Monday, June 8, 2009

A Vindicating RiverSplash!

By Evan Rytlewski
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This year was a crucial test for RiverSplash!, Milwaukee's inaugural summer music festival. After an inordinate number of altercations at last year's festival—most damning among them a non-fatal shooting—city officials threatened to pull the plug on the event if organizers couldn't curb the problems. This was a pass/fail test: Any major incident at this year's event would have almost certainly prompted Ald. Robert Bauman (and perhaps Mayor Tom Barrett) to put their foot down.

So kudos to the RiverSplash! organizers and the Milwaukee police for passing such an unforgiving test. To pull off such a large gathering without major incident, as they did this weekend, is no small feat, especially with heavy media coverage of past violence at the festival threatening to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This year organizers inhibited alcohol consumption while adding smarter security and a larger, more visible police presence, and save for the inevitable disorderly conduct arrests, they kept the grounds under control.

RiverSplash! isn't completely out of the woods, of course. One lone gun shot next year could again put the entire event on watch, but that's the sad reality that all Milwaukee festivals face. Although these events are by and large safe and orderly, they're subject to intense scrutiny and held to sometimes unrealistic standards. Like the late African World Festival or Milwaukee's unfairly slandered Juneteenth celebration, the future of RiverSplash! will remain precarious.

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