When Guns N’ Roses embarked upon the Use Your Illusion tour in 1991, it was arguably the biggest act in all of rock, with Appetite For Destruction going multi-platinum and an ambitious double album on the way. But Axl Rose and company were also garnering a hard-earned reputation as trouble-making “bad boys” and were creating headaches for concert promoters seemingly everywhere they went. Nevertheless, the owners of St. Louis’ then-brand-new Riverport Amphitheater thought they could handle GNR. They miscalculated. About an hour and a half into the July 2, 1991 concert, Rose went ballistic when he spotted a biker named Bill “Stump” Stephenson taking some unauthorized photos from the audience. What happened next is one of the most infamous nights in rock history, and it’s vividly recounted by Christian Schaeffer in an article for Riverfront Times entitled “Riverport Riot: An Oral History Of The Guns N’ Roses Show That Sated St. Louis’ Appetite For Destruction.” A full-scale riot ensued when Rose, having physically attacked Stephenson, left the stage, blaming “lame-ass security.” Fans went ballistic, tearing out seats and stealing valuable equipment from the stage. Soon, every available cop in the area was called in. “After the dust settled,” Schaeffer writes, “nearly all the blame fell on Rose.”
Schaeffer talks with concert promoters, journalists, security guards, and fans who were on hand in St. Louis that crazy July night. Most say that Rose wildly overreacted to Stephenson, who was a fixture on the concert scene in St. Louis. Had Rose kept the show going after the scuffle, they say, things might have turned out fine. But when the temperamental front man cut the concert short right there and then, the dude-heavy audience lost its mind. “It was like they were wrecking a pirate ship and hanging off the sails,” reports journalist Thomas Crone. A fan named Bryan Pollard offers his own memorable description: “It was some sort of white trash Fellini film.” The saddest story here belongs to a young fan who took a seat from the venue as a souvenir, only to find himself grounded for the rest of the summer when he got home.
Rose wound up paying an undisclosed amount in legal settlements to cover the damages, and GNR obviously held a grudge about the whole thing. The liner notes to Use Your Illusion I & II contain this unmistakable line: “Fuck you, St. Louis.” A quarter of a century later, the band has yet to return to the city. Its current tour is bypassing St. Louis.