The Rolling Stones aren't the only rock 'n' roll dinosaurs emerging from hibernation during their "Bridges to Babylon" tour.
When Mick Jagger brings his swivel-hipped strut and the world's most durable band to Rich Stadium tonight, it will mark the venerable Orchard Park arena's re-entry into the big-time concert scene.
It has been more than three years since the last one, featuring Billy Joel and Elton John. That drought might seem like an eternity to arena-rock fans, who once were sure of catching a Rich Stadium show every month or so, especially during the summers.
Joel and John drew more than 40,000 fans in 1994. But the stadium's last concert sellout was in 1993, when it was ground zero for 70,000 Grateful Dead ticket holders and an estimated 20,000 parking lot partiers.
The Rolling Stones concert is "our kickoff to get back into the concert business," said William G. Munson II, vice president of operations for the Buffalo Bills. He said the pause was forced by a dearth of arena-size acts touring the United States.
But arena shows are supposed to be making a comeback, Munson said, and Rich Stadium will be ready. In the coming year, concertgoers and Bills fans will find more restrooms and other amenities, he said. Renovation of the Ralph C. Wilson Field House, planned for 1999, will add a separate 7,500-seat venue, if the Bills can get zoning permission.
Rich Stadium's concert drought had nothing to do with the troubles that followed the Grateful Dead into Buffalo in 1992 and 1993, Munson said.
After the 1992 show, two fans were found dead of overdoses. The 1993 gig featured what Erie County Sheriff Thomas Higgins described as "a vast number of bodies . . . strewn across the parking lot, obviously heavily intoxicated, and ambulances racing back and forth."
"Frankly," Higgins wrote in a letter published in The News, "it looked like a war zone."
Officials responsible for concert security unanimously agreed that Wednesday night's crowd should be radically different.
First, and most importantly, fewer than 40,000 are expected to show, Munson said. A crowd under two-thirds of Rich's concert capacity will make it easier for stadium staff to control situations.
Second, the crowd will be different, with more fans sporting a touch of gray. The older the fans, the more docile the crowd. Unlike the average Dead fan, the average Stones ticket-buyer probably "has to be at work Wednesday, and the next day, too," said Orchard Park Police Chief Robert Henning.
"The whole crowd has mellowed," said local concert promoter Artie Kwitchoff. "These are people who will be deciding whether to go and saying, 'OK, do we have a baby sitter?' "
Kwitchoff, who said he was only peripherally involved in show preparations, said the $39.50 tickets are gone, leaving only the $60 tickets for walk-ups.
Concert promoters were unavailable to describe security arrangements during the show. Other officials said no unusual measures were planned. There will be no containers allowed inside.
Outside, the Erie County Sheriff's Department will have 100 deputies controlling traffic and patrolling parking lots, said Sheriff's Department Chief of Patrol Tom Staebell.
They will also have the usual undercover detectives looking for drug sales.
Staebell said he has worked every big event at Rich Stadium since it opened in 1973, and didn't expect much trouble Wednesday night.
As the Bills' Munson put it: "I'm 47 years old, and I've been following the Stones for 25 years. . . . We all age."