HFStival 2006 turned out to be `a great party'

Smooth two days spur hope for return engagement

May 31, 2006|By SANDY ALEXANDER | SANDY ALEXANDER,SUN REPORTER

Rocking music in the spotlight and streamlined operations behind the scenes have set the stage for the HFStival to return to Merriweather Post Pavilion in the future.

By some accounts, more than 30,000 people enjoyed 60 performers over two days this past weekend, including Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Counting Crows, Cypress Hill and Kanye West. With few traffic problems, few complaints from community members and 26 misdemeanor arrests, the operative word for organizers was "smooth."

"Everything flowed very smoothly on our end," said Jean Parker, general manger for the venue. "You always plan for a certain number of incidents and problems. They were drastically less than what we would have ever planned for. ... The crowd was extremely well-behaved."

Parker said Merriweather's managers hope the festival - in Columbia for the first time this year - becomes an annual event at the venue.

"The setting and the infrastructure is perfect for festival-type events," Parker said. "It was a great party."

WHFS program manger Mike Murphy said returning is "absolutely" a possibility.

Although stadiums can hold more people, he said, he enjoyed the space, the lawn and the shady trees at the open-air pavilion.

"It felt good. It was comfortable," he said. "The layout worked really, really well."

He added: "I found it from a production standpoint to be very, very smooth."

The venue expanded its capacity from 20,000 to 27,500 by adding stages in Symphony Woods and a pavilion parking lot. Organizers fenced off the entire perimeter, and Merriweather staff and police monitored the area.

WHFS has not released attendance numbers, but the Howard County Police Department estimated that 13,600 people attended the event Saturday and 14,500 Sunday.

Parker said she believed the numbers were closer to 40,000 over two days. Last year at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, the event drew 46,000, Murphy said.

According to police, officers made 26 arrests over two days for misdemeanor offenses such as trespassing, acting disorderly and drug possession. They issued about 130 alcohol citations.

In a statement, the police said, "overall the event ran smoothly without any major difficulties."

Despite concerns that such large crowds would be disruptive to Columbia - and recollections of the way Grateful Dead fans misbehaved when they came to town in the mid-1980s - local residents appear to have suffered few inconveniences.

"I was surprised," said Lee Richardson, chairman of the Town Center Village Board. "I've heard absolutely no reports of anything."

He praised police, the Fire Department and The Mall in Columbia security, saying, "They certainly did give us the insurance policy we wanted." And, he added, the benefits are welcome.

"We had a great big event [in Columbia] and it was wonderful, the publicity it got around the country. ... People heard again about our open-air venue and what it can do."

Parker agreed there was a good fit between the concert and the town.

"It seems like everyone was able to coexist for this event," she said.

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

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