Never underestimate the power of the boy band. That is the lesson being learned by Stanislaus County Fair officials, law enforcement and parents alike, who witnessed first-hand the frenzy when Big Time Rush came to town.
The four member boy band from the Nickelodeon television show by the same name drew in a capacity-busting crowd that surprised both fair officials and fans.
“We knew it would be a big night, but didn’t expect it to be as big of a draw as it was,” said fair spokesperson Adrenna Alkhas. “It was our biggest night of the run by far.”
The seating for the free stage holds between 3,000 to 3,500 people, Alkhas said. People can see the show from the walkways around the stage, but security tries to keep the traffic in that area moving.
Alkhas said that even though the crowd was larger than expected, the security personnel and the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department were able to maintain order.
Sheriff spokesman Sgt. Anthony Bejaran said the sheriff’s department had no arrests and very few incidents from the night.
“For the amount of resources we had out there, we did a very good job,” Bejaran said.
While fair officials and the sheriff’s department reported an event with little to no troubles, the concert-goers had views and experiences that diverged from the official view.
“It was a nightmare,” said 31-year-old Modesto resident Heather Warthan, who along with her sister, took five children ages 6 years to 13 years to the show. “People were just smashing in. The kids were crammed and could hardly breathe. My 9-year-old daughter was pushed over and hit her head. When I asked a sheriff’s deputy standing nearby to help us get out, he just shrugged at me. It was very scary.”
Warthan was not the only one to express disappointment with how the overly-large crowd was maintained.
“They needed more security,” said Hilmar resident Charles Dever, 42. “I brought my 2-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter and my mother who uses a walker. People were pushing, shoving, and knocking over other people. One person even tried to stand on my son’s stroller while he was in it.
“I’m surprised no one was seriously hurt. One wrong move could have ignited that crowd.”
Dever said he and his family were able to make it out of the multitude of people with help from the sheriff’s department gang unit, which was trying to keep the walkways clear.
“It was a mess,” Dever said. “Crowd control was non-existent.”
Penny Garcia, a rabbit leader for Chatom 4-H, saw up close the crowd growing out of the borders of the free stage area.
“Everything was packed,” Garcia said. “People were spilling into the barnyard experience, so that you couldn’t move in there either. I don’t think they had any idea that they would have a turnout like that.”
Amy Evans brought her 11-year-old daughter and her 10-year-old friend from Ripon to see the band and said the problems all arose from a complete breakdown of decorum.
“I’ve never, ever seen so many rude people,” Evans said. “People just kept piling in and no one was stopping them. That band was just too big for the free stage.”
While Evans may have been frustrated with her concert experience, she said her daughter and her daughter’s friend enjoyed the show immensely.
“They had a blast and loved the music,” Evans said.
That experience was echoed by 20-year-old Cheyenne Bargas of Denair, who joined her friends in line at 6 a.m. to ensure prime seats for the show.
“We had a really good time,” Bargas said. “We all had posters with us and got the attention of the boys during the sound check.”
Bargas said that from her vantage point in the fourth row, the security seemed to have the swelling crowd under control.
The crowd wasn’t the only thing packed in that night. Turlock Police Lt. Jeff Lopes said vehicles were lined up all the way to the freeway off-ramp and the fair’s parking lots were full by 7 p.m.
“It was one of the worst traffic jams I’ve seen with the fair,” Lopes said. “We were trying to convince people to turn around and use the overflow parking at the university and ride the bus, but they weren’t interested in what we had to say. They would rather circle the fair looking for that one elusive spot.”
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.