Hayden's Rave

January 26, 1994

Frankly, we think the 2,500 young people who attended the psychedelic "rave" party at the Timonium Fairgrounds on New Year's Eve got ripped off. They paid up to $25 to dance to ungodly loud music and be dazed by whirling lights and slow-motion movies of waterfalls, and paid $3 or $4 more to drink nonalcoholic concoctions with names like Orbit Juice and Oxygen Cocktails.

If getting disoriented was their goal, they could have done it for free -- by attempting to follow how Baltimore County handled the rave -- before, during and after. Dissecting the course of events around the controversial party might lead one to think county officials have been frolicking at too many raves themselves.

Even though teen-agers as far away as Canada had seen fliers advertising this affair at the Timonium Fairgrounds, county officials were the last ones to know about it. When the event's promoter showed up to get a non-profit permit for his for-profit event just a day before it was scheduled, the county permits office was only happy to oblige after the promoter scrawled out on a scrap of paper that he'd donate to charity some of his profits. (This is the same Baltimore County that couldn't "fast-track" its business permit process.)

The miscommunication only worsened following the rave. Michael M. Gimbel, director of the county's Office of Substance Abuse, proclaimed it a disaster waiting to happen -- and he may have a point. A Sun reporter who attended said the low lighting and the crush of kids could have been life-threatening had a fire started or had someone passed out from drugs or alcohol. County Executive Roger B. Hayden promised to investigate, at least to see whether future raves warranted more formal controls. But 10 days after the party, the manager of the fairgrounds where this rave was held still hadn't been contacted by the executive's office. Some investigation.

Critics hammered away at Mr. Gimbel. No doubt, the prolific, outspoken anti-drug advocate has his detractors; the only bigger press hound in county offices is McGruff the Crime Dog. But some of Mr. Gimbel's warnings about lighting, security and the county's lack of notice deserve closer examination.

With proper oversight, nonalcoholic, drug-free rave parties are a harmless outlet for young people. But frankly, whether it be a rave party or a bull roast, the county had best shore up its process for sanctioning large events.

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