Summerfest Mans Up

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Summerfest Mans Up

CREATED Jul. 7, 2011

I absolutely love Summerfest.  This afternoon, I was vividly reminded why I also really respect Summerfest President and CEO Don Smiley.

I first heard about some problems at Summerfest Tuesday night from a friend of mine.  Her teenage niece and nephew were in town and she took them to see rapper Wiz Khalifa. She sent me an email when she got home talking about how unpleasant the experience was.

I then read the review of the show in the local newspaper.  Frankly, I've never read a concert review like this in my life.  The reviewer devoted one sentence to the show and the rest of the review to the enormous crowd, the tense stare downs and the "strong smell of weed wafting over the masses".  Not exactly the type of fare that Summerfest encourages.

I then started hearing from others about the experience.  Here's a portion of an email from one listener:

"  [After the main stage act finished]  ... It took 1/2 hour to make it through the crowd of the marijuana laced/over-crowded concert of Wiz Khalifa to get to the bus pickup area.  We had beer poured on us, we were pushed, shoved, poked and grabbed numerous times.  My wife told me on the way home that several males were grabbing her and pushing their genitals against her rear end.  We watched as some people attempted pick pocketing others ... I am totally disgusted with the environment last night and will never attend another Summerfest socially again.  It was a disgrace."

I spent about 20 minutes taking calls from listeners on Wednesday's show and heard stories that were all pretty similar.    

I was therefore somewhat surprised to learn that a Summerfest official was describing the scene as a series of "isolated skirmishes".

Enter Don Smiley.

In a lengthy email to me about the situation on Tuesday, here's what Smiley had to say:

"When we booked the act in February, we had no way of knowing that his popularity would zoom off the charts by July.  ...  Had we known, we would have never put the act on the grounds.  We would have put him in the amphitheater where we absolutely handle crowds of that size on a routine basis.  We would have also sold a "Stand alone" ticket which tends to naturally cut down on crowd size when people are faced with buying a ticket or not.

We don't consider it a mistake because there was no way to know or predict given the information we had at our disposal when we booked the act, however, we will use that experience to make better and more conservative decisions in the future. ... If we knew then what we know now, we would have gone in a different direction.

The experience has definitely reinforced the concept of social media as the crowd communicated the entire day on Facebook and Twitter and it grew organically right before our eyes."

Smiley's note goes on to explain that there was a large police presence (including Chief Flynn) in the area and that it was the the police who were responsible for deciding who gets arrested.  Smiley also correctly points out that there were no large scale incidents at the end of the night like at the BP gas station

The email concludes: "As someone who operated an NFL football stadium in the past, I can tell you that I have experienced more fights within a 3 hour game than we had here in 12 hours on Tuesday".

So there you have it.  Those of you who attended Summerfest on Tuesday weren't imagining things.  The good news though is that the Boss understands what happened and hopes to avoid similar situations in the future.

For those of you who had bad experiences Tuesday, I'd encourage you to try again.  Summerfest remains a true local treasure.

As an aside, given the reports of widespread marijuana use, it might be interesting to ask Chief Flynn whether the cops made an on the spot decision to legalize pot for a couple of hours Tuesday in honor of Whiz - effectively turning a portion of the Summerfest grounds into Weedstock East.

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