By the time the fan decided to make a run at Debbie Harry, The Wizard was on him before house security saw him on their crystal ball.
“She was on her first solo tour and she came down the back stairs, across an empty dancefloor before the show,” said private security guru Jeff Freedman, owner of Boston’s famed Wizard Security. “This kid jumped over the railing and tried to grab her. So I took him out.”
From that moment on, Freedman set out to work as a conductor of crowd control in Boston’s nightclubs and concert halls. His love of hard rock combined with an unflinching drive to protect the party kicked off the ongoing voyage of Wizard Security, a highly recognizable, rigorous defender of music lovers.
If you’ve found yourself in a Boston-area moshpit in the last few decades, chances are you’ve run into the 5’5” Methuen-born biker, pilot, vendor, and small business owner. Despite his small stature, he’s hard to miss.
“Tossing people off stage back into the crowd is the fun part,” Freedman said. “That never gets old. If it’s a punk or metal or hardcore show, that’s the part that stage divers live for. I know the difference between someone coming over the barricade to have fun versus someone looking for trouble. It’s very rare I have to get physical with people.”
It was 1984, and a week after he decked the dude who ran at the Blondie frontwoman, the owner of The Channel needed someone to work a New Kids On The Block show. After working The Channel for five years, he was hired to work every club on Lansdowne Street and has built his reputation up, working seven days a week at a breakneck pace for more than 30 years.
“He’s a guy who has been there forever,” Dave Tree, 47, lead singer of Boston’s punk stalworth Tree said. “The bouncers at The Channel had no idea what to do if kids were crowd surfing. He’s incredibly calm in chaos. The bands love him because he runs it like we are on the same team. Everybody who is involved in that world has seen him in action.”
Today, he is 70, has business degrees from Boston University, Tufts and UMass Boston, and is still running the safety at hundreds of shows a year.
His watchful eye keeps bands and patrons safe from creeps, rowdy drunks and other troublemakers while keeping the well-behaved audience members hydrated, tossing water bottles to those who seem ready to wilt.
“We love having him,”said ClayFernald, Middle East Club general manager since 2002. “I’ve worked with him at multiple venues and I know that he is constantly busy from clubs to city events. He knows everyone playing that night. They look out for him and he looks out for them at the same time.”
He had the name Wizard Security before the long, grey ponytail and the distinctively large rings for each knuckle and grew into the image of a hardcore Gandalf who befriends as many acts as possible.
“I was working the downstairs bar,”Fernaldsaid. “He wasn’t even working that night, but Lars Fredricksen and The Bastards were playing. In comes the Wizard with his buddy who was the scariest dude I’d ever seen. He was giant, tattooed all over, towering over the Wizard. Turned out that was Lars. They’re old friends, so he was a volunteer bodyguard and a fan in one.”
One night circa 1990, Freedman said, Pantera was playing The Channel and the adrenalin in the room hit the stratosphere. A bald-headed crowd surfer went headhunting, looking to clobber all in his range. The Wizard worked his magic to defuse the situation through the power of laughter instead of meeting the aggression head on.
“He was looking to brawl and I saw him from my position on the stage between the monitors,” Freedman said. “He looked like a bulldog. He didn’t have any hair for me to grab onto, so I grabbed him by the ears and gave him a big wet kiss. The crowd laughed, the band laughed and the hostility went away right there.”
Freedman rarely speaks about his endeavors as the Wizard Security guy to the media. He said that more often than not, interviewers want to hear about the blood and gore of the gig.
“Good security means nothing happens,” Freedman said. “If you’re fighting fires all night, you haven’t done your homework. The majority of the problems can be avoided or addressed with a quick word, telling folks to cut it out.”
He has safeguarded punks like Rancid and G.B.H, hardcore bands like Converge and the Cro-Mags, boybands like 98 Degrees and LFO, rappers like Ghostface Killah and Slaine, hemp-worshiping hippies at Freedom festivals and legends like Tom Jones and Johnny Cash in tiny sweatbox clubs and open air festivals alike.
Somehow, he still has decent hearing, all of his teeth and no plans of retiring.
“The real show is never on stage,” The Wizard said. “It’s in the crowd.”