all situations. If you are breaking up fights, you’ve got to remain calm in your mind.
The ability to understand that it’s a job what angry people say to you shouldn’t be taken seriously. You can’t take it personal because in the security end of it, you get called every name in the book all the time. And it’s just gotta be water on a duck’s back. That is super important. Don’t get sucked into anything emotionally because that’s where the problems arise. You know? Somebody says your mom is ugly and you take that personally so then now you want to grab this guy and punch him or throw him down on the ground and drag him out of the bar. You just can’t do that. He doesn’t know your mom.
I’ve been kicked out of a concert or a bar a couple of times that I didn’t think was really justified. What would you say to anyone, who has been kicked out or might get kicked out in the future?
Almost nobody that’s escorting people out has a problem with you asking “Why are you kicking me out?” And almost always the response from them will be, “We’ll talk about it at the door.”
My suggestion, if you’re asked to leave, is walk with security to the door, step outside the building, and then ask your questions. They will be happy to explain.
“Well, you stumbled and fell. You knocked four drinks over while you’re trying to set your drink on the table. Your speech is slurred and your eyes are glossed over, etc. You just have over-consumed and we have to ask you to leave.”
I stress, you’re not a bad guy. You haven’t, done anything criminal here; you’re inebriated at this point and the state law requires that you can’t be in the alcohol controlled area when you’re intoxicated.
And to me, it’s real important that you have a little bit of communication on the way out as best you can. Again, to make sure that they have a friend to get them home or we get them into a cab or an Uber or Lyft.
So working as event staff would be a good way to make a little bit extra money here and there while still watching concerts without having to pay for a ticket?
Well you’re not there to watch this show. You’re there doing something, but you are still there experiencing the show, right? And almost all the positions are in the bowl itself so you do get to look over and see what’s happening. You hear the whole show cause you are in it and you watch the crowds. Cause that’s really what you’re watching and you’re seeing how they’re reacting and enjoying the concert, which is such a cool thing.
People that get into this industry, especially the event staffing part, because they don’t want to pay but they still want to catch some of these acts. I’ve got guys and gals that just wanted to do rock shows. So they sign up for the rock shows and I put them to work. I keep them busy, but they still get to experience the rock show. They still get to talk about the concert and say “Yeah. I was there, that was super cool!” All their friends know that they work with those venues and so all their friends are always, “Hey, how was that? Was that a good show? I heard this and that it was fantastic?”
I have people that absolutely will not work country shows because they can’t stand country and that’s OK. And you know, vice versa,. I’ve got super country fans, so I put up a country show and bam!, they’re on it.
Do you have any advice for someone interested in getting into concert security and event staffing?
You’re never gonna get rich working arena security, event staffing or anything else at the arenas. But you’ll have fun and get to see some great shows. There is a lot of talent out there. I’ve worked every major concert, in the 25 years that I have been up here, so I’ve seen some really good acts come through and that’s really cool to me. And that’s why I do it. I love the game.
And you’ve been in it a long time. What are some of your favorite event experiences?
Dane Cook. After his show, he called all the security into a big room and he took pictures with everybody, shook their hands and chopped it up with them for a little bit. He did that with every single person that wanted to talk to him. And that was super cool. He was a super nice guy. Dane Cook was the only artist that has ever done that in my 25 years here.
For me personally, my favorite would be the Elton John concert. He was super-popular when I was a growing up and there were a couple things that were real remarkable about that show.
I was on stage at the beginning of the show while all of the lights were up because he’s getting ready to come out. I’m looking through the entire arena and there is not a single empty seat. So there’s nobody in the concession stands. There’s nobody in the bathrooms. Everybody got there on time. Not one single orange or red plastic seat was visible. I could see through the whole arena and every person was wanting to be there. They wanted to be there for Elton. And so that was super cool.
Do you have any shows coming up that you’re looking forward to?
Well, we’ve got the 3 Barons Fair coming up the first two weekends in June and that’s a really fun show. It’s exciting. A bunch of people dressing up in all sorts of medieval themed attire and it’s a blast. The weather has been good for the last couple of years so I hope that will continue.