Every now and again someone mentions Pantera and Dimebag Darrell. And every time that happens the conversation turns to his murder at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, OH.
I don’t mention that I was there every time. Sometimes people talk so fast and so much that I have trouble getting a word in edgewise. And anyway… even if they asked what it was like I couldn’t explain it as well as I did in this story I wrote for a college class a few years ago.
It was originally published on Buzzbin Magazine’s Website, but it was brought to my attention that this link is no longer working so I’ve posted the text below.
I was expecting to see the best concert of my life. What I got instead was one of the worst heavy metal shows of all time.
I nearly shit myself when I first saw it advertised. Damageplan was playing at the Alrosa Villa for $8. To see a band like this in a 640 capacity venue was a once in a lifetime opportunity. They were not a big band. They only had one album under their belts and hadn’t even been on the radar for more than a year, but the guitarist and drummer were living legends. Dimebag Darrell and his brother Vinnie Paul had formed the band Pantera in the eighties and became one of the biggest metal bands of the nineties. When singer Phil Anselmo took time off to play in other bands and get addicted to heroin, they decided to start afresh with a new project.
I never got the chance to see Pantera live, so I figured Damageplan was the next best thing. They didn’t have the history or set list that Pantera had, but I was sure it was going to be a great time. A lot of my friends weren’t really into Damageplan, but I bought two tickets because I was sure there was no way any of them would let me go alone.
On Dec. 8, the day of the show, my rock trivia calendar asked me, “On this day, where was John Lennon murdered?” After a normal day at work I arrived home to a message. My friend whom I had planned on making the hour and a half trip to Columbus with was sick; he wouldn’t be joining me. I was disappointed and pissed off at his last minute bail-out, but I remained optimistic. After calling everyone I had a number for my optimism faded. It wasn’t just that I didn’t want to make a long car trip by myself; it was also that I had one headlight, no radio and not a penny for gas. But nothing was going to keep me away from the Alrosa Villa that night, even if I had to make the voyage solo. I handed my disposable camera to my stepdad and he snapped a picture of me giving the finger to all my friends who were too busy to come with me. Then I hit the road.
I stopped in Coshocton and held my breath as I swiped my debit card in the gas pump. There were a few dollars in my account, but I would be over drafting. I bought 11.617 gallons at $1.80/gallon for a total of $21.02 at the Second Street Shell. The only positive light I could find was that Ohio Route 16 is a scenic stretch of road. I strapped my seatbelt on and headed west, out of the Appalachian foothills and into the plains. When I passed the Longaberger basket I knew I was getting close. I made it to the Alrosa with time to spare for the 6:30 start.
There was nothing great to be said about any of the opening bands: 12 Gauge, Position 6, and Volume Dealer. I remember Volume Dealer doing a cover of “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J and giving a shout out to Vinnie Paul, who watched their set from the side of the stage. Other than that, they’ve faded to the ether of my mind along with the hundreds of other local acts I’ve seen at the dozens of shows I’ve been to.
I really wanted a beer. I had only one dollar to spend. It was already in the form of four quarters, which I traded for two cups of water throughout the night. When Position 6 was finishing up their set, I knew it was time to make my way to the front of the crowd. When Damageplan began there would be no moving through the crowd.
It’s always late by the time the headliners take the stage. My impatience was compounded by three mediocre openers, no money for beer or soda and loneliness. Then the show was held up because some asshole had parked in the wrong space and needed to move his vehicle. My heart pounded with excitement. I was sure this was going to be the greatest event of my life. I knew I would tell my grandchildren about it.
I can’t tell you the exact minute they walked onstage. One moment I was standing comfortably in the middle of a crowd smoking a cigarette (this was still allowed) and the next minute I was crushed between a dozen other fans jostling for a position in front of the stage. I didn’t have the greatest spot in the house, which belonged to the guy in front of me. I was in the second row. That didn’t stop my neighbor from trying to shove me out of the way; of course, I had an advantage over him. I had both of my legs and he was rocking a prosthetic.
But I didn’t care that there were people smashing into me and I had to fight just to be able to stand in the same place. I was in heaven. Dimebag Darrell, arguably the greatest metal guitar player alive, was 10 feet in front of me. The band was rocking out to “Breathing New Life.” I was snapping pictures and banging my head.
I didn’t think anything of it when I saw the tall guy in the orange jacket on the stage. I figured he was a crowd surfer. I’d been on that stage before and had jumped off myself. Crowd surfers were a pain in the ass and you’re sure to get kicked in the head when they’re around, but I didn’t mind. Nothing could ruin this show.
Except that he didn’t jump into the crowd.
He crossed the stage to right in front of me and behind Dimebag, pulled a silver handgun out of his pocket and shot him in the head.
The thing that bothers me the most about this whole experience is that I may have cheered. I thought it was a stunt. Marilyn Manson had been known to do this at his shows. I had seen all of the Pantera home movies and couldn’t imagine that anyone would want to take the life of someone who appeared so caring, genuine and generous as Dimebag Darrell.
Even having seen the mist of blood explode from his face when the bullets hit the back of his skull, I didn’t believe it.
After firing numerous shots (the papers said one number, a book about the event said another and I only heard two) and killing three more people, the gunman took a hostage and disappeared behind a wall of speakers. My eyes tricked me into believing that Dime was still breathing. Of course he wasn’t.
Seconds…Then Minutes ticked by. I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there. The lights came back on, but that could have been part of the joke. When I finally did turn around, the building was nearly empty. And there were police officers rushing in with guns. Not the pistols that they carry in neat leather holster on their hips, but shotguns. When I saw the brown pumps on the dark gunmetal I knew that this was no joke.
I don’t remember hearing the shot that took the assassin’s life. I was too concerned for my hero lying there on the stage. When a group of fans took hold of his arms and began dragging him away from the danger, I joined in. The flesh of his forearm was as cold as if he’d just spent an hour covered in ice. It was hard to believe that a few minutes ago he’d been slamming power chords out of his guitar. Someone started CPR. I just stood there. I could see that it was him. The face, tattoos, and razorblade necklace that I had seen in so many videos, posters and magazines was lying at my feet, but gone.
Realizing there was nothing I could do to help I walked out of a side door. I had stayed inside thinking that maybe I could have been of use to someone, I am trained in CPR and first aid, but there were plenty of police officers and management wanted us out anyway.
I didn’t leave right away. I stood outside the door taking in the scene. I’ve never seen so many grown men openly weeping. I asked the next person out if that had really just happened. He said, yeah, it had. Then he agreed to smoke a bowl with me. My God did I need it.
The tragedy left scars on me. I wasn’t hurt physically and I don’t suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but you can’t see a life taken right in front of your eyes not feel something. You wouldn’t be human if you could. For years afterward I wouldn’t listen to that song, because I could still hear the shots right before the bridge. I’ve been back to the Alrosa a few times but it’s not the same for me. Security is tighter and I can’t look at a certain spot on the floor without seeing his ghost.