Sunday, June 30, 2013

Summerfest Was Dangerously Overcrowded Saturday Night

How the media failed to report on Summerfest's big fail

By Evan Rytlewski
summerfest crowd
Photo courtesy Twitter user @Brookie44
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Consider this another reason Summerfest no longer releases daily attendance numbers. At some point last night, crowds became so congested outside of the festival's entrance that organizers had to open the gates and let people in for free.

That's the official story, at least, as reported by the Journal Sentinel and numerous other media outlets. Social media tells a very different story, however. According to multiple first-person accounts posted on Twitter and Facebook, Summerfest didn't willingly "let" patrons in so much as it failed to stop them from coming in.

"Riot at summerfest. Pushed through the guards. Bruised my knee. Totally worth it," one person on Twitter wrote. "Yes, we did storm the summerfest gate with hundreds of other people in a riot," another confirmed. Twitter or Facebook searches for the words "Summerfest" and "rush" or "riot" will pull up similar accounts. Some may have been shoved in against their will.

The situation was, by any account, dangerous, another word that media reports have avoided using.

Look, it's well known that local media is notoriously soft on Summerfest. The festival has sponsorships with just about every outlet and publication in the city, with the possible exception of the one that recruits contributors by asking passersby on Brady Street if they write. But the failure of Milwaukee news outlets to report the severity of Saturday's situation is particularly egregious.

Summerfest's official story simply doesn't square here. A Summerfest spokesman, who couldn't even confirm exactly when the gates were "opened," insists that security measures were enforced, but there's simply no way that everybody squeezing through the gates in a massive rush was patted down.

Also, no media outlet has questioned the logic of letting in a frightening mass of people outside the gates into the even tighter, more confined space inside the gates. As you'd expect, leaving the grounds Saturday was reportedly a nightmare. At what point does Summerfest hit capacity and turn visitors away? Saturday's actions suggest there isn't one.

Summerfest's CEO Don Smiley (who, excuse the cheap shot, is very highly paid) has insisted that controlling crowds and fixing the perception that the grounds are overcrowded is a top priority. How's that working out for him?

“Our current plans work well," a Summerfest spokesperson told Fox 6. "(Saturday) night was an extraordinary situation with different volumes of people. We don’t anticipate that happening again.”

In what world is that an acceptable response?

UPDATE 10 a.m. Monday, July 1: Since this blog was posted Sunday evening, the narrative around Summerfest's gate situation has turned much more critical. The Journal Sentinel has published a fuller report which includes quotes from attendees calling the situation dangerous and unsafe. Local news stations, including TMJ4, which in its 10 p.m. Sunday broadcast said it was prompted to further explore the story by viewer request, have also ran more thorough stories on the rush that include interviews with attendees who felt they were in danger.
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