Good Time Guardians

Daniel Vermilyea interviews John Portman of Karma Control

The first weekend of August traditionally marks the beginning of the state's biggest, baddest, weirdest party of all: the Talkeetna Bluegrass Festival; thousands can be expected to turn out for the show. They will pour through the gates in seemingly endless streams of cars, trucks, RV's, on bicycles, hitchhiking or just walking in. They will camp, visit with each other, listen to a huge lineup of musical acts, buy food and crafts, streak, consume huge quantities of beer, produce tons of garbage, and participate in dozens of interminable jam sessions throughout the four day event.

They will also sneak in without paying, take drugs, get in fights, have medical emergencies, get in accidents, steal equipment, and generally overwhelm the scene with their sheer numbers. So how does organizer Dirty Ernie keep the crowds in check? He sends out Karma Control.

I leapt at the chance to interview the leaders of the Festival's notorious Karma Control security group, and had this conversation with Goodtime Productions owner John Portman at his home in Fairbanks.

NL: When did Goodtime Guardians first organize?

John Portman(J.P.): Well, Goodtime Guardians is part of my company, which is called Good Time Productions. I actually started it after I did the security for the Bluegrass Festival in Talkeetna three years ago. I watched Jose Paraylans, who was in charge of security before me, and saw what a good job he does. So I got together with him the next year, when Ernie put me in charge, and Jose was my partner.

NL: So, prior to your involvement, Jose was running the Karma Control for Talkeetna?

J.P.: Right. It's still the Karma Control, but the Goodtime Guardians part of it is the people that I bring in, and they work for me. As Karma Control, we're working under Ernie's insurance. Goodtime Guardians, they wear our black hats so in a crowd we can tell who's working where.

NL: What events have you done security for?

J.P.: We've done Bluegrass twice, Chatanika Solstice Fest once, and those are our two major events so far. We've got options of doing a couple other things this summer, then for sure a couple extras next year.

NL: Do you offer more than just on-site security staff?

J.P.: Well, our motto is "from bouncers to bluegrass". We can offer anything from licensed bodyguards to bouncers in bars to a full staff of concert security. We have a wide range of people from ladies that are ticket-takers and ID checkers all the way to junkyard dogs who, if they've got to mix it up, they'll mix it up.

NL: How many people do you have to draw from on your staff?

J.P.: About eighty. Not all eighty work at one time. The largest event is, of course, Talkeetna, and we had on our staff last year seventy-five people.

NL: How is it possible to orchestrate all those people while the festival is going on?

J.P.: I go out ahead of time and find out what needs to be done. I figure out how many people I need, what kind of shifts to go on, and what kind of crowd we've got. There's a wide difference between folk people and rock 'n' rollers. Especially when you get into the headbangers and some of the younger guys. They're just a rougher, tougher crowd. You've just got to deal with them with a little more show of authority, and control the situation.

NL: How would you deal with a group that got out of hand?

J.P.: Hopefully we'd do it non-violently. What we try to do is stop it before it starts. If it comes down to a situation, we try to show a force. If you have a half dozen people acting up, we'll show up with fifteen of our guys, surround 'em and say "Hey, let's everybody be cool." We don't go in and start pushing people around, I don't like that, and who does?

NL: When do you authorize your guys to use force?

J.P.: To protect themselves, the owners and anyone else who needs protection. If accosted, they will defend themselves. I myself have trained in Aikido for a number of years, and have taught a few of my guys submission holds. Also, in the past we have used pepper spray.

NL: Do you have any licenses that you have to carry?

J.P.: No. Pretty much we work under other peoples' licenses. For instance, at Talkeetna, the liquor license holder covers all of us, and the festival area itself with a million dollar liability bond. Anyone who carries a concealed weapon first must have a legal concealed weapon permit.

NL: Do you have licensed EMT's on your staff?

J.P.: None that work for me. Lately, though, we've acquired a couple of really qualified personnel who liked how we run the operation and have agreed to work with us anywhere we're at.

NL: What sort of relationship do you have with the State Troopers?

J.P.: We have, I feel, a good working relationship with the Troopers. We tend to cooperate with them if anything happens. Rather than leave an incident to memory, our personnel around there write an incident report up. If someone gets out of line and is discharged from the festival site, he usually comes back that he was beat up and that we just beat him up for no reason. So our people have it all written down. The only time that we call the Troopers in is if we have something highly illegal happening that could get the festival owners in trouble. Otherwise, we take care of our own. So far, the Troopers that I have dealt with have said that they like the way we handle things.

NL: In 1995, at the Talkeetna Festival, there was an incident where a bulldozer was driven into the woods and took out a few campsites. Can you tell me about that?

J.P.: I wasn't at the incident, I had heard about it immediately following. What had happened was that the people that were in the tents were camped in an unauthorized area.

They were camped behind piles of overburden that had been scraped off earlier. The operator was expanding the parking, and part of that, as I understand, is that there were tents behind there that he couldn't see. It was the middle of the night, and there was so much pressure for parking that he was pushing the overburden back further to make more room. I understand that Ernie made amends with anybody whose tent was damaged, and paid any other damages involved. Noone was hurt, but the guy should have checked it out more than what he did.

NL: It's a commonly held belief among festival-goers at Talkeetna that security is conducted by the Hell's Angels motorcycle club. Is there any truth to that?

J.P.: I am the president of the local chapter, and I have at various times had members working for Goodtime Guardians, but it's not a Hell's Angels run company or owned by Hell's Angels, It's owned by me personally. And anytime a member is employed there, we do not wear our colors on the job. As a Hell's Angel, when someone is rude and crude to you, you tend to react differently. A security man, he's got to have a little thicker skin than that.

NL: Have you ever had to discipline any of your number?

J.P.: I have fired guys on the spot, for things like use of drugs and alcohol on the job, I just don't allow that. Sometimes the only advantage we have over people is that we're more sober and more in control of ourselves. If a guy's all wired up, or drunk, or stoned, he's not effective at all, and besides it looks bad. I have also let guys go who have taken things into their own hands, and decided to be over-violent with someone. In fact, last year at Talkeetna we started with eighty guys, and in the last day we only had fifty because, besides some who had just gone home early, we let seven or eight of the younger guys go because they were having a little too much fun.

NL: When you work a festival job, who are you protecting, and from whom?

J.P.: We are protecting the owner's interests in the festival, like the stage, his equipment, any buildings or structures. Making sure no one sneaks in, checking wristbands or stamps, stuff like that. We are also there to protect the people. We're there to protect their good time. If the people don't feel safeîmainly if the ladies don't feel safe, they're not going to be around there. And if you don't have the ladies around, the guys aren't around, and that's a fact.

NL: What kind of an effort do you make to make your rules clear to people as they enter the festival?

J.P.: At Talkeetna, the rules are posted right as you enter the gate. My suggestion to Ernie is to get a set of written rules to give everyone, and tell them read it. They are pretty much basic rules, like there'll be no weapons, no alcohol in the festival area itself other than what's sold there, no discharge of firearms, no fireworks, no fighting. Fairly simple rules.

Most people understand the fact that we mean business. We're not going to be bullied, we're not going to be overpowered, we will control the situation whatever it takes.


Originally printed in The New Lemming Vol 2 Issue 21
©1997 New Lemming Publications

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