Our Views: Enormous crowd poses concerns about fair security

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Credit Rock County 4-H Fair organizers with booking an opening-night act that could draw a big crowd to the fairgrounds in Janesville.

Criticize them for underestimating the lure of country band Florida Georgia Line. That resulted in a lack of crowd control Tuesday, as well as a missed opportunity to charge an extra admission fee for the show.

Hundreds of concertgoers lined up behind the grandstand before the gates opened. When fans started racing in for prime viewing spots in front of the stage, about two hours before show time, it’s fortunate no one was trampled.

It was obvious to anyone who managed to squeeze into a spot in the grandstand more than an hour before the 8 p.m. performance that something enormous was brewing.

The Rock County Sheriff’s Office ordered extra officers to the fairgrounds, as it should have. Authorities said the crowd was large but orderly, except for a reported disturbance behind the grandstands and some people slipping in without paying through a gate that was pushed open or collapsed.

The crowd was so big, however, it would have posed a logistical nightmare in an emergency. For anyone experiencing a medical problem, help would have been too long in coming. In fact, at one point during the show, an ambulance with lights flashing did require several minutes to make its way from a rear gate to a spot west of the stage before looping back out.

By the time the show started, security personnel had given up all notions of keeping exit aisles open. Fans packed in like sardines from the stage all the way to the grandstand. A sheriff’s deputy who was positioned at the top of the grandstand before the show had ordered concertgoers to get up and clear the top of one stairway, but after he left that post, fans sat and stood and filled the stairs anyway.

So many people packed the aging grandstand that when the band encouraged fans to swing their arms back and forth to one tune, those seated could feel the structure sway.

Lord help the person who needed to reach a toilet in a hurry. Anyone deciding to leave early had to fight through the sea of humanity to get out.

The fair announced Tuesday’s attendance at 30,667. That wasn’t just an opening-day record; it shattered the fair’s all-time single-day attendance record of 28,395 set in 1995. It seemed as though all 30,000 were trying to hear and view Tuesday’s band. The sheriff’s office estimated the concert crowd at 8,500, but that may have been understated.

No doubt many fans who paid their fair share of just $8 to get in were frustrated that the overwhelming crowd left some without reasonable viewing spots. Likewise, many were frustrated trying to find parking anywhere nearby. Parked vehicles partially blocking crosswalks, and even one perpendicular to a fire hydrant in a neighborhood to the south went without tickets.

Sure, Tuesday’s weather was favorable. A carnival special offering cheap rides brought more people to the fair, as well. And the band has more rabid fans than fair organizers ever imagined. Otherwise, the fair could have reaped a financial windfall with an upcharge to see Tuesday’s show. This week, the fair is charging extra fees to see two other country acts—the up-and-coming Hunter Hayes tonight and superstar Trace Adkins on Saturday night.

The Hayes concert is sold out. Fortunately for all planning to enjoy the show, the ticket sales of 4,200 should be low enough to avoid a repeat of Tuesday’s safety concerns.


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